Part I – Doing The Dishes
I’m at home. The washing up is being done. All that exists in the universe is the chinking of plates, the glistening of bubbles, and the whoooossshhh of water as it shoots out of the tap. The washing of dishes fills all available space.
This bowl is particularly dirty. It’s covered in dried breakfast cereal and will take ages to clean.
The phone rings. The bowl is put down, rubber gloves are removed, and kitchen is replaced by living room. Kitchen sink and dirty dishes are replaced by sofa and table and phone. “Hello?”
A voice appears out of nowhere. “Hey Jeff!”. It’s my friend calling from London. But the sound of his voice happens here, in the room with the sofa and the phone, not ‘out there’ in the world. My friend isn’t in London, he is here with me. He meets me in this ever-present intimacy.
He tells me some good news – he has found a new job. This news is good, in his world. And because in this moment his world is my world, this news is good for me too. We share our good fortune, together.
Nobody here, nobody there. And still, the response comes: “Wow, that’s great news!” and it’s not even like I’m acting. I really mean what I say, when I say it. Love does not reject anything, love does not put on an act or a show to please people, love does not posture and pretend just to win approval. No, love dances, love plays, love embraces, for the sheer joy of it, and so the words come: “Wow, that’s great news!”. I know he’s worked so hard to get this new job and there is only celebration.
We arrange a time to meet next week for coffee and I scribble down the details on a piece of paper.
The conversation ends. I put down the phone and go back into the kitchen and continue to scrub away at the hardened cereal. The hands move, the water runs, and a pile of dirty washing up is replaced by carefully stacked plates and saucers and knives and spoons, sparkling in the sunlight streaming in from the window. There is only gratitude for the washing up liquid, the rubber gloves and the sunlight that illuminates it all.
Celebration for my friend’s good news, gratitude for the rubber gloves, what’s the difference here? All sparkling, shimmering appearances in the play of life.
Now I need to urinate. Quicker than a flash, a toilet appears. That’s amazing. Need for urination arises, toilet appears. This is a perfectly synchronised play. Needs are always met, somehow. Contraction, expansion. Tension, release. The heartbeat of the universe, and it’s all so ordinary in its appearance. Amazing.
Whilst I’m drying my hands I notice that the bath needs cleaning, desperately. Well, there’s no time like the present! Now all there is, is total absorption with cleaning the bath. Spiritual awakening? Oneness? Advaita? Nonduality? No, no, no. Not that. The bath needs to be cleaned! This scum must be removed! It’s a matter of life and death!
I finish with the bath, go back into the kitchen and notice that the washing up has been done. What a wonderful surprise! I’d forgotten it had been done. I grab a drink of water and go back into the living room. I see that there are some notes scribbled on a pad of paper about meeting my friend next week. Oh yes, another wonderful surprise! Life is flowering everywhere, it is simply bursting at the seams: in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the living room, and even in somewhere called “London”. It’s absolutely everywhere. It cannot be contained.
What an adventure I’ve had in the past few hours! And all I did was move between my kitchen, bathroom and living room. There is so much to see and do here. How rich this life is. And there is more to explore….
To the world, doing the washing up and cleaning the bath is nothing. When seen in clarity, it’s everything. When you ask me “what did you do today?” I’ll tell you that ‘I did the washing up, cleaned the bath and spoke to my friend in London’, when of course what really happened, beyond the story (and how I love the story!) is that the dishes washed themselves, the bath cleaned itself and there was nobody on the phone a friend in London. What really happened was adventure – what really happened was intimacy with all things. The story didn’t happen – life happened.
The story is only a pale imitation of the celebration.
I’ve been having a secret love affair with life, you see, and nobody will ever know. I’ve been intimate with the plates and spoons, with the washing up liquid, with the bath tub and the cleaning products, with the sound of my friend’s voice and the sunlight streaming in from the kitchen window. I’ve been intimate with the carpet, with the walls, with the oven and the fridge, with the toilet and the phone and the cute little spider I found crawling up the side of the radiator. Nobody can take this intimacy away from me. Nobody. No power in the world can threaten it. It’s my little secret that isn’t really a secret at all. It is life itself, and it is always right here.
Part II – Going to the Supermarket
I find myself outside a supermarket. How did I get here? I don’t remember. Do I need to buy anything? I don’t know. Yet.
