Sustain-ability: The Dishes of Life
When I was a young woman, I had this theory that I called "the dishes of life." It was a modern take on the Zen "before enlightenment chop wood, carry water...." The idea being that no matter what weirdness or enchantment or, yes, enlightenment was going on in your life, the dishes still had to get done.
It just resonated more with me than chopping wood. And it was also closer to how to be an adult in our modern world. Yes, the dishes "have to" get done, but not because you'll freeze to death or go thirsty without them. It's because being in the world requires a certain amount of ongoing order creation to be manageable. You don't really have to wash the dishes, right? You can use paper plates or get takeout or just scrub the one pot or plate you need when you need it. Doing the dishes is about maintaining order in your life.
After a recent post that talked about my various personal maxims, a dear friend of mine jokingly suggested that I make a Dishes of Life post. Now, I wasn't really going to make this post because there's not a lot else to this idea. You want to live a magical life? Great, but you don't get a pass on doing all the other grownup things that have to get done. Simple.
But then the other day, the Daily Stoic shared the following with me in email:
The Taxes of Life
...People have been complaining about their taxes since the beginning of civilization. And what has become of it? Taxes are higher than ever and they’re dead. Death and taxes. There is no escape. So let us waste no time and create no misery kicking and screaming about it. Let us not add to our tax bracket the cost of frustration and resentment.
Taxes are inevitable part of life. There is a cost to everything we do. As Seneca wrote to Lucilius, “All the things which cause complaint or dread are like the taxes of life—things from which, my dear Lucilius, you should never hope for exemption or seek escape.” Income taxes are not the only taxes you pay in life. They are just the financial form. Everything we do has a toll attached to it. Waiting around is a tax on traveling. Rumors and gossip are the taxes that come from acquiring a public persona. Disagreements and occasional frustration are taxes placed on even the happiest of relationships. Theft is a tax on abundance and having things that other people want. Stress and problems are tariffs that come attached to success. And on and on and on.
There’s no reason or time to be angry about any of this. Instead, we should be grateful. Because taxes—literal or figurative—are impossible without wealth. So what are you going to focus on? That you owe something, or that you are lucky enough to own something that can be taxed.
Now, in case you don't know, Daily Stoic is awesome and I highly recommend you sign up (it's free!). But it was also really relevant to, and resonant with, my original point. You do the dishes not only because it's part of being a functional adult, but because you have dishes to do and you have food to eat off of those dishes. Looking beyond the chore and the maintenance of order is gratitude that you have those dishes in the first place.
In fact, this hit me personally because a couple of years ago I decided that instead of the random assortment of chipped IKEA plates we had, I wanted NICE DISHES. So our household holiday gift was a set of plain white bone china dishes and serving platters. So how fortunate am I do be able to wash these lovely plates and bowls? And how blessed that washing in this context just means putting them in the dishwasher and letting it do the work?
Seneca was right and (unlike wood chopping for most of us) his point is still highly pertinent today. Everything we do has some kind of tax -- it can't be helped and in the end there's no point complaining or stressing about it. In fact, if looked at the correct way, we can celebrate the annoyances that are born directly from the good things we have.