Doing the Dishes

I have a dear friend who used to be a Catholic monk. He lived, much of the time in complete silence, in a beautiful monastery in the mountains. Charles' life changed forever when he met, befriended and fell in love with my friend Wendy. They have been married for almost 30 years and have two kind, smart and beautiful daughters. It was Charles that first presented the idea to me of be-ing in the moment, while standing at the kitchen sink. To stand there, and simply do the dishes. Do the dishes and that's it. Give the dishes full attention.


My mercurial mind told me this was preposterous! I mean, isn't there always something to be thinking about? Worrying about, dreaming about?


No, said Charles, with twinkly blue eyes. "I just stand there, and I do the dishes."


Charles and Wendy eventually got to design their dream house right under the magnificent Mount Princeton. Do you think they installed a shiny new dishwasher? Nope. "I still like doing dishes" Charles insists. "It's my meditation."


In 2003, I was lucky enough to attend a one-day retreat in Boulder with the wonderful Vietnamese monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hahn. He asked, "Have you ever washed the dishes in order to wash the dishes?" He was encouraging us: do something that could be considered very dull, and do it with your full self. This way, just maybe, we can stop rushing through all the actions of our day, without ever paying real attention... in order to get to the next thing. Approach the sink of dishes not with resistance but with a different perspective.


Thich Nhat Hanh tells us if we are rushing through the dishes as a chore, we "are not alive during the time we are washing dishes. In fact," he says, "we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink."* Yikes!


So, let's try this. Let's practice this level of mindfulness. I know that I have an active, curious mind. It takes work and intention to shut it off. Or at least, to turn it down a notch. This is where a consistent practice of breathwork and meditation comes in.


Here's a current photo of our kitchen sink. I'm off to do the dishes.

I will be mindful. I'll bring quiet to this activity.

I will stay present in this moment, greasy dishes and all.


How will you approach the dishes next time?


* Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness,: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation



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