Wash the Dishes with All Your Heart: How to Live in the Moment

In a charmed life, the best thing going is what is happening now.

Even the most dazzling lives are punctuated more by commas and periods than by exclamation marks. You virtually guarantee a charmed life when you can give yourself as fully to doing the dishes, and tending to the other miscellanea that make up your day, as to some grand adventure. This is because you can count on the dishes. They’ll be there alongside the grand adventures, and if no adventure is immediately forthcoming, the dishes won’t let you down. Besides, feelings of enthusiasm, excitement, and positivity about anything and everything attract adventures to a life the way an open bag of trail mix attracts bears to a campsite. They just can’t stay away.

About fifteen years ago, I picked up a severe case of flu while traveling, and it kept me in bed for a month. I’ll never forget the first night I washed dishes after I was better. It was the most satisfying experience: warm water halfway up to my elbows, and slippery, shimmery suds to play in. I momentarily wondered if the high fever had addled my brain — I mean, please: dishes? — but if it took being addled to feel this content, I didn’t want it any other way. 

During the first few weeks of getting back into life, I was having these sublime moments during activities once inconsequential in their ordinariness. “Wow, driving a stick is really fun! ... What did they put in this hot cider? It’s amazing! ... The sunset was so beautiful I pulled my car over to look at it.” Smitten with my new way of seeing things but questioning its normality, I called one of my mentors, a woman named Gladys Lawler, who was nearing ninety and always knew the answer.

She told me that these simple occurrences seemed so stunning because I was in the moment. “When you’re living in the moment,” she explained, “everything is exquisite because you’re truly experiencing it.” Life, I learned from Gladys that day, ought to be this way all the time, but we’re so used to being removed from the present by keeping our minds in one place and our bodies in another that these periods of resplendence are uncommon. She also told me that I’d be back to the old, disconnected way of being before long, but that since I now knew that being truly present was possible, I could remind myself to go there again.

Her prediction was correct. As soon as my full strength returned, I was back to busy mode: scheduling, planning ahead, multitasking. But even now, the otherworldly beauty of that convalescent time can come back when I’m washing dishes. I have a dishwasher these days, but I often use the sink just the same. It gives me the opportunity to stand in one spot and focus on one cup, one glass, or one perfectly circular rubber gasket that, in its modesty, gives me the use of my blender.

I recommend that you try some conscious dishwashing. Release all judgment (“I always get stuck with the dishes ... ”), and just be with the process. Run the water and be aware of the sound it makes rushing from tap to sink. Look at the bottle of soap before you squeeze: What’s in it? Do you like how it smells? Watch the suds as they build and billow. Pick up a dish at random — your coffee mug maybe, or the bowl your daughter used for cereal this morning — and regard it as a gift from a grab bag. Perhaps it has something to tell you, something to remind you of. Be with it and with every subsequent plate and fork and measuring cup until the task is through.

Then give yourself just as wholeheartedly to whatever comes next. In a charmed life, the best thing going is what is happening now, even when it’s scouring a skillet.

The next time you do the dishes, feel the water, caress the crockery, and be present with all that’s in you.


Living a Charmed Life: Your Guide to Finding Magic in Every Moment of Every Day

From Living a Charmed Life: Your Guide to Finding Magic in Every Moment of Every Day by Victoria Moran. Copyright © 2009 HarperOne. Republished with permission.

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