A most peculiar spa treatment… the angry backstory
The ongoing love affair I have with mindfully washing dishes has not always been the way it was now. Matter of fact, it used to kill my soul — daily. Until I discovered something profound that might help change YOUR life.
Manhandling inanimate objects in an angry man attempt to handle the animated, but uncontrolled, parts of my life.
Broken glass justified, lamely, as a natural extension of broken promises. Grateful in a pathological and wasteful way to throw them out when they can no longer serve their purpose because I can’t as easily throw out those who’ve promised me one thing only to turn their back on me… It’s as if they’ve filled the basin of my heart with hope and support only to pull the plug and drain me of the very substance that bathes my soul in a caring, floating sea of peace.
Drained of this, I feel an unquenching thirst that can’t be tended to because I must tend to the pile of unneeded and unwanted scraps of ‘waste,’ objects that represent how I feel.
Forcefully holding unmoving implements of life under the water as if I can simultaneously drown them like the uncaring and unmoving forces of distress in my life as I try to drown my own sorrows.
A rushed job, at a minimum, paralleling the rush of adrenaline I feel as my sympathetic nervous system kicks, yet again, into overdrive; since I can’t yet flee or freeze,
“Work was and still is, endless”
according to David Whyte, I feel I must fight the litany of threats as any untrained soldier might: by whatever means, however ugly, that are at hand. Incompetent hands to be attempting the necessary job, especially in the survivalistic mode of my mindbody.
I believe I truly don’t care; believing, too, that I am the still the master of this job because no one else can, or wants to, accomplish what must be done. Martyr or victim or other variants don’t matter: I and I alone am willing to sacrifice my time, my energy and my very self to do something that was promised to be done by another, weaker and more incompetent, person.
My blood seems to be boiling as hot as the water that is scalding my hands. A subconscious attempt, I don’t think but likely sense, to both burn away the burnt-on vestiges of meat or vegetables remaining on the pan as well as to focus the internal pain toward a more tangible place on my body and away from my mind.
If I could plunge my entire being into the heat and dark depths, burning away thoughts, feelings and resentment, I believe I would.
Not caring and not seeing the dirty bits and bobbles after my job is supposedly done because I feel I’ve been dealt a dirty hand, and not bothering to quality check my work because I feel, in the end, the highest level of quality wouldn’t be appreciated, let alone noted, as I feel I’ve not received any appreciation.
All I want to do is be done with what I’m doing… yet I know the longer it takes me the longer it’ll be before I need to face other less ‘manageable’ battles, enemies and pain.
So, I occasionally leave the present and very real battlefield as far mentally as I can, resting, in a twisted way, that my physical body will be fine: no one else is obviously welcomed around me so they avoid the stage where my drama is being acted out.
This allows me no respite, however, because I transport myself to the multitude of times this has played out before: I believe I remember every other time I was ‘forced’ into this same situation; same shit, different day. But the mental gymnastics don’t stop there as I creatively synthesize pseudo-circumstances and false details that ‘might have been because I might have simply missed them,’ further bolstering and justifying my sense of injustice and hurt. Sure, my mental jaunts contribute to me not seeing the dirty bits and bobbles remaining at the end of the actual event, but I feel even more justified of my cumulative trauma because the collective stories make their weight in my mind greater and greater over time.
The origin of my anger: An explicit ‘contract’:
“Whoever cooks does not do the dishes.”
Simple sounding enough, right? In a family of four, with two under the age of 12, the domestic chores fall to the parents, especially when it deals with hot stoves, raw meat, knives, boiling water and other modern or ancient devices that put the chef or dishwasher in harm’s way. Salmonella, 2nd or 3rd degree burns, lancinations or lacerations that lead to emergency room visits, and more are best avoided by relegating the preparation of food to more competent hands. Oh, and a more creative mind creating something that deviates from the past is an asset. (One can only have ‘mac and cheese’ only so many times before the system begins to revolt…as delicious as that staple is.)
Both parents work. Both are busy, stressed, elated, hopeful, scarred and scared — obviously not in identical ways but in ways that seem ‘equivalent’ enough to allow each the freedom and responsibility of preparing the necessary meals to keep the unit fed to do the work of living and growing.
I happened to have an apparently subconscious, but apparently less aversive response toward, or an even higher desire for, cooking. As it turned out, my background as a bartender-turned-pharmacist-turned-researcher had planted a budding sense of wonder of alchemical reactions as well as the in-the-moment satisfaction that only freshly prepared meals can bestow the preparer.
I was, therefore, the unofficially designated primary chef.
And I didn’t mind in some ways. I had the liberty to craft what sounded good to me as well as serve the other family members in a rather intimate way: what I fed them literally became a part of them.
Instead of the contract being honored, for a plethora of valid and less valid reasons (the former being justified while the latter being ‘excuses’ at best) would pop into existence more rapidly than kernels of popcorn in ultrahot coconut oil (my favorite for that task).
Each excuse, however heartfelt by the source, felt as wilted and anemic as 10-day past the use date of baby spinach. Nothing but an “I’d love to and thanks for your continued dedication to this family” would suffice — yet, this response was quite possibly never spoken (or, if it was, it was during a far-off mental seething trip and was definitely unheard).
It was only after countless encounters of rage-induced exhaustion and self-induced traumatic stress disordered evenings that I began to see that the putative precipitating factors, the pain-filled process, and the piss-poorly but predictable outcomes were being driven by one source and, ultimately, only one source.
The realization that changed everything.
Submersed in my self-inflicted agony and angst, midway between the glasses and the cutlery, it Dawn® (ed) on me that I could continue having the deepest disdain bubble up from within my depths, floating like tiny packets of toxin amidst the tiny packets of oil, protein and carbohydrates from the dishes and into the dish water, or I could completely change the chore to a magical ritual…
In that instant, nothing changed — literally nothing changed — yet everything changed for me.
I’d heard that certain sects of Buddhist monks are required to do “mindful chores” like mindful dishwashing as part of their practice.
I’d not thought, however, that it could be something that could transform my life.
I do now because it did…