Saturday, August 7, 2010

Reflections: Antaiji Recollections – Washing Up Dishes

For several years of my life I’d developed a bit of resentment for washing up the dishes, since the responsibility always seemed to fall on my shoulders. Right now, I’m remembering how, right before I left for Antaiji, I had started to like doing the washing up again because I'd realized that it gave me a chance to retreat from whatever was going on and enter a semi-meditative state – aware of the water, etc etc – though I should add that usually I would withdraw into an observational state rather than withdraw totally into myself. Washing dishes at the Zen Center also resulted in that joy…

Doing dishes at Antaiji was different. The goal was to get the dishes washed, rinsed, dried and put away in a little time as possible, because we only had a few minutes to clean the monastery and change into work clothes before starting Samu, the official work of the day. Typically, one person for washing, one for rinsing, and the rest for drying and putting away. Ideally, there was no hesitation and no talking and the job got done smoothly and expediently... Of course, when new guests arrived it didn’t necessarily go that way for a few days. I was once new too, so hopefully that’s okay to say.

My preference in the routine was either of the jobs that allowed my hands to get wet, washing or rinsing, and I thank the person who showed me how to do these things the best, most efficient way. For example when rinsing you’d hold the dish under the water with the left hand (there was only cold water, by the way) and run the right hand over every surface of the dish. Then the left hand would put the dish in the drying rack, while the right hand would take the next dish from the person doing the washing up. I’m thinking 5 secs or less per dish. (You didn't have time to worry about the freezing cold water getting splashed onto you.) There was also an efficient way to deal with handing off the drying rack to the folks drying the dishes that minimized the inevitable gap in the wash-rinse routine.

The ultimate was to be good enough at your job that you could perform it quietly and stay aware of the whole Sangha in motion around you and the total picture of the job being performed. For example, if there was a slow down in one area (e.g., dishes with eggs would slow down the washer) the newer folks drying sometimes would stand around waiting. If you were a dryer and aware, rather than stand around, you could jump in and be a second washer to preserve the rhythm.

Getting the dishes done quietly, staying aware of the whole Sangha in motion around you, and staying aware of the total picture of the job being performed was a real joy… One that we could share, not that we had the time to usually, but still...

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