The first time I started washing the dishes, I was 7 years old. I owe my aunt for teaching me how to wash the dishes (I was living with her back then).
For her, “dishwashing” means perfectly clean dishes, yet water and soap are conserved. Meticulous, yet straightforward. It was a standard I treasured so much.
But as years passed, I noticed that dishwashing was becoming a boring monotonous task. I began to despise it, believing it was robbing my time I could have used for play.
Eventually, I was known as the dish breaker — breaking a plate or a glass more often than the others. I know it’s an accident, but why not to my sister, cousin, or even my aunt? What’s wrong with me?
Here’s an excerpt from the book “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh. It talks about how we should wash our dishes:
“While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes.”
… “The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.”
This made me realized I wasn’t being present — I wasn’t paying full attention. This could have saved me from breaking many dishes.
But the point isn’t only mindfulness when washing the dishes, but in everything we do.
If we’re not fully present, that means, we’re more inclined to commit mistakes.
That means we may miss the whole point of the task — the purpose, the joy, and the rewarding experience.
When Thich Nhat Hanh’s friend, Jim, visited his place and asked if he could wash the dishes after the evening meal, he said:
“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.”
Jim replied, “I choose the second way-to wash the dishes to wash the dishes.”
Thich Nhat Hanh continues: (NOTE: Thich Nhat Hanh and his friend Jim plan to have tea together after Jim finishes washing the dishes.)
“If while washing 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.”
How many times you wash the dishes while thinking about your next task? I’m guilty doing that most of the time.
Be mindful in everything you do — wherever you are or whatever the condition is. I know it’s hard. But I know, too, it’s possible.
“The Miracle of Mindfulness” is a life-transformative book that teaches the power of mindfulness. It is originally written in Vietnamese by a Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh — one of the world’s most iconic Zen masters — and was translated into English by Mobi Ho.