Today’s Facebook feed included a post with a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh.
If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have dessert or a cup of tea, I will be equally incapable of enjoying my dessert or my tea when I finally have them.
My initial reaction was to resist and argue with the concept as I approached it from my Egoic mind and emotion. I thought of the instant vs. delayed gratification argument and then went into personality typology thinking; “those SJ (Myers-Briggs) types would have no problem with this, so this means that SJ’s get a free pass when it comes to spirituality while the rest of us NP’s have to struggle to be good enough”. I recognized that my argumentativeness was my Ego’s way of resisting change, so I took another look at the quote from a different perspective.
After further consideration, I realized that what the author was saying was that “if I cannot find and surrender to the Joy in washing dishes prior to having dessert or tea, then I will not take the time to find and surrender to the Joy of the latter.” In other words, if I cannot be present and mindful while washing dishes and can only think of the future, then when I am finally able to enjoy my dessert or tea, I will continue to be disengaged in the moment. I will have established a pattern of my mind being some place other than my body and spirit. Most likely, when I am finally able to sit and “relax”, my thoughts will be directed to something else I need to do, or I will begin to take an inventory of my “to do” list making sure that I actually do “deserve” this time of respite.
The Ego is a master of deception. Not because it is evil or has bad intentions for us; rather, it strives to remain in control at all times, “protecting” us from perceived threats or even undesirable outcomes. This is more true when it comes to spiritual or religious matters. The Ego can excel in sacrificial or disciplinary action in the name of spirituality, as long as it can remain active and in control. Thus it is easy to feel that one is being spiritual by completing an undesirable chore prior to rewarding oneself, or that it is OK to take a break as long as you are fulfilling your obligations. However, this is not spirituality. Serenity is recognizing the truly important, such as serving a beloved by washing the dishes, or being grateful that one has food and dishes to clean up. It is also taking joy in the delights of dessert and tea. While our goal may not be to live a life of perfection, the more time we spend in Serenity, the more fulfilled we will be and, for recovering addicts, the more our recovery is insured.
The point of the above quotation is not the work which needs to be done, neither is it the discipline of handling more important matters first. The point is surrendering to spirit in order to be present in the moment and abiding in Serenity, being mindful of that which is truly important and taking Joy in the moment. The author’s point in the above quote is that rushing through a chore to get to what the Ego wants to do robs one of the Joy of both the chore and the relaxation afterward.
This reinforces the idea that Surrender is an exercise in our own best interest and not simply an act of obedience. Another lesson one may derive from this is that you cannot move from negative energy to positive via the Ego. No amount of “positive thinking” will convince you that doing the dishes is a delight. You must transfer control from the Ego to your Spirit. Engaging in the activity is a start, but you must surrender to Joy and allow it to change your mind and heart. Take in the warmth of the water, the aroma of the dish soap, the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. You cannot arrive at Joy through your Ego, you must bring Joy to it instead!