Oh look – the feet are moving. Follow the feet…
I find myself staring at coffee. Do I need coffee? I can’t remember. Maybe I just enjoy looking at coffee. The hand reaches out to grab a lovely blue packet. I start to read the blurb on the back. “A sweet blend of Latin American coffees with a smooth, full bodied flavour that can be enjoyed from dawn to dusk.” Wonderful! The eyes dart over to another brand. I’ve lost interest in this sweet blend of Latin American coffees with a smooth, full bodied flavour and have become fascinated with the coffee with the funny-looking purple parrot on the front.
Moments later I’m in the shampoo aisle. How did I get here? I must have lost interest in the coffee and remembered that I needed shampoo. Oh, look at all those different colours! Greens, pinks, reds, oranges. They all want my attention. They are all calling to me in their own unique way. This isn’t shopping, this is a mating ritual.
I read the blurb on the back of each bottle. I love doing this. Each bottle is a different world, a different universe. “Great Hair, No Fuss!” “Put Shine and Dazzle Back Into Dry Hair!” In the blink of an eye, five, ten, twenty minutes have gone by. It was six o’clock and now it’s twenty minutes past six and I find that I’m still comparing shampoos. In the past, by now I would have been thinking “Jeff, you weirdo, get a life!”. There would have been a voice there, a narrator, constantly evaluating and judging Jeff and comparing him to others. These days, there is no interest in ‘conforming’. Who says you can’t fall in love with shampoo bottles?
In a flash, I notice that I’m in the vegetable aisle, and that there is a shampoo bottle in my basket. That must be the one I ‘chose’. Haha, yes, the illusion of choice!
I start surveying the vegetables. Carrots, onions, leeks. The hand moves to pick out some potatoes. This one is nice. This one is… ooh, it’s got some funny white bits coming out of it, I’ll give it a miss.
I am nothing. The potatoes are everything. I disappear into the potatoes. I am the potatoes picking themselves. I am Mr Potato Head.
A young man starts talking to me in the milk and dairy aisle. He asks “are you from round here?”. For a moment the knowledge is not there. Then suddenly the knowledge comes: Jeff lived in Brighton for two years! But it’s too late, he’s already talking. “Do you know any cheap bed and breakfasts round here?” I reply “well there’s plenty on the seafront, and I think there’s a very cheap one in the town centre.” I don’t know where the words come from. He mutters something under his breath and then begins to rant and rave about how much he hates Brighton, even though he’s only been here for two days. His face becomes red and he starts to pant like a dog. He lets me know what an awful place Brighton is, how unfriendly the people are, how it’s full of “gays and prostitutes and spiritual weirdos.” I don’t agree and I don’t disagree, I just listen and watch. He’s just telling his story. If I was attached to Brighton I can imagine how his story might offend me. But I’m not, and it doesn’t.
He finishes his rant, I offer him some useful information about hostels in Brighton, then the body turns, and the legs begin to move. Where are they going?
Bread! The angry man is wiped out and now I’m in the bread aisle, and the smell of freshly baked bread is so heavenly, and it’s totally free. Taste, touch, smell, they don’t cost a penny.
A couple next to me are arguing. The man wants a large pack of bagels, the woman says they need to save money and buy the smaller one. A thought pops up: if this man and woman could just falll in love with the bagels, there wouldn’t be a problem. If they could just fall in love with the coffee, the shampoo, the potatoes, the brightly coloured signs and fluorescent lighting, with the people who hate Brighton and the people who love it, with the smell of freshly baked bread, the screaming of babies and the weight of shopping baskets, with the shape and texture and colour of everything, then there wouldn’t be a problem ever again. If these people could just die, right here and right now, then like newborn babies they would see all of this for the first time, and it would amaze them. For we are surrounded by wonder, always.
I leave the store and walk home. The entire experience – the coffee, the shampoo, the angry man – is reduced to a memory, and the memory becomes a single thought, and the single thought dissolves into the vastness. Did it ever happen? I don’t know.
This is like a constant death. Death of everything that’s gone before. Death of the old. In every moment you wave goodbye to the coffee, the shampoo, the angry man, the potatoes, and you meet life face to face for the first time. You cling to none of it, and in return you are given everything.
That’s the deal.