You’re just one bowl of dishes away…

Are there moments in your life that you wish away? Many people do that. Typically, they’re the moments that go into preparing for something, or tidying up afterwards – as if Before and After the main event count for nothing.

And washing up is a great example.

Washing up is an intrinsic part of the process of feeding ourselves, and of being companionable around food. No feast can take place unless the dishes from the last feast have been cleaned – and yet many people can’t stand cleaning dishes.

Washing up is as necessary as cooking – but ours is not a culture that celebrates celebrity washers-up.

Whether your dishes are ordinary and unremarkable, or the finest china antiques, they all need cleaning: soaking, soaping, scrubbing and drying. The process makes them seem to be new again. Magic!

More than that, washing up can revitalise the people who do it.

In some households, washing up is seen as a chore that most people run away from, leaving one person to tackle it alone. In other households, it’s a pastime carried out together. (And why not? You can chat just as easily over the washing up as you can over your main course.)

Either way, if people don’t esteem washing up, that’s often because they’re wrapped up in whatever’s coming next: they want to get back to the computer or the television, or make a phone call or a cup of tea.

But if you are wrapped up in the thing that comes next while washing up, what makes you think you will enjoy the computer, TV, phone call or cup of tea? Won’t you, in fact, immediately switch to planning whatever comes after that?

It’s easy, in a life that esteems busyness, to get lost in the future, making plans, or to fall into the habit of going over and over the past. As a result, we sometimes forget to notice the present moment.

Some of us forget for hours or days on end.

And that’s a tragedy, because our entire lives take place only in the present moment, and if we’re absent in the present moment then to the people around us we are little more than zombies. If we are not careful, we might lose the capacity to experience the present moment altogether – the skill of noticing how we are feeling, and what we are thinking, right now.

Not five seconds ago. Not two seconds ago. Now.

Happily, we can regain that skill with practice. And when we learn to experience the present moment, we become fully alive again.

Washing up can help us to do that – to reconnect with the previous people and things around us. Our minds may run off into worries and fantasies, but what brings us back is the simple job of bringing a shine back to a dirty coffee cup, dish, or spoon.

To let go of what we are holding in our minds, we need only to pay attention to what we hold in our hands.

As we handle them, we can learn all over again what makes these everyday items precious.

What condition are they in? What are they worth? How many times have they been used? Where did they come from? Who gave them, and when? What feasts have we eaten with them? Who else has used them?

And don’t they look great, now that they’re clean again?

JP Flintoff

PS. The tea towel pictured on this page was designed (by me!) to help you do washing up a bit more deliberately, whether alone or with others. If would feel derelict if I were not to point out that you can buy one, or more than one, HERE. Why don’t you?