Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Zen & the Art of Dishwashing

The following post is an article written by Mariah Herber. She has been a student of mine since she was nine or ten years old and is now 17 and will be entering her senior year in high school next year. She has the noble job as a dishwasher at a local pizza eatery. I too once held this profession and can relate...and so I am sure most of you can as well. To preface the article, Mariah told me she had some insomnia so she wrote this to her facebook account. I like it. I know I wasn't thinking these thoughts at age 17. With no further ado:

The Zen Art of Dishwashing

I've got some time, and so instead of sitting here idly waiting for 11:30, or just going to bed, I was reading through some old notes and poems whilst listening to some tunes from last night's performance. (Shinzen note: High School musical performance). Somehow all this made me think to my many thoughts I have during work.You'd be surprised what goes through your head when you're standing at that stainless steel sink, the machine next to you rumbling as the kitchen is a flurry of scurrying waitresses and disheveled cooks.

I can't attest for my fellows, but for me, personally, it's a time of reflection. Some nights I'll reflect upon problems I've been having, some nights I ponder the many questions of my life. Other times, when I'm less somber, I think of all the things I want to do. And then there are those nights, where, as I rinse a plate and put it on the rack, I realize just how very Zen my job is.

Ah, yes, the Zen art of Dishwashing. I could write a whole book on it, with the nearly 2 years of experience I've gained. Dishwashing, in a lot of ways, like everything else I suppose, is like life in general. Some nights it's slow when you want it to be fast. You're energized and want to keep moving, hunting down any dish you can get your hands on, if only to say you're actually much busier then you really are.

Other times the rush is endless and you wonder when it'll stop, when you'll find reprieve. You glance at the clock every ten minutes hoping, praying, it's been at least another 20 since the last check.And then there are those nights, those glorious nights, where it's steady. Everything just flows. You know you'll get out at a good time, you're sure of every move you make. No dish is too dirty, no stack of plates (even those big annoying bowls) too heavy!

How is that anything like life? Because some days aren't as great as you want them to be. Some days have so many problems packed into the small span of 15 hours that you wish to God it would END. And then, there are the days we all want. The days where everything fits. Things happen, but nothing overwhelms you. You're in control. You're rooted.At times, when the night's going to hell, I won't say a word for hours. My face is emotionless, my actions swift- my only focus is the dishes. That's when I get things done.

It's those horrible nights where not only is the kitchen up in arms against the wave of customers, but my own thoughts betray me. If I'm arguing with a friend at the time I'll constantly think about what I could have done or said to avoid all the hurt. If it's particularly bad, to the point we aren't talking, and I'm not even sure what I did, I can't keep myself from thinking about it and how I could fix the problem. And, when my mind wonders in such ways, even if my physical motions never stop, I'm slow.I don't notice right away, but as the night wears on and the dishes pile up I realize my focus is nonexistent. And by thinking so much about things that aren't even happening, the span of time that is the moment is spinning out of control.

About this time I shake my head, take a deep breath, and tell myself to focus on the here and now.I've had a lot of nights like that, you see. And they've come to teach me that when I place my mind in the past or future, the present becomes chaotic and I lose my way. But when I just... stop thinking so much, and focus, and stay in the moment, eventually the dishes (problems) lessen and the night ends on a good note. So what does any of this mean? The same thing any of my speeches and thoughts ever come down to meaning.

You can worry about the future.You can wish the past could be changed.You could wish it were possible to take back words already said.And you could think about all the things you could have done to avoid all these problems.Or, you can just, be. Be in the moment. Take life as it comes to you, and don't try to wrestle with every little thing that pokes at you. When you breathe, and clear your head a little, focus comes easier. And when one is focused, things get done. When things get done, the chances of the night ending on a good note is much greater.

That's all I have to say on the matter. It's 11:40, and I have things to do tomorrow. Thankfully, I won't really be thinking of them until I wake up once more.

Night all~Keep it Zen,

1 comment:

  1. Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about this too as I'm sure you know. I have found that it's the "little things" that teach me most. As much as Masters teach me a lot--nothing can make up for real experience though. As you well know.