I confess...I like washing dishes. I can't thank my mom for instilling this weird quirk. It's a strangeness I developed all on my own. At some point in my single life, I liked the feeling of completion whenever I saw an empty sink. When I got married, the dishes doubled; then tripled after our first was born. And, now, after several kids, doing dishes is a twice-a-day chore. Washing dishes has become something contemplative, even as the cold air from the vent below the cabinet freezes my feet in the summer, I don a pair of heavy socks and continue washing away until I can see the bottom of the sink.
My disclosure has an asterisk. I'm starting to notice my like of washing dishes has become a habit - a habit that doesn't always serve me. Allow me to illustrate.
It's Saturday afternoon. The house is filled with relatives celebrating my son's birthday. Three of my nieces are back from college and, for the first time, they all hang out in the kitchen wanting to share stories with me. This new form of bonding between us doesn't escape my attention. But, instead of sitting down and listening to their stories, I resort to my beloved habit...washing the dishes. My back is turned to them as they tell animated tales of the past semester. I ask questions and try often to look over my shoulder and nod with as much eye contact as possible. My contorted efforts put a strain in my neck and leave a puddle of water running down the front of the cabinets. Occasionally, I take a break from the sink and face them to ask more questions. Then I notice empty platters, pots, and plates so I return to more washing. The girls move to the deck outside to talk.
Right before dinner is served, as I quickly clean the last of the prep dishes, my mother interjects a lighthearted comment, "I don't think I've seen you move from that sink since I arrived." We laugh together but her comment awakens me to the present moment. What am I doing? Why am I allowing myself to be attached to cleaning during the party? Have a completely missed the moment while habitually going through the motions of keeping my kitchen in order?
In a way, yes, I did. Maybe my nieces didn't consciously pick up on my less-than-fully-present behavior. Maybe it didn't even occur to them until they read this post. But it's a moment I can laugh about, learn from, and hopefully, not repeat. Habits are interesting. They can start as actions that seem useful and maybe even positive. But, as we continue engraining them to the point of mindlessness, they can turn into actions that mask us from the present.
During this holiday weekend, try this simple game of observing your go-to habits, especially if you are attending/hosting any gatherings or parties. What actions do you routinely take that pull you from the present moment? If you're the host, do you occupy your time with making sure everyone has enough food or drink? If you're the guest, do you rush to lend a hand in the kitchen, keeping yourself helpful? Do you like to ghost out of the party without making a connection with the host or other guests? If you're with family members, do you advert your gaze while they talk, maybe looking around for the next thing that has to be done for the evening? Remember, I said this was a game of observing yourself. Be gentle and humorous with what you notice. And don't worry if you see several good-intended habits gone wild. You'll get another chance to notice and change your actions if you wish. In fact, you'll have a lifetime of chances. It's up to you if you want to engage and try again.
It's Friday night and my family is about to gather for dinner. When it comes time to clean up, maybe I'll do something different tonight. Maybe the boys will be in charge of washing the dishes.