Washing the Dishes to Wash the Dishes

I’m reading The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.  One of the most well-cited lessons he offers in this book is to “wash the dishes to wash the dishes.”  This lesson is in the first chapter, The Essential Discipline.  This is what 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.

My first reaction was that this is ridiculous.  I can understand how to embrace every moment, but only for certain moments, for example when going on a hike with David.  But, who really wants to wash the dishes?  I especially loathe that task, ask Dave.

Then, I was in the car with my friend Nav.  He had one hand on the wheel and one on the phone, working with the GPS.  He refused to let me handle the directions.  His driving got me car sick, I had to close my eyes multiple times, and we went the wrong way.  Then it clicked.

There are two ways to drive a car.  The first is to drive in order to get somewhere (fast), and the second is to drive the car in order to drive the car.

The meaning of “washing the dishes to wash the dishes” became very clear to me.  In fact, it was a light bulb moment.  Even though Nhat Hanh provided an interpretation, I didn’t really understand it when reading the book.  So, I’ll explain in my own words (which now seem surprisingly similar to what I read a few days ago).

In order to really live in the moment and to be present in every moment, you need to fully experience of each moment (i.e., be mindful) , no matter how mundane the task is: washing dishes, driving a car, … As he said in the book, if you are washing the dishes thinking about the tea you will drink after you are done and thinking about what tomorrow will bring when drinking your tea, then there is no time left to experience the present.

I offer another reason to experience the present: it gets the job done better (and, in the case of driving, is just plain safer).  I’ve seen this when grading Calc III homework.  The difference between the students who do the homework to get it over with and the students who do the homework in order to learn is like night and day.  Sure, those who do it to get it over with have something passable written down, but the fact that they are not fully present when working is very transparent (especially if they are working with someone else and copy the answer down word-for-word, including the name at the top of the paper).

So, I tried to explain my thoughts to Nav.  I’m not really sure how that came across, but I hope he starts to drive the car in order to drive the car (maybe he will if he reads this and sees that I’ve called him out on his bad driving).

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2 Responses to “Washing the Dishes to Wash the Dishes”

  1. Ma Says:

    I have found that mindfulness allows me to grow in appreciation and release stress and tension.

    • bfasy Says:

      it really is amazing how small changes in the way you do things / think about doing things can change your whole experience! i’m happy to hear you’re practicing mindfulness too 🙂

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