Some of my favorite writers are fond of housework as a kind of counterbalance to spiritual attainment. Jack Kornfield, writing about enlightenment, says, “After the ecstasy, the laundry.” And Zen teacher John Tarrant (see this month’s book recommendation below) advises his readers, “When something wonderful comes our way, it is good to do the dishes.”
I thought about this today as I listened to my washing machine run in one room, the dishwasher in another. I’m lucky enough to have machines for both tasks, but however you clean clothes and silverware, the process involves common elements: soaking, sudsiness, turbulence, rinsing, drying.
It occurred to me that I haven’t been willing to allow these processes, so obviously necessary for cleaning my sheets and plates, to run their course as they clean up my life. I’d prefer a steady state of peace and happiness, please—and would you mind liberally sprinkling that with delirious joy? I forget that in the material world, the process of renewal and refreshment often requires stewing in my emotional and logistical gunk, enduring high-temperature turbulence, and occasionally (when the newfangled methods fail and the old-fashioned ways come out of retirement) getting pounded on rocks or scraped with sand.
So here’s my new favorite meditation: Load up your dishwasher or washing machine, press the buttons, and then sit by the magical cube as it does its magic. When it roars and sloshes, hear the echo of your fear, anger, and despair. When it spins, recognize your own times of confusion, of apparently pointless repetition. When it seems to have finished, only to rev up again, think of the times you’ve had to start over. And realize that all this bashing and crashing is your soul being cleaned, renewed, and made fresh again. Once you relax into the process, you’ll learn the great secret: It is through doing the laundry that we find our way to the ecstasy.