The Dharma of Tea Towels

H is for home by on the lineIn the communal kitchen there is a basket where everyone puts tea towels when they are dirty.

We have a lot of tea towels. And as the first weeks in the temple went on, they seemed to be piling up fast. I did a load of washing, hanging them all out and bringing them back to fold and put in the draw. I did another load. Then I watched the basket pile up again.

Would anyone else do them?

As I passed the pile of dirty tea towels every day, resentment started building.

Eventually I mentioned the huge teetering pile of tea towels in a house meeting. The next day I went to do some of our own washing. Someone had washed the tea towels, and then forgot them and gone off for the weekend. If I wanted to do my own washing, I’d have to hang them all out…

As I hung them out I laughed. It was as if they’d arranged a little lesson for me. You can’t get out of washing these tea towels, you know. And look – now you’re doing it, and it’s not so bad, is it?

I realised that it wasn’t really the tea towels I was resentful about at all. Behind the resentment was fear. One of the things I felt anxious about before we moved in was how it would be to share space with others without ending up feeling responsible for everything that needs doing, all the time. Others won’t notice things-that-need-doing in the way I do. I will have to slave away and everyone else will be sitting around drinking tea and it will be too much for me.

Of course, I carry this story around with me wherever I go. The reality is that there are jobs here that different people to. We’ve occasionally had to remind people to do certain things and this has felt fine. Everything here runs extraordinarily smoothly.

The tea towels showed me where my fear was, and then (with the help of my housemate) they showed me how I could let go and have faith. Whether or not I end up washing all the tea towels, everything will be okay.

Yesterday I passed the tea towel basket. It wasn’t quite full, but I was on my way to my office so I put them in the washing machine on my way past. As I hung them out afterwards I enjoyed the neat rectangles and their fresh smell. As I folded them back into the drawer I enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing that others would have clean tea towels to dry their plates.

Wherever there is grit, there is the potential for a new opalescent layer of pearl.

What or who is bothering you at the moment? What might it have come to teach you?