I am on vacation with my family and there are a lot of dishes for 10 people, 3 meals a day. What’s struck me these last few days is how I keep doing the dishes – I actively enjoy the process. This is a major evolution for me, because I used to HATE doing the dishes. But, what is even more interesting to me is that I actively keep avoiding unloading the dishwasher and putting away the large stack of clean pans, and salad bowls. My epiphany this week is that I have transferred my irritation from one chore to another!

When I was married, my then husband, who is a Professor & thus has a relatively flexible schedule, never did anything around the house, except hook up the wifi/TV etc when we moved, or fiddled with it when it stopped working & doing the large-scale party cooking (but not cleaning or tidying up).

When you live with someone for years who fails to contribute to the shared experience of your life – whether it’s the day-to-day cooking, dishwashing or outside chores or kids stuff – it’s really easy to become chronically irritated. I am a scientist by training, so I thought, well I’m just not asking right!

So: I asked for help, I asked to evenly split the chores, I nagged (when I was tired, sleep-deprived, working full-time & pregnant – FYI – this was the LEAST successful strategy!), I re-budgeted & hired help for some of it, I pointed out and asked him to consider what message he was sending his children – both sons and a daughter – that he, the father, did not do anything around the house, and towards the end of our marriage I kept a log on the kitchen counter of all the hours I spent every day doing things for our shared life.

When the only response you get is an angry “Do it yourself,” or “F***ing do it yourself,” “I’m too busy,” “Stop asking me to do stuff,” you just stop asking, because it’s too emotionally draining to constantly be on the receiving end of such vitriol and lack of love or even positive acknowledgement for all you do. I knew I had to find another way and at that stage I had not gotten to divorce as a solution.

And then, I discovered Buddhism & mindfulness. My teacher talked about how she used to suffer from real road rage, until she had made a deliberate switch to a) really paying attention to the actual process of driving and b) sending out loving thoughts to everyone around her on the roads.

So, instead of silently fuming & thinking about how I had married someone who placed so little value on me, and how someone who has both a working mother and a twin sister, could be such an extraordinary misogynist, as the dishes moved & sometimes shattered beneath by hands – I started doing the dishes and just noticing.

I felt the warm water, the suds, the shapes and textures of the dishes. I noticed how my dog (who usually lies under my feet) would scoot away from the sink because she doesn’t like the splashes and the sense of satisfaction I would feel as the dirty pile diminished and the clean pile got bigger. I would think about the meal I had shared with my family – the conversations, the looks, the love, how lucky I was to have the money and life that allowed me to buy and cook and eat such tasty food.

Now, I know this is on some levels, a small irritation. BUT, when we look at our lives and the bigger more important irritations, this shift in thinking is more important.

  1. Acknowledge the irritation when it arises – face it, look at it, label it “I do not like XXX.” It’s easy to get bogged down in feeling guilty, especially if it’s a first world problem, but everywhere in the world, we all are finding things irritating. So – look it in the eye & label it, because you can’t let things go if you are not willing to notice & articulate.
  2. Be totally present while doing the activity – smell, feel, touch, listen – don’t think about what you could be doing instead, be present, like I learned to do with the dishes! Why are young kids generally much happier? They’re not pondering the state of the world, or what’s coming next, they are just focused on the moment they are in right now.
  3. Flip the switch: from glum to funconsider the wasted and negative energy that you expend on disliking/hating the chore and just, fucking, let it go already! Why waste all that valuable upper west side/beach view realty (AKA your awesome mind) on negativity? Find a way of making it fun – a podcast or loud music really help me with getting through horrible chores; set a timer with your kids & make it a game!

And if none of this is appealing – you can always reward yourself with a treat for making it through!

Now go – fold the laundry, vacuum, pay the bills, have that difficult conversation – whatever it is that you find annoying or irritating, work on shifting it! I’m going to unload the dishwasher with my 12-year-old while listening to 21 Pilots….

Copyright Tamsin Astor, YogaBrained LLC 2016.