Sometimes, just getting the dishes washed is a big thing.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed with things around the house. The dishes are backed up. The laundry needs to be done. I need to pay the bills. When I go to do one thing, I find I can’t do it because there are three other things I need to do first. Just this morning I wanted to have some grapes with my breakfast. But I hadn’t washed the grapes yet. I looked at the sink, and the sink was full of dishes. It was going to be hard to wash them. And the drain rack was full too. Goodness gracious, it was all a log jam.

I certainly could have just washed the grapes around the dirty dishes. It isn’t ideal. Sometimes the grapes will drop into the sink and then they’ll sit there under the dishes and start to get slimy and gross. Then they’ll attract bugs. So that really isn’t a great option.

I could have let it all get to me and gotten overwhelmed. I’ve certainly done this in the past. But then there are more dishes, and more dishes, and they just don’t do themselves.

We have an understanding in our house that one person cooks and the other person washes the dishes. It seems pretty fair, but in reality the person who washes the dishes has it pretty easy. You have to cook every day. You don’t have to wash dishes every day. They can back up a little. The bad part is, they do back up and then it gets a little difficult to take care of it.

Then I have to break it down into pieces.

Alright. Start with something. Empty the drain rack. I need a place to put the dishes I’m about to wash. OK, that’s not too bad. That took three minutes.

Then I’ll look at the dishes to be done. Both sides of the sink are full. Not only are dishes from two (or three…) days in there, Scott used two pots last night because I wanted saffron rice and beans. So those have been soaking overnight to make it easier to clean them.

If only I’d washed them last night. They’d be done already. No soaking required.

But that way of thinking is a dead end. Saying “If only” doesn’t help with the right now. It helps a little for the future, so I can see what doesn’t work and try not to do it again. If I remember. But for right now, “If only” is a trap. Best to just notice it and then move along.

OK. I decide to wash some dishes. But then I’ll argue with myself that I don’t have a lot of time. This too is a dead end. It really only takes about ten minutes to do the dishes.

It is stunning how I’ll try to get out of doing what has to be done.

I create such resistance, and when I finally push through it and just do it, it isn’t nearly as hard as I was making it to be.

It doesn’t matter if you can’t do it all. Just do something. Even a little something is better than nothing.

Fighting the Nothing.

I went to yoga class today. This isn’t normally a big deal. But today was different because my wrist hurts.

I’ve skipped class for various reasons recently. It is too cold outside. I’m tired. I’m out of town. The last one is the only valid one. My wrist hurting seemed like a good reason as well, but I decided that I had to go anyway.

I think I’ve stretched a ligament at work. My work involves a lot twisting my wrist and picking up heavy books. My wrist is getting worn out from it. It would be great if we could replace body parts like we can with car parts. Some we can. Not always. Until then, rest is required.

There are several yoga classes at the Y that don’t do any moves that involve wrists. This is not one of them. Downward facing dog, plank, upward facing dog, fallen triangle – all wrist moves. This is the class I’ve committed to going to because this one is on my day off.

I haven’t been in the past three or so weeks. In part I’ve used the holidays as an excuse. But I’m starting to think that seasonal affective disorder doesn’t have so much to do with less sunlight and a lot to with less activity. Sure, they are connected. Less sunlight means it is colder outside, and it gets darker sooner. Thus, we are less inclined to go exercise outside, or at all. We think we’ll take a break, just like the Earth does. We’ll fly south for the winter, even if it is in our heads. We’ll hibernate as much as we are allowed. We still have to go to our jobs, but that is it as far as activity. Everything else can just wait.

This year of writing has taught me the danger of that. Slow down too much and the doldrums set in. We are dead in the water, going nowhere. There’s no wind in our sails.

Then depression comes for a visit.

And when depression comes to visit, it isn’t really interested in a quick stop. It stays, longer and longer, gathering energy while we lose it. Depression is self perpetuating. It feeds on itself and gets bigger and bigger while our control on our minds gets less and less.

