The Smell of Dish Soap in the Morning

When I lived in Washington, D.C. for a time with my brother, sister-in-law and then 2 & 1/2 year-old niece, I learned that the commonly regarded task of dishwashing could be a pleasure unto itself. This quiet revelation on work in general gave me insight that I've since tried to apply to all manner of tasks. And why not relish these menial, day-to-day actions; however unromantic it may seem, cumulatively they amount to the whole of modern life.

In ancient times, the reality of a task-based life was amplified all the more, and as such, one can regard monasteries, convents, priories, temples and the like as the blueprints for today's rejuvenating Yuppie-centered spas and retreats. The fundamental difference lies in the work itself; the modern spa culture promotes rest and glorifies the absence of work, whereas communities of old cherished the daily work that kept them running while incidentally nourishing their members' spiritual, physical, and mental well-being. The monks had it right as they kneaded the bread, broke clods in the fields, tended the vegetables, and combed their hairshirts. When no temptation glistens provacatively beyond the light of a day's work, then the work of the day becomes life and within that work sits the key to contentment.

So, Anna would tell me, as I tried to lend a hand after supper time, "No. Just leave it in the sink and I'll get to them in the morning." To my naturally obsessive side, this seemed contradicatory. Why not rest well knowing the kitchen downstairs sits spotless and ready for another busy morning? She explained that the task of dishwashing possessed some quiet joy, the warm water and airy foam, the repetitive motion of scrubbing, the cool and flowing rinse, that she relished as a way to awaken to the day. And it made sense but only after I started to be mindful of the secret profundity of the activity.

Yes, it is strange to talk about the act of cleaning bits of food residue or burnt, charred flecks of what was, just the evening prior, a phenomenal homemade meal, as something almost sacred and valuable as a daily practice by itself.

Note: The title was either that or "Zen and The Art of Dishwashing" but after a quick google search, I found a blogpost on some site that was actually proud to call itself "Redneck ..." something-or-other and so I'd rather the none-too-subtle allusion be to the classic, mystifying film set in wartime Viet Nam.


  1. I say you're on to something, Alex. It is often the satisfaction of doing soemthing simple yet useful that makes the activity good. Dishwashing -- mundane yes but pretty necessary. Hands get clean too!! On this line of simple(r) living, checkout peakprosperity.com -- interesting site by a a guy who's also realising some truths...see ya Matt

  2. I may have been on to something 4 yrs. ago but then I got a dishwasher.

    Still, I do like to work with the "soapy hands" when necessary.


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