The Origin of Dharma & Dish Soap

When I named this blog, there was a very specific reason why I chose the one I did.  I have been meaning to write a post about it for some time now, but haven’t seemed to have managed to get around to it. 

It seems that today is the day.  

The best place to begin I think is by defining the word Dharma. 

Dharma, at its most basic definition is the principle of cosmic order.  Seen from a different perspective, as written by Thich Nhat Hanh, “It is the way of understanding and love – how to understand, how to love and how to make love and understanding into real things.”  A bit esoteric, but it will make sense in a minute I promise. 

Now onto the dish soap.  Why dish soap?  We all know what it is, most of us use it every day to clear up the never ending procession of dirty dishes that find their way into our sinks.  For me, this used to be a source of great frustration, so much so that I would avoid the task for long periods of time.  The seeming pointlessness of the task infuriated me.  What is the point, I thought, of doing these damn dishes if there is just going to be another sink full there tomorrow?  I realize now that I imagined the chore to be beneath me.  I bought the notion that the perfect life was a thing to be envisioned and sought after.  That is was somewhere other than exactly where I was. 

Through the grace of a beautiful book by an equally beautiful woman “Momma Zen” and soon after that “Hand Wash Cold” by Karen Maezen Miller I began to discover that the exact opposite was true.  

So I hatched a plan to make friends with my dishes.  I would get myself in front of that damn sink, fill it with warm water, soap and the current stack of dirty dishes and I would wash.  When all the dishes were stacked on the opposite counter I would shine up the sink, taps and surrounding counter tops and then I would take a picture.  This picture I would post to Facebook. Not because I was seeking likes or head pats for the doing of the chore, but because I knew that I would half ass the job if I wasn’t planning to share the fruits of my labours with the world. 

 It was thus that my notorious shiny sink posts were born.  

In a sense, my avoidance of the dishes was born out of a very real truth.  There WILL invariably be another sink full of dirty dishes to do tomorrow.  Rather than dreading this truth, I have begun to see another side to it.  Dishes are something I can always count on to be there for me, in good times and bad.  Truth be told at the end of it I always feel good.  Just for a moment.  The moment when that shiny sink comes into view, I feel good.  Isn’t that all we are ever looking for?  In yearning after a life that I imagined to be perfect, where happiness was, I was missing the real happiness that was staring me in the face. 

 Doing my dishes, I serve my family.  Doing my dishes, I serve myself.  Doing my dishes has become a practice of making love real.  In understanding this, I make understanding real.  Doing my dishes I practice the Dharma. 

I take the ordinary, and in it see the extraordinary.  This is how Dharma works.  Thich Nhat Hanh would say I am waking up to Dharma, in his words “People who are awake see the manifestation of Dharma in everything.” It is in doing my dishes with love and understanding that I begin to see the principle of cosmic order in my life.  The dishes have been dirtied and they must be cleaned. If they are not cleaned then there will be no clean dishes to eat from the next meal time.  No one else will do it, that duty falls to me. 

 I do not always relish it, I am not always eager to do it, but always I move through my resistance and find the moment of joy waiting on the other side. This is how I am learning to walk in the world.  To see the small joys, the principle of cosmic order in everything that is around me.  To be truly present to the ordinariness of my life and in doing so access that which is EXTRA ordinary.  For it is not other than the ordinary, but resonating from it that the extraordinary can be found.  

Happy Dish Washing my friends.  May you begin to wake up to the extraordinary in the deeply ordinary moments of your life.  I will leave you, dear readers, with a quote from the self-same beautiful woman from her book “Hand Wash Cold”;

“In all this mess, I found the ingredients for the next stage in the spiritual journey: the opportunity to move beyond myself and into compassionate care of everything and everyone that appeared before me, morning, noon and night.  I found myself in the very heart of life, an ordinary life, the best spot to give and receive pure love.  You won’t see it on a plan or a map, but I can tell you how to get there.  It begins when you have the courage to leave home and it leads no further than your very own kitchen.”

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