Informal Mindfulness with Washing the Dishes

What comes to mind when the word “mindfulness” is mentioned?

Do you think you have to sit in a pose for some time, and not allowed to move. Technically, this would be meditation and could be a formal method of mindfulness. Informal mindfulness practice involves weaving mindfulness into existing routines through engaging in mindful moments and bringing mindful awareness to everyday activities. One such activity is washing the dishes. Ugh! I hear you say.

If you have washed the dishes once you have probably done it a thousand times. As the years pass, a task such as this becomes boring and monotonous. It takes you away from things you could otherwise be doing. While in the moment of washing up, you are perhaps thinking of the next task(s) or activities you could be or will be doing. Before we had the kitchen renovated, washing the dishes was something done by hand. I was working F/T as a programmer and my mind would thinking about some problem that needed solving. In short, washing the dishes was a interruption to everything else.

Recently, I came upon a book titled “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh, who described washing the dishes as:

“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 realize that I was not present to the task at hand. This also means we may miss the whole point of the task — the purpose, the joy, and the rewarding experience in something as “monotonous” as washing the dishes. Mindfulness allows household chores become opportunities to embrace, nurture and transform the mind.

Viewed mindfully, this means focusing on the smell of the soap, feeling the water temperature and touching the dishes, the sound of the cloth or sponge on the plate, recognising the clean plate. It become an activity that engages all of the senses.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s tells the story of when his 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:

“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.”

Mindfulness does not have to be complicated. Looking at tasks we do every day can become mindful activities if we allow them to be.

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