doing the dishes to do the dishes
Updated: Feb 5, 2019
Some months ago, I read this not unfamous passage from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, in a miraculous little book called The Miracle of Mindfulness. I have a wholly different relationship to my dirty dishes now - and shifting relationships to unpleasantries of many kinds. Perhaps this passage will affect you, too:
"I have a close friend named Jim Forest....Last winter, Jim came to visit. I usually wash the dishes after we've finished he evening meal, before sitting down and drinking tea with everyone else. Oe might, Jim asked if he might do the dishes. I said, 'Go ahead, but if you wash the dishes you must know the way to wash them...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 was delighted and said, 'I choose the second way - to wash the dishes to wash 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.'...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. While drinking the cup of tea we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future - and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life."
Since reading this, doing the dishes for me has become a powerful reminder of an invitation that always exists no matter where I am or what I'm up to - an invitation to nonjudgmental presence and awareness of this strange, amorphous, wondrous experience of aliveness. Wet fingertips, damp dish towel, sponge and all.