Thích Nhất Hạnh (b. 1926), the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teaches that when you are washing the dishes, the only thing you should be thinking about is washing the dishes. It is a “wondrous reality” he says, to be standing before a sink, washing a bowl, in full consciousness of the moment. Why should the conscious experience of washing dishes be any more mundane or any less miraculous than any other moment of existence?
Nhất Hạnh teaches that you can wash your bowl with the objective of having a clean bowl, or you can wash your bowl with the objective of washing the bowl. If you are only concerned with the end project — a clean bowl — then what becomes of the time you spent washing it? The time seems to disappear, as if a snippet of your life was not even really lived. On the other hand, if your mind, body, and sense of presence are honed in on the washing itself, every part of you comes alive to the vibrancy and sensation of the moment. Therefore, instructs Nhất Hạnh, the most important thing to think about while washing the bowl iswashing the bowl.
Our tendency to mentally disengage from our tasks means that we are forever living in the future. We rush through the ordeal of washing the dishes because we are in a hurry to sit down and drink our coffee. But while we drink our coffee, our mind again races ahead to the next item on our agenda. Just as we do not wash dishes in order to wash dishes, neither do we drink coffee in order to drink coffee. Whatever we are doing, it seems, becomes a task we practically ignore in order to think about the next task. (Nhất Hạnh 1987:3-5, 24)
Imagine, then, washing the dishes with the express and sole ambition of appreciating the activity itself. Feel the soap suds, water temperature, chinaware, and vapour. Imagine doing nothing except enjoying the coffee, with the singular intent of noting every sensation of the cup and drink.
You have 1440 minutes to live today. You will probably sleep for about 480 of them. How many of the remaining 960 minutes do you consider a nuisance? How many minutes are left to live for the sake of the minutes themselves?