Some time ago, I noticed that when I do the dishes, I am automatically tense. I breathe more shallowly, and my shoulders and neck are taut with tension. I realized that this has been the case for a long time, perhaps since I was young, but I never really examined this very closely. I just knew I didn’t like to do the dishes.
I don’t feel the same way about other cleaning tasks, so I wasn’t sure at first why I felt this particular tension over the dishes. It didn’t matter if it was just a few dishes in a day, I automatically felt the same tension. If I am not mindful, I will spend the entire time washing my dishes with this kind of tension in my body and mind, and that’s going to release more stress hormones. Not so healthy of an act.
So I have been working on changing this. To start, I took a little time to try and figure out just what it was that was triggering this tension, and I think I know what it is.
When I was a teenager, living in IN, especially in the last few years of high school, I did the majority of the house cleaning. This included the dishes. I did all this without being told to do it, I was a house cleaning indianapolis working machine! Not because I wanted to do a good deed, but because if I didn’t then the house would feel like it was caving in with stuff. The dishes were a big chore, and I didn’t get to those every day. I bought a brand new canister vacuum – it did a pretty amazing job with the stains from last months partying. Often I’d take care of the rest of the house with one massive cleaning once a week, after school, before I rewarded myself with a movie and junk food.
The dishes, unfortunately, since they were the lowest on my list of tasks to take care of, would sometimes be covered with mold. That’s right. Green fuzzy mold all over them. It was pretty disgusting. So when I tackled the dishes, it was a gruesome job.
These days, that never happens. It hasn’t happened since I became an adult, since we always take care of the dishes in this family. Usually I do them, but sometimes my wife will, and once in a while the kids will surprise us by doing them. We plan to start a new chore chart to divide up the house chores a little more evenly, but we haven’t gotten around to it.
So I’m pretty convinced that my tension around dishes is directly a result of those teenage years being assaulted by moldy dishes that cackled evil words to me as I scrubbed them. “Shut up,” I said to them. “Hush now.”
Now that I have my theory about the cause, I have moved on to doing something about the tension. I decided that since I do the dishes so often, that I am going to try and turn it into an act of meditation. This means that to begin, I need to approach the dishes with the mindset of stewardship, taking care of my house with a positive attitude, as an act of devotion, and stop thinking of it as a negative thing. I will work on breathing deeply, brushing aside thoughts when they arise, and just focus on the breath and the scrub.
I have been able to do this a few times, in the middle of already being in the act of washing dishes. I have not yet remembered to do this before I begin to wash them, so this is an area for which I want to see improvement. It is challenging to replace habits, but it can be done. Sometimes, with humor.
I also do accept, with some begrudging grumbles, that it is best to try and wash dishes after each meal, rather than once a day, as is our habit. It’s easy for a full sink to trigger a sense of being overwhelmed, especially now that we have 3 kids. Sometimes it seems like I just washed a full sink’s worth of dishes an hour ago and OHmyGODhowDIDthisHAPPENtheSINKisFULLagain?
And yes, we do have a dishwasher, but I prefer to not rely completely on the dishwasher. I’m not sure why, really. Perhaps some part of me has held on to the desire to not turn too much over to technology, even the acts that have brought me tension.
This is a beginning, not an end. There are more tasks than washing dishes, I am certain, that bring me tension when it is unnecessary. In the process of living our lives, we push how we feel about so many things to below the surface. With our habits, we mindlessly go about performing tasks with tension and don’t even realize it consciously.
It’s time to bring these feelings into the light, where change is possible.