Yep, it seems like the world’s gone mad. And for all intents and purposes it has. Monetary systems, healthcare systems, travel policies, governmental wrangling and tangling, so many of the institutions we'd gotten accustomed to, no matter how much we disagreed or struggled with them, have been soundly shaken and we're left with big, empty spots where a sense of security once lay. Now, as we're forced to look more closely at those things we’ve been mindlessly trusting, we see the cracks and fissures we weren’t paying attention to until now. So here we are in a new and unsure reality with our faces covered, separated by a virus that has claimed the lives of so many, often without a job and wondering where to turn to pick up a thread of constancy to hold tight and pull ourselves onto whatever path we can find to settle our lives back into some kind of normal.
In some ways this new paradigm is a good thing. Old systems that were cracked and damaged have crumbled and we’ve become more aware of what we can do as humans to bring some balance back and return a bit of autonomy into our lives. Along with this growth and awareness, however, we face challenges we hadn’t been expecting and with those challenges come stress and anxiety.
One simple method we can use to release some of the anxiety of facing the unknown is to practice living in the moment. By this I mean shutting down all thoughts about the future; What will I do? How will I live? Why has this happened? How can I go on without my loved one? Will I get sick and die? And the past; What did I do wrong? Should I have chosen a different career? How could I have stopped, changed or avoided this? These thoughts and many more like them spiral around in our heads and twist us into fear and confusion.
When we find a way to stop our minds from dwelling on the things that bring us such discomfort, even for a little while, we can begin to slow down and consider our options one or two at a time for a better chance of tackling each of them instead of running in 20 different directions trying to catch uncertainties and not accomplishing much at all.
Not all of us have the time, ability or mindset to sit in a lotus position and tone for 20 or 30 minutes of meditation a day. We have jobs, kids, partners, animals, responsibilities and often it just isn’t “us” to do that fru fru, hippie, tree hugging, thing. However, finding a way to quiet the myriad demands we handle each day can give us more relaxed and confident thought patterns. With this quieter mind we can sort out the things we need to do much more easily than running at them all at once. So finding a way to bring mindfulness into the habits and chores of our day to day lives can be an effective way to quiet the mind. When we combine the chores and routines we do each day with a focused and intentional mindfulness we can accomplish both with the added benefit of calming the mind and finding simpler solutions to the tasks and challenges we face.
This mindful way of doing dishes can help us let go of stress and anxiety for the 15 or 20 minutes we spend on that chore.
As you approach your sink or counter of dirty dishes, begin to intentionally tell yourself that for just this short time, nothing at all matters but the dishes and their cleanliness.
Take a deep breath in while turning the taps on and exhale as the water begins to flow. Notice the scents around you.
Can you smell the water or the food scraps or beverage residue? Some scents may not be “pleasant” but it’s okay, you’re going to change that and, in the moment, the scents just Are.
No judgement, no embarrassment, just the, sometimes smelly, leavings of a meal.
As you add dish soap to the sink, notice the new scent as the soap mingles with the water and combines or overcomes the scent of the dishes.
How does the water sound?
Is it rushing heavily into the sink or streaming slowly with a trickle tapping near the drain?
Does the sound have the deeper resonance of a stainless steel sink or the patter of a ceramic basin?
Put your hand under the stream, test the temperature of the water.
Is it cold like it’s just come up from the ground or the pipes under your home? Has it begun to warm?
Can you feel the mixing of hot and cold as they blend toward the perfect temperature for you?
Notice the wetness, the moisture enveloping and soaking your hands.
Has the dish soap begun to create a froth?
Has the water taken on a slippery feel if you rub your fingers together?
Watch how the water and bubbles move as you swish the water around and add the dishes.
Notice the way you usually add the pieces.
Do you start with the flatware or the bowls, or the pans?
Do you do the glasses first so any grease in the water doesn’t dull their shine? Or the dishes, so they’re the first into the strainer or the rack in the dishwasher?
Just notice, no questioning, no judgement.
Now feel the texture of the towel or the sponge or the brush that you use to clean away the residue of the meal.
Is your towel nubbly or loosely woven? Is the sponge fine or rough? Does the brush have a wooden handle so that you can feel the wet grain made soft by many uses or is it smooth plastic that slips a bit as you scrub?
Look at the water and the soap.
Can you see tiny rainbows in the bubbles? Is there a soft greyness or swirls of grey and white?
Has the scent changed?
How does each piece feel as you clean it? Do the dishes feel “squeaky” clean? Do they actually squeak?
Watch the drips of rinse water as you lift each piece into the strainer or rack.
As the pieces accumulate in the rack do they have an order or do they go just wherever they fit?
Can you see a pattern?
Do you notice anything that you hadn’t ever thought of before?
Maybe you discover that you’ve made a fun design with the bottoms of the glassware or that the flatware all faces the same direction.
How do your hands feel as you get through the pile?
Are they beginning to wrinkle at the fingertips?
Do they feel rough or slippery or soft?
Do the clean dishes gleam in the light?
Sense how you feel, physically.
Are your shoulders more relaxed? Is your breathing slower? Is your jaw relaxed and unclenched?
Sense how you feel emotionally.
Are you thinking of how the light plays on the surfaces you just made clean? enjoying the beauty of the uncovered patterns in the plates or bowls? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment in a job well done?
Notice the calm quiet of your unencumbered mind.
As you finish up with the task, gently allow your thoughts to return to your daily reality. Allow yourself to feel a sense of completion and alignment.
In cleansing the tools and accoutrements we use to nourish ourselves and others we imbue them with the love and caring we feel for those who have taken in the food and drink. (Including and especially ourselves!)
This type of mindful participation can be used with any chore from the morning routine of brushing teeth, showering, choosing clothes and all the preparation of starting the day to vacuuming to laundry to raking leaves. In times of stress and challenge it can be greatly rewarding to give yourself the quiet break of letting the myread questions and decisions of life go as you work at and focus on something you usually do “mindlessly”.