Sunday, September 20, 2009

Just Washing Dishes

I had planned to write a heady post on the worthiness of meditation practice. Cleaning up the kitchen and washing dishes inspired me otherwise. I caught myself being so wrapped up in the careful soaping and rinsing, and so thoroughly enjoying it, that I had to report.

Being engaged in a simple, dynamic activity such as doing dishes helps give the mind a break. With enough going on, to keep one focused. Yet, not so much, that the brain needs to step into higher gear. During sitting, the physical stillness throws the mind back onto itself, making it especially challenging to deal with the stream of thoughts. Same with walking meditation. Walking is just walking, one foot ahead of the other, and going nowhere. Washing dishes is different. Each dish's got its own set of challenges. Round cup, sharp knives, fragile glass, heavy dish, . . . Got to watch, and pay attention. Monitor the water flow, and when to add more soap. Figure out which piece to wash next . . .

I was almost done with the whole stash, when I noticed. No thoughts. I had had no thoughts the whole time.


  1. i love to do the dishes by hand; it is simple effective and so much change happens with so little effort.

  2. You don't like thoughts?

  3. It's not so much that I don't like the presence of thoughts, as I find great joy in the space of no thoughts

  4. No thoughts is nice, but thoughts are also nice! Where do thoughts appear? And who perceives the absence of thoughts? The concept of space is also a thought!

    I like to wash dishes. I discovered it late in life. So many people have washed dishes for me all my life. If I piled them all, I can't imagine the height it would reach. On the other hand, I washed dishes just a few times. It is quite pleasant, actually. In any case, I wash dishes because they are dirty. Dishes deserve to be washed. Usually dishes are very kind to us, on a daily basis.

  5. Yes, it can get quite twisted - in a good way - once you start on that path of 'awareness about thoughts and no thoughts' . . . That's when I usually quit, and go back to washing dishes, and breathing, and being mindful of moment.

  6. I think this is really good practice. It is wonderful to be aware and mindful.

    Yet, I think that we don't need to control thoughts or emotions. We wash dishes because they need washing, not to produce some effect on our minds. After all, thoughts or dishes --- it all appears on our minds, doesn't it?

    True meditation is purposeless. It has no agenda and no preferences. It is happening all the time already. So if thoughts come, ok! No thoughs, also ok! But what needs doing now? Oh, dishes are dirty. They need washing. Dishes are kind.

    In any case, who perceives it all? That one is unchanged by thoughts or the absence of thoughts.

  7. a similar 'spacing out' happens when sewing or painting or gardening--an absence of mental engagement superseded by a total immersion in the medium such as 'dishwater', soil, paint,whatever the melding of self and immediate environ pulls us into.

    i vanish in textiles and tools, i melt in a well made sauce, the gesture, the application, mindful--yet elevated from mundane consciousness. just into and hovering above the dish basin of life.

    thinking of you, nadine sellers