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Hart Beat

Mastering the art of distraction

I sometimes think I have a touch of attention deficit disorder. Every time I go to do the dishes, I end up cleaning out a kitchen cupboard, rearranging the canisters on the counters or changing the centerpiece on the dining table.

I simply can't just wash the dishes, put them away and wipe down the counters. I don't just sit and read the morning paper with a cup of coffee to start my day. Oh, I do that, but I just have to do all of that other stuff and a load of laundry, too.

Some might think I'm just trying to get out of going to work, but that's not it. I find doing a myriad of activities relaxing. But it hasn't always been that way. Like many others, concentrating on doing dishes was not on the top of my list of fun things to do.

Over the years, I've developed an annoying habit of relaxing by doing the dishes. My daughters think I'm nuts. "Just sit and do them later," they urge.

I prefer to think of the dishes and cleaning the kitchen as an opportunity to multi-task. But maybe I'm just a victim of being too easily distracted. Some people say that kind of distraction wastes my energy, but I'm not so sure. Straightening up the kitchen gives me a chance to clear my mind.

If something is out of place, I can't help myself. I have to straighten it. I suppose tidying up is also a way of dealing with the fact there are a lot of things over which I have no control.

Cleaning gives me an opportunity to be physical, to regain necessary energy I've wasted concentrating on things out of my control.

For me, daily annoyances like overflowing piles of newspapers, magazines, half-read books left lying about or laundry needing folding are peaceful meditations, not just evil chores that waste my time.

I've learned to use the mindless tasks, like cleaning the toilet, to focus on working through my dilemmas. Besides, there is a certain kind peace in completing those reoccurring chores. Most of us don't stop to think that such tasks can be pleasant. All that's needed is to learn to appreciate the feeling you get when accomplishing a task.

It's a lesson that is hard to learn. I still have to bring my mind back to into focus from time to time, especially when I don't want to do a really important task. I suppose some people might say I'm just a procrastinator. Perhaps I am, but delaying the hard task by doing smaller, easier tasks makes the big project easier to master, well, at least that method works for me

I recently discovered I've passed my not so healthy distraction habit to one of my granddaughters. She and I share a propensity for avoiding tasks we don't like. I can relate, because my least favorite chore also used to be doing the dishes. She'd rather hide in her room and read. I used to do that too, hoping my little sister would pick up the slack, a tactic that never worked for me and it's not working for her, either.

After more than 47 years of washing dirty plates and pans, I've finally come to terms with the unglamorous job. I can now find a sense of peace in the repetitiveness of the motions involved in cleaning plates. I don't think she will ever find dishes anything more than a waste of her time.

I'm hoping she can also come to see dishes as a form of meditation. After all, there is a certain peace in standing before the kitchen sink with a window to gaze out. After all, one doesn't really have to think hard about the dishes while scrubbing them clean. The imagination is a great thing and we all know there are plenty of things to think about while standing in one place.

Distractions can be a beautiful thing. It's where I get my best ideas for all kinds of projects. Maybe I ought to tell her that and save her 40 years of fussing over her hatred of doing the family dishes.

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