Essay

Cleaning Up

Mindfulness in piles of dishes.

Often, the best things in life create some sort of refuse: something left behind, discarded and unwanted, left to be nothing more than another thing to deal with.

A night flowing with red wine and laughter with friends litters the house with empty bottles and the morning with dreaded hangovers. The fiery beauty of fall ends with dead leaves strewn, soldiers of a colorful war laying broken in the gutters. Time spent together, cooking, talking about life, and enjoying a feast leaves me with a full heart and a sink full of dishes.

There’s no room for a dishwasher in our apartment. There isn’t even room enough for the two of us to be in the kitchen at the same time. We’ve mastered a dance so graceful and well timed it would impress chefs in restaurants downtown. I’ll prep and she works the stove and then we’ll switch, calling out our moves to provide cover from a sharp knife or a hot skillet from landing a blow. All the while, we’re creating a teetering stack billowing out of the sink into what little counter space we have.

Hunched over the sink, as my 6'5" frame folds to comply with a shrunken down city kitchen, the mindless process of cleaning the dishes frees my mind to cleanse myself. I take a moment to breath. Then I scrub away any tension from the day’s work and tidy up my own turmoil. I let go of bits of judgment and anger, and stress and doubt that have piled up on any flat surface in my mind.

I’ve learned to find some sense of calm and accomplishment in doing the dishes. I get something out of completing the job with efficiency, converting that teetering mess into a well organized, well crafted stack of clean dishes, once just refuse and now something useful again. Before just a mind full of dirty dishes now all tidied up.