The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh (1999)

The Miracle of Mindfulness,
Thich Nhat Hanh (1999)

                Another good book on mindfulness, and while I don’t think it expresses the idea as clearly or as thoroughly as Harris’ Waking Up, it does state it simply: washing the dishes is meditation. As such, so is life — while we are doing whatever we are doing, we must be in the present moment in order to be truly alive. If we are thinking about the future or the past, we are not alive. I can think of nothing more profound.

“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.”

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.” What’s more, 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.

Washing the dishes is meditation. If you cannot wash the dishes in mindfulness, neither can you meditate while sitting in silence.

He also includes the best description I’ve ever read of the typical western translation of the “tao” concept as “the way” (which Roger Ames translates to “waymaking”):

A person who looks at the table and can see the universe is a person who can see the way.