Mindfulness Practice: Washing Dishes

There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes. . . .

If while washing the dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes.

In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future – and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.

~ Thích Nhất Hạnh


washing the dishes to wash the dishesIn every mindfulness book I’ve ever read, the phrase “when you’re washing the dishes, wash the dishes”, always comes up. It’s a hard thing to get my head around. I have always thought of doing the dishes as a time when the hands are busy and the mind is free… so do something else with the mind. Listen to audio, write a blog post in your head, script the next video.

I’ve never even thought twice about actually trying to just wash dishes, to use it as a mindfulness practice, and be present through the entire process of washing dishes.

My biggest question when it comes to some of the moving mindfulness practices is… what does it even look like? Instead of letting that get in my way, yet another day I decided to just jump in.

You see, a little over a month ago our house was hit by lightening. All of our major appliances were fried, but worse than that, our well, that gives us water was ruined as well. We finally got the well fixed, but the lightening didn’t seem to care that I had a full load of dishes in the dishwasher ready to go, and my family didn’t seem to care that we had no water, and just kept using dishes.

Now, every dish in my house is dirty. I hate doing dishes. And I really love my mindfulness practice. I decided today was the day. I would wash the dishes to wash the dishes.

To get started I decided I would just notice things, like when I’m mindfully breathing…. I am breathing in. I am breathing out. I reminded myself not to judge, just notice, and when my mind wandered I’d just bring it back to washing dishes. That’s the practice after all. :)

I am filling the sink.
I am washing a plate.
I am washing a plate.
I am washing a plate.
Hmmm. I wonder if I can turn this experience into a blog post?
I wonder if a blog post or a video would be more effective?
I am washing a plate.
I am washing a plate.
Man, I can’t believe how many days off and half days kids get now. I never got that many days off when I was a kid. How am I going to get everything done before I have to go pick her up. Oh and I have to run to Pond Creek to get the dog food today too.
I am washing a plate.
I am washing a plate.
I am washing a plate.
I wish I was done with these damn dishes. Ack. I hate washing dishes.
I am washing a spoon.
I am washing a fork.
I am washing a spoon.

The dishes were ready to be rinsed, I grabbed a handful of silverware and got ready to rinse them all off when a thought hit me.

What’s wrong with this moment? Why do you want to leave it so quickly? Why do you want to rinse all the silverware at one time? Why do you want to miss this moment? What would you be doing if you weren’t rinsing the silverware right now?

And I finally understood. Even if I was off doing something else, I’d be thinking about all the things I was thinking about while doing dishes and I would be missing that moment as well. I decided to enjoy this moment in my life.

I am rinsing 1 fork.
I am rinsing 1 spoon.
I am rinsing 1 knife.

Suddenly the water flowing over my hands felt different, my mind seemed to slow down, and I enjoyed that moment.

It lasted for all of 15 seconds, and then I was glad the dishes were done. Because I really hate doing dishes.

But now I know it’s possible, to wash the dishes just to wash the dishes, and lucky for me… the drain rack only held 1/10th of the dishes I have to do… so there will be many more opportunities to practice. :)

Enjoy doing the dishes.


Jackie Lee Zen Wahm

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