enlightened dishwashing

Is dishwashing going to be different when we’re enlightened?

No. There will always be chores. One zen master famously said that these details are all there is to life. After enlightenment, dishwashing might become even more important.

In fact, it might be a perfect way to test how enlightened you are. Just think of Ram Dass, who said:

“If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”

Dishes on retreats

By Rene Ehrhardt [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

By Rene Ehrhardt [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D

Many people go on retreats, these days. They really enjoy the silence, being mindful all day long, in the company of likeminded people. But a strange thing happens as soon as we end the silence. A wall of sound goes up instantly. I’ve seen people burst into tears at the sudden power of the cheerful chatter that fills the room. Instead of an orchestrated zen breakfast, with bells, chanting and bowing, the dining hall becomes the scene of a summer picnic. And when I look at the serving table, people are no longer waiting in line. They approach the food from all angles, bump into each other and smile.

And after breakfast, when everybody suddenly wants to go home, there’s the dishes. Let’s look at three different ways to wash them.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s approach

There you are, standing behind the sink. Thinking about driving home, what traffic will be like and how long it will take. Thich Nhat Hanh will stop by and ask you: “What are you doing?” You will then come back to the here and now and smile at him. In his book “Miracle of Mindfulness”, he says:

“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.”

When you do the dishes quickly, so you can relax and have a coffee later, chances are that you won’t enjoy that either. Because when you drink it, you’ll be thinking of what to do next.

“Thus, we are sucked away into to future, and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”

By Michael Coghlan from Adelaide, Australia (Washing Dishes  Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

By Michael Coghlan from Adelaide, Australia (Washing Dishes Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

One thing I noticed is that when you’re doing things the mindful way, you will slow down. So if you are in a hurry, you might try:

Alan Watts’ approach

Alan Watts would say: “People forget why we do dishes. We do it for nice, because we like the plates to look good when we put them back on the table. Not with the remnants of breakfast still on it.”

“People get very compulsive about doing these things. (…) They see it as a duty, as a debt. As if you owe it to yourself, or to your family or to someone or other.”

Why don’t you just look at this one plate? It’s the only plate there is. It’s the only plate you’ll ever wash. Because you’re doing it right now. So enjoy it. Dip it into the water, shake it about, have a song and dance with it. Realise we are most happy when we’re playing.

Washing dishes in Lake Malawi (By Hans Hillewaert (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Washing dishes in Lake Malawi (By Hans Hillewaert (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

Do dishes together

I used to work with mentally handicapped youngsters. After meals, they crowded around to ask me if I would play a game with them, talk to them, read a story to them. And I had to do the dishes first because my superiors believed in cleanliness before happiness.

Suddenly I thought: “These cups and plates are all plastic, so even if they drop them, it doesn’t matter at all.”

It took them a while to realise that they could get my attention if they were prepared to work together. Before, they thought I had been hired to clean up after them. But in the end, we had some happy times. With their help, the dishes took longer, but were more fun to do.

It might sound silly to use a whole blogpost describing menial jobs. But when you think about how much time you spend on them, they suddenly become quite important. So why don’t you join me here next week, when we explore meditative vacuuming? If you want to share your experiences (to use one horrible new age expression), please do.


About Pipteinpteron

Catch a falling feather. Don't keep it.
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14 Responses to enlightened dishwashing

  1. alexanderschimpf says:

    Nice post. Even the Catholic mystical tradition has something analogous: St. Therese of Lisieux once remarked (while doing the dishes) that if you could not find God while doing the dishes, you would not be able to find God anywhere else, either.

  2. violetwisp says:

    Interesting post on a usually rather dull subject! I’m going to try playing with the dishes next time I do them, although for some reason I don’t hate doing dishes as much as I used to.

  3. bop2112 says:

    Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.
    After enlightenment, the laundry
    old zen proverbs
    nice blog,btw

  4. David Yerle says:

    Funnily enough, I greatly enjoy during the dishes. It’s my one excuse to let the hot water run on my always-freezing hands. Does that make me enlightened in any way?

    • I’m not surprised that even washing dishes would look different from Beijing 😉
      According to Wei Wu Wei (I’m posting on him next) The idea of liberation automatically inhibits the simple realisation that we are free. So I guess it really depends on what goes on in your mind when you’re doing dishes.

  5. E. Gadin says:

    I love this because I actually strongly dislike washing dishes. I’m going to practice shifting my perception after this post. Thank you 🙂

  6. The details are all there is to life. True, so true. Time to go on my usual schpiel :). It’s sad so many of us structure our lives around “big” goals and rush through 99.9% of life, not to mention consider it an annoyance on the way to these “big” goals.

    Life IS small moments.

    • Yes, I agree with you. It can be a weird experience, though. I feel I have been brought up to strive for all kinds of things, little and big ones. But they seem to become less and less important. If you really were in the now, there would be no past or future moments at all, so past and future would become irrelevant, or would they?
      (That’s probably my spiel, becoming all philosophical and asking loads of questions).

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