I don’t want to alarm anyone who thinks that asanas, the physical postures, are the only thing to yoga, but I have gone for long stretches—no pun intended—devoting up to 12 hours a day to the practice.
From karma yoga—the yoga of action or selfless service—to bhakti yoga—the yoga of devotion—meditation, reflection, study, you name it. I’ve done it.
I’m not currently at a place in my life where I’m benefiting from that kind of disciplined lifestyle.
In fact, I realized the other day, that one of the most foundational practices I’m currently engaged in is doing my dishes.
Anyone who had lived with me the first 23 years or so of my life can attest to the fact that I didn’t really like doing the dishes. Wait, that’s not right. I actually love the action of doing the dishes: warm water, satisfying my OCD nature by cleaning bits of food off smooth surfaces, that final touch of wiping down the counters. These are all things I’ve always enjoyed. It was the action of removing myself from whatever else I was engaged in that was difficult. Yes, sometimes I was intensely engaged in staring at the wall, don’t judge me.
As I’ve aged and matured I’ve noticed that I really like a clean kitchen.
I know that the dishes will have to eventually get done anyway, and in recent years I’ve stopped putting off the inevitable, albeit pleasant, task.
The crux of the matter is that part of my nature is a procrastinator. It’s something I try to refine and step out of, but it’s still something I work with.
Now that I’m enjoying the experience of living on my own, I’m finding my nightly ritual of doing the dishes extremely nourishing.
I still have my daily/regular practices that sustain me, but they’re a lot more modest than the hours upon hours of practice I’ve done in the past. (Keeping in mind that true karma yoga is an attitude that lasts all day, everyday, maybe I still am keeping up my same old practice schedule.)
When it comes to structured practice, I’d have to say that doing the dishes every night has a lot of the same characteristics of any other commitment to practice I have.
It’s a choice.
When I’m tired and just want to go to bed, I remind myself that I don’t have to do my meditation practice (which I always do before resting my head on the pillow for the night.)
The same is true with the dishes. I don’t have to do them. But I know they’ll just be there for me the next morning. Giving myself this mental freedom creates space to choose what I really want in my life and what ideals I want to live up to.
Invariably, I do the dishes, just like I do my meditation practice.
It’s about mindfulness in the moment.
An asana practice could be gymnastics, using my muscles to contort my body into shapes and poses, or it could be mindful awareness of what I’m doing, how I’m breathing and if I’m feeling relaxed.
Doing the dishes is the same thing. I get to notice my posture, what goes on in my mind, and if I’m fully present with the task.
I’m seeing cleaning as a practice because I’m choosing to bring awareness to it, and that’s what a practice makes.
I give up expectations.
I don’t wash a dish because doing it once means I’ll never have to do it again. Chances are, I’ll pull out one of those mugs for a late-night tea, and I’ll most certainly be dirtying them again tomorrow.
I don’t have any notions that what I’m doing will last or have any particular effect—other than temporary cleaner dishes.
Practice is like that.
When I sit in meditation or offer the Light to those in my heart, I’m not doing it because I think something particular is going to happen, I’m doing it to have an experience, right then, right there.
The next day, hours, minutes, seconds are likely to contain some less-than-Light-filled thoughts because I’m a human. But I’ll show up again and again and do it anyway: head to my mat, sit at my altar, or silently recite a mantra as I trundle along on a bus.
Dishes, like a spiritual practice, are not one of those things that we can do and say is “done.” They’re a process, and I’m happy to see how this process is bringing me an opportunity for mindfulness.