My wife and daughter have been away for almost two weeks and I have reverted to the ways of my bachelorhood. This morning, I was forced to do dishes only because there were no more cereal bowls left. Even worse, I only washed one bowl so I could eat and then put it back on the stack when I was done.
All the dishes will be clean before they get back. I value my marriage too much to allow my wife to ever see our kitchen sink in such a state of disregard. This is a testament to the benefits of partnership. Pleasing my wife makes me a better person by mitigating my tendency towards sloth.
The dishes in the sink are really only a symptom of a deeper strain. This week also marks 22 years ago that my mother died. I have written about how reconciling her passing led me to Yoga and an appreciation of life's inherent worth (see How I Came to Yoga) but the pang of grief and the uncertainty in life that death so starkly reveals can just as easily trigger a more foreboding outlook.
My sense of life's inherent majesty can sometimes feel at terrible odds with the injustice and suffering that life also encompasses. The pressures of being in the world and meeting the responsibilities that that entails can overshadow my fragile certitude and color me bleak. Some part of me resents the way the world is. I feel frustrated by the insidious folly of our politics. I am saddened by the short-sightedness and lack of humanity that so poisons the well.
I am working hard and doing my best to make an honest living. If I want to leave some dirty dishes in the sink then, gosh darn it, I damn well will.
I realize this may be a convenient excuse. I'm not trying to justify the behavior. All I'm saying is that, for those who have chosen to walk a straight and narrow path, there are few safe outlets for rebellion. When events begin to weigh heavy, I think its OK to let a few things slide.
I am struck by how, given the opportunity, my old ways can reemerge like no time has passed. Fortunately, time has passed and I have managed to cultivate some alternative patterns of behavior. The old pattern of self- doubt, fear, living like a slob and thinking life's injustice means that nothing matters is not my only option.
Exercising some executive authority over my patterns is kind of like this optical illusion. The red dot can appear on the inside or the outside of the box, depending on how you see it. If you concentrate on it enough, you can get it to change back and forth at will.
The ability to make these sort of shifts is contingent on some awareness that there is more then one way to see it. Without engaging new patterns first, we have no choice but our default settings.
An important thing to note is that just because I have new patterns doesn't mean that the old ones are gone. A friend once told me about a Yiddish saying that translates roughly as:
"Scrub the tub before enlightenment, scrub the tub after enlightenment."
Even after we manage to affect some positive change in ourselves, there is often maintenance work to be done. Whatever peace of mind and perspective on overcoming challenges I might be able to breath and move my way into, I still have to do the dishes.