Thursday, March 29, 2012

Washing the Dishes

What I love most about Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing is how he can take a very simple image and make such a powerful point.  We are now reading this book in my meditation group and every week I go home with something to ponder.
Last night the reading was about washing the dishes while washing the dishes.  That sounds silly I know.  But his point was that we go through so much of life without paying attention to what we are doing because our minds are either on the past or the future.  This can be especially true of repetitive tasks like washing the dishes.  He made the point that he would never opt for an electric dishwasher because it would take away the time he devotes to washing the dishes after each meal.
I’m guilty of so many offenses in this regard.  However, there is one thing I do every morning that gives me great pleasure.  I carefully section a grapefruit and an orange that I relish as part of my breakfast.  I could juice them much faster or even purchase the juice to drink.  But somehow this ritual of using the grapefruit knife is grounding and affirming and the end result is the highlight of my breakfast.
I will probably pay more attention over the next few days to the small things I often do without thinking.  But inevitably they will slip back into their routines and my mindfulness will be replaced with the mental gyrations that often predominate my day.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even with a shelf full of "spiritual" books, this is one I return to again and again. I agree with you about TNH's powerful simplicity...

A dear songwriter friend of mine once wrote a song inspired by her immersion in TNH's writings. Last week I got the opportunity, which I've wanted for ten years, to sing harmony on the tune with her at a concert. Who knows; perhaps you'll write a piano piece! :-)


9:45 PM  
Blogger Steve Reed said...

I'll have to check out that book. About 20 years ago I read a piece in the Utne Reader (remember that magazine?) about mindfully washing the dishes -- feeling the warmth of the water, the slickness of the soap, the steam rising from the sink. It has always stayed with me as a good example of mindfulness. I love that Thich Naht Hahn uses the same imagery. (He might have written that original article -- I'm not sure.)

3:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to be a contrarian here, but I think it's a better use of your time to ponder other more interesting things while washing dishes, a task which is BOR....ING. :-). I may not have this Buddhist thing grokked yet.

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops ... Forgot to sign comment above. 'dd'

3:22 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Anon F -- Wish I could have heard the song!

Steve -- Likely that TNH wrote the article. He writes a lot about washing dishes and eating tangerines.

Anon DD -- You have always been into multi-tasking, not a Buddhist trait! The whole Buddhist thing is about how not to view tasks like washing the dishes as boring.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

I like that idea. He talks too, in one of his books about walking meditation which I like to do. I also like paying attention to any menial task - it gives it a different meaning to the work.

6:17 AM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

I used to hate washing dishes, but at this new house, we don't have a dishwasher AND we have a tiny, tiny kitchen. I have to stay on top of things!

So, I've changed my perception of the task. Now I take the time to appreciate each of my dishes and think of where I got it, if there is a story behind each of the dishes. It made me go through all my dishes and eliminate everything that I don't absolutely love. Now, dishwashing is waaaay more pleasurable.

3:08 AM  

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