Writing has taught me this. It has made me stop and see patterns that never made sense before. It has made me realize that the only way out of this funk is to pull out the paddles and start rowing for dear life.

So I went to class today. I went even though I could only do half the moves. I went even though it meant that I had to modify all the other ones. Downward facing dog became dolphin. Plank was done on my forearms as well. I’ve never looked forward to doing warrior one and two nearly so much as today. I took child’s pose a lot. I did some of my favorite twists at other times. I tried some moves on my fists instead. It wasn’t that great.

But I went. And I stayed. And I did what I could do and didn’t push myself today. Sometimes yoga is about pushing. Sometimes it is about backing off. You don’t ever want to hurt yourself. The motto “No pain, no gain” is not a healthy mantra.

But really, I did push myself. I pushed myself to get up out of bed, and showered, and dressed, and to the class on time. I know me. If I’d let the doldrums win, that horrible inertia, that nothing that just feeds on itself and gets bigger and bigger, then I would have stayed at home all day and done nothing. Then I’d feel worse. Then I’d do more nothing. And I’d use it as an excuse to not go next week.

And while I wrestle with the concept of stillness, I know that doing nothing is death.

Do something, rather than nothing.

Don’t ever do nothing because you think you can’t do anything.

One time I was making a rosary. I was cutting and twisting each link the hard way, instead of using eye pins. My hand started to cramp up and I put it down. The next day I wasn’t I interested in working on it. A week went by. I picked it up again. And I realized something. The work that I had done hadn’t gone away. I was that much closer to the end.

All progress towards a worthy goal is like this. We aren’t able to just plunge in and get there. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot out of us, but it makes us stronger. The stuff that it takes out is fear of being insignificant, fear of not making a difference, fear that what we have to offer isn’t good enough.

The same is true of any goal. It is easy to put things off because you think you can’t make a difference. It is easy to be jealous of people because they seem to have it all together, so you never even start. Why even try to learn to play the trumpet when Dizzy Gillespie has it down to an art? You can’t ever be that good. So why try?

That kind of thinking is dangerous. That kind of thinking will keep you in a hole forever.

Look at Mozart, or Matisse, or Marie Curie. Each one made it to the top of their field.

They didn’t get it all together all at once. They committed to a goal and worked on it, bit by bit. Nobody loses a significant amount of weight immediately. Nobody gets a college degree overnight. There is often a lot of hidden failure in there.

The trick is, don’t show off the beginner work. Paint over that canvas when you learn a new technique. Don’t think that sloppy painting of a flower is all you can do. You are starting. Every baby has to learn how to walk. Every new skill has to be learned.

Having patience with yourself and the process is helpful. Knowing your limits, and pushing them a little, is helpful too.

When I was in school I’d often get assigned books that weren’t exactly what I wanted to read. I could have waited until the last week and read the book in one fell swoop, remembering only half of it and hating all of the experience. Instead, I decided to use my limited math skills in my favor. I took the number of pages and divided by the amount of time that I had to read. This technique can be applied to anything. Take something you have to do and break it down into little steps.

Slow and steady wins the race.

A Rabbi once said that you can’t burn down a tree with a single match, but if you chop up the tree into small pieces, you can. This is a very useful way to think.

Say you want to do a good deed, a mitzvah. But you don’t think that you can do it all. So you do none of it. The idea here is that it is better to do a little of it than to do nothing at all. And, invariably, you will find that you gain a little more energy and ability towards the completion of your goal from just doing that tiny bit.

Energy leads to more energy. Good creates more good.

It is hard for us to get up enough momentum to do what we know we should do. We take breaks. We stop entirely. We regress. We gain back double the weight we had lost.

I exhort you to get back on and go. I exhort you to keep trying.

I remind you that even just thinking about it, you’ve already taken the first step. That energy can be enough to move on to the next one.