Growing up, if my parents told me to find the joy in washing the dishes after the family meal I would have rolled my eyes and been convinced they were trying to trick me into doing my chores. Recently, I have found that the joy really is there. I just have to look at the sink differently.
Just like being stuck in traffic, doing the dishes offers me either time to think or the opportunity to choose to be mindful about the activity and connect with the components of washing dishes: the water, soap, towels, and even the transformation from dirty to clean dishes. I can also choose to look at the dishes as a chore or a blessing.
A blessing? Yes. Washing dishes means that a meal has been prepared (hopefully sometimes with love and not always rushed so as to throw something on the table so we can get out the door to the next activity). It also means that I am either providing nourishment and care for my own health and nutrition, or that of the people I love; my family and/or friends.
For those of us with families we clean up after, of course we support their independence and expect them to clean up after themselves. However, on the days we are faced with a sink full of dirty dishes or a kitchen table left messy, we can choose to curse them all (which I have done), leave it for them to clean up (which I have done), or smile, be thankful for our family and simply wash the dishes. Yes, I have done that too.
For those of us living alone, washing dishes can still be a joyful experience. We cook meals we enjoy and cleaning up is just part of the process. For all of us, cleaning up means that we are lucky enough to have a meal to clean up after. I have started making an effort to express gratitude for that, even just inside my head while washing, as there are plenty of people who are not so fortunate.
Then, I realize that I also take pride in cleaning my kitchen, which is in my home, for which I am also grateful to have. Washing the dishes means that once dried and put away, they are ready to use again to create another meal. Doing the dishes certainly can be a chore, especially when there are other, more interesting things to do. However, washing the dishes can also be “cleansing” (yes, I went there) and therapeutic. Some people even enjoy dish washing mindfulness meditation. You may have heard of this.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a poet and Buddhist monk who advocates for peace, wrote:
“While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly. Why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There is no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.”
Researchers at Florida State University studied this very activity. They found that a simple household chore can ease the mind. Being aware of the smells and feelings involved in the chore of washing dishes can help reduce stress. We can apply this mindfulness to any chore. The study also confirmed that the US is a stressed-out country, with over 47% of adults reporting that they are concerned with the amount of stress in their lives. The chores aren’t going to go away. If we can turn a chore into a stress-reliever, that’s a pretty good start. So, go ahead and wash those dishes.
Embrace the chores. Relieve some stress. Spread the joy.