A.K. Reader: DOING THE DISHES: Refracting Personal History through the Lens of Daily Ritual

For the past week, I have been retyping a book length manuscript written in 1989 and never published. Plan to turn it into an e-book, and perhaps even a printed book.

This manuscript is particularly interesting in that it showcases myriads of dramatic turning points in my own life, and thus might be of benefit to others who have awakened, over and over again, inside crossroads faced and embraced, whether willingly or not.

When I mentioned this “doing the dishes” focus to my son Colin, he commented, “That’s what I do too!” Which made me realize that, far from being a strange subject, doing the dishes, for everyone, can be reimagined, not as a daily chore, but as a daily standing meditation.

For one who, until I “landed” in Green Acres Village, has led a peripatetic life, doing the dishes functioned, over time, as a centering technique, a regular, standing meditation practiced in myriads of dramatically different environments over the decades.

Here’s a sample chapter.


DOING THE DISHES: Refracting Personal History through the Lens of Daily Ritual

Chapter Twenty-Two

March, 1984


Just need one pan, to boil water for tea. Hardly any dishes to wash, thank God. Except for my cup. Once in a while I do need to rinse out my cup. And a knife. I need the knife. To cut slices of cheese. To butter bread. Have to force myself to eat. Half an apple. A carrot. A handful of raisins.

Exhausted. Inert.

All day long I sit alone, in front of the fire, staring into it, dulled eyes sucked into the oblivion of bright hot heat.

All the fire gone out of me. No life left. The fire inside now outside, where I can look at it, recognize it, understand it?

Feel cold, so cold. The fire heats, warms, feels good. Can’t get enough, can’t get close enough. Jump up, stand next to it, legs spread wide, hands spread out over it, swaying back and forth.

Sit here in front of the fire hunched over, rocking back and forth. Rocking the trance of primal motion.

Can’t get warm enough, no matter how hot the fire. Want to fill the hollowness inside; to feel my whole being inside the fire, consumed by it. As if somehow, contact with this tiny confined conflagration will both sear me of my sins and eventually, reactivate my energy.

Not that I’ll ever be an activist again. “Peace activist”! Sure! Fat chance! I was a violent peace activist. So caught up in furious rage against those who would rage against others that I didn’t recognize myself as prime example of what must change. So identified with the content of the message I was trying to force others to understand that I was not sensitive to my own violence against them. Peace activist, ha! Let me say these words, say them again and again, say them this time with meaning: let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

Sitting here alone for three months now. Gone from the world. Depleted. All the fire inside transferred to the little black box squatting before me, its heavy iron door open to my eyes, humming with combustion, radiating heat.

The fire sucks memories from my bones, draws them out like strings. I see the events of my life stretching from the present back into the deep deep past as inevitable chains of cause and effect, all stemming from one original cause that brilliant white flash of world destruction which both terrified and magnetized me as a child. I imprinted on it. Chewed it up into tiny brilliant flashes of rage energizing muscles, tendons, bones, nerves . . .

All my life I’ve run on nervous energy, fired by fear of violence. All my life I’ve been violent, violently against violence. All my life all I see is war and threats of war. I’ve been afraid of that which I most expected, and drew it to me, made it mine. Made myself into my own image of what I most fear and hate. I am the violence of which I speak against so scathingly. I am the one who pushes the button to trigger the holocaust.

Hot golden flames envelop blackening wood to glowing red coals firing tiny blue gold orange flames spreading alighting brilliant rooms in hell. Hissing me forth. Calling my eyes to enter them. To become one, be done. Gone. Gone out like a light.

My eyes flit in and out of hell’s glowing chambers. My eyes are magnetized by the light, the light, light of the darkest night. Fanatic’s eyes: they would kill to preserve what they “love.”

As a wild animal slinks off into the woods to lick its wounds, so did I slink off to allow the fire to lick the wounds of violence within myself. Curled up, hunched in my little chair in front of the little fire. Rapt in silent solitude, wintry winds howling outside. Fire was my intimate partner. Lost in internal reflections, mind looping back through memory, images stirring thought.

Voice breaks through harshly into the silence, its raspy whispers startling — “Yes!” . . . “Oh no!” . . . “My God it’s true!” — and the fire hisses back.

The fire was my lover. I could not leave the fire, could not take my eyes off the fire, could not get enough of the fire, wanted to be warmed by it, comforted. We were one, the fire and I, caught up in mutual alchemizing penetrating searing the dross of what had become my wooden being. I stopped the world that desolate winter, consumed by flames. I stopped the world and I got off.

I began that vigil on New Years Eve, 1984, with fear in my heart. 1984. The year we had all been dreading. Orwell’s year.

I stared into the fire, and I kept a fresh cut red rose blooming beside me during that long winter of 1984, replacing it with another every few days, as my offering to the eventual replenishment of Life on Earth.

As the days began to grow longer, snow melting off and ground thawing; as life within the soil began to swell and thrust up tiny green shoots, I too began to feel life begin to stir within.

One early morning, I awoke to the sound of birds celebrating the dawn. This was not unusual; since childhood I have preferred this time of awakening. On this particular morning, however, I had the strange experience of actually being consciously aware of the process of moving from deep sleep to awakeness.

Suddenly, at one particular point still deep within the sleeping state, but moving quickly to the surface, my awareness was arrested, steadied, there. I experienced my being as a point of light buried within the thick wall that had become my body. So thick was the wall, that I could only barely hear the birds on the other side of it. It was as if I was hearing them from a long way off, though I knew they were just outside.

This discovery shocked me profoundly. Its meaning slowly and ponderously vibrated from deep inside out through what had become the dense compression of my material being. I realized: so dense was the wall of my body, that I could not even experience what had been, since childhood, the deep inner joy of my body resonating instantly and with abandon to the harmonic vibration of birdsong.

This experience made a lasting impression. My body as having constructed from its own substance a thick wall separating consciousness from body’s original capacity to sensitively attune to the natural world. That morning I made a solemn vow: I will work to dissolve the wall; eventually my body will be purified and detoxified to such an extent that it will vibrate like the skin of a drum, to again receive the singing of birds resounding inside me.

Speaking now, in late 1989, little did I know, back then, how long and slow and profound this process is proving to be; that it has, in fact, transformed the whole of my life. Now I can say: only as I learn to listen to the subtle whispers of what my body tells me, do I truly attune to health, to love, to Life on Earth.

Back then, as April unfolded, I sighed with relief to detect the first faint perfume of spring ruffling the breezes. I sensed that perhaps, after all, since the human race had made it through the winter of 1984, despite our collective fear of it, we might actually be beginning again. That something perhaps had changed. That we might yet save the planet. And what had seemed equally impossible until the alchemy of those months sitting mesmerized in front of the fire, that I might even save my own soul.



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4 Responses to A.K. Reader: DOING THE DISHES: Refracting Personal History through the Lens of Daily Ritual

  1. kelley says:

    Ann,I continue to be amazed at the resonance I feel for so many of the life experiences & insights you share. I have tended wood fires for more than 50 years now as my primary source of heat & solace. It is my preference to have my body consumed on a wood pyre, here on the land where I was born, when the time comes.
    And I too came to see the insanity of hating the haters some time ago. My “activism” now consists of one to one conversations, preferably conducted next to a small campfire, with no agenda & no expectation except to “be here now”.
    thanks & be well!

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