Every Act As A Rite: How A Broken Dishwasher Led Me To Mindfulness

A broken dishwasher has become the ultimate mindfulness guru in my life. On one of the last few mild days before northern Wisconsin turned into an ice box, the dull and mindless whirr of my washing machine was replaced with some sick crunching and the smell of an electrical fire. Thankfully, my house didn’t burn down, but I knew immediately that this bad boy was headed to the appliance graveyard.

Then I came to terms with a difficult reality: I was going to have to do my dishes by hand. Oh, how I loathed the very idea. But with seven people eating at my house, and almost a week before repairing or replacing was a financially viable option, I was stuck. And in a real first-world fashion, I marched through the five stages of grief. I couldn’t believe that this newer-model washer would quit on me so early. I got angry and figured that a few kicks to it’s side might correct the issue. Then bargaining. Then depression.

And finally, I accepted my reality and began to scrub. Man, did I hate it. I wanted it to be over from the time that my spoiled fingers hit the water. I daydreamed about all of the things that I could be doing that afternoon. I begrudgingly washed and dried each dish until the job was complete. I stood back and admired my countertop with pride. And then I got dressed and left for work. When I returned, there was that God-awful pile of pots and pans again, as if I hadn’t done any work at all that morning. Remembering the sense of pride I’d gotten from completing the job earlier in the day, I gave very little thought to filling the sink once again and re-tackling the job. Again, my mind was everywhere but on the job in front of me. As I scrubbed, I thought about work, about the Packers game, my daughter’s homework, what I was going to wear tomorrow. Everything but the task at hand. Then the job was complete, the tedium over, and bed time on the horizon.

After breakfast the next morning, I began to run out of things to mull over as I completed my task. Soon, I started to focus on the dishes in front of me. The sting of the hot water on my hands. The smoothness of the plate under my fingers as I rinsed away the soft bubbles. The scratchy dish towel removing the leftover water. The feel of the dishes as I lowered them into the drying rack.

Then like a crack of thunder, it hit me: I was truly living while I was doing these dishes. I was in the only moment that I would ever be able to experience: the present one. I wasn’t at all living in the present moment when I was thinking of anything but the task at hand.

It wasn’t long before I was treating everything with the same romance I afforded the dishes. Soon, everything received my full attention. I realized that whatever I was doing *right now* was the most important thing. I understood that whichever person I was with was the most important person in the world. I knew that every act was a rite and deserved all of my attention, all of my strength, and all of my love.

I never did fix that dishwasher.

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