A Return to Zero

Zed. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. 

That may not sound like much, but sometimes it’s the best outcome and highest goal you can achieve. 

For instance, I love doing the dishes, washing and drying them by hand, several times a day for a household of six people. That’s a lot of dirty dishes, but when asked why I don’t use a dishwasher, my response is always “I am the dishwasher.”

There is something satisfying about this, even spiritual in fact. Vietnamese Buddhist and peace activist, Tich Nhat Hanh, describes the reason for doing the dishes is ‘just to do them, not because you need a clean bowl’ and, as a meditative practice as well. After a meal, everyone goes their separate ways with bellies full, and I get some alone time in the kitchen to sort out the mess. In our modern virtual and digital world, if feels good to do something actual and tactile with my hands, something with instant and noticeable results, instead of clicking a mouse or swiping on a screen that disappears when turned off.

But the flow of dirty dishes never ends. The best I can achieve is a return to zero – where all the dishes are put away, the stove and countertops are spotless and the sink is empty. The kitchen slate is wiped clean, ready for the next meal to be cooked and another mess for me to deal with.

It is this interval that counts the most, never mind that it is only temporary, as are most other things in life, including life itself. A clean chalkboard invites and allows the teacher to write out the next lesson. A construction crew will first level a plot of land before building a new house. After a rock concert, the trash on the arena floor is swept away and the stage is struck and trucked out, so that only an empty space remains, awaiting transformation for the next hockey game or dog show.

We hear a lot of people claiming they want to change the world. Self-help gurus insist that we must change ourselves. Politicians promise to ‘fix’ the problems of society. However, almost no-one talks about restoring equilibrium, zeroing out the scales or just finding balance. Yet how can change actually occur without the vital step of first retuning to a neutral position? Can a nation go from war to peace without a cease fire? Can a farmer plant a crop before plowing and grooming the soil? Can a person go from being stressed out to blissfully happy without becoming calm and centered first?

This is where things like gratitude and meditation come in. Being grateful for the good things you have (and for the bad things you don’t) makes for a better feeling about where you are right here and now. Then your desires will have a stronger foundation from which to grow. Meditation is how we accomplish this in our inner lives. Calming the mind and emotions to a neutral state will pave the way for better thoughts and feelings to arise. And, a clean kitchen is always the best place to start before preparing the next meal.

So, before changing the world — or yourself — find that liminal in-between state, your level ground and balanced center first. That, in itself, is a positive change in the right direction, a return to zero.