THE BLOG

Mindful Dishwashing

06/23/2013 02:36 pm ET | Updated Aug 23, 2013

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Recently, my partner Maitreya and I had a friend come to stay at our apartment, a very kind and light-hearted musician named Walter. A month or so earlier, we had been travelling with Walter, the three of us in a car, taking in the stunning beauty of the Connemara landscape -- we totally bonded.

During his most recent visit, we went for walks, cooked lentils and rice, played music, and joked about the peculiarities of living in Ireland -- "Why on earth do you need a key to unlock doors from the inside?!" I pondered aloud. I guess what is commonplace to some seems like a fire hazard to others.

His light-heartedness, which we so enjoyed, lingered even after he had left. It was marked by a great sense of mindfulness and presence, exemplified in the way he would clean the dishes after a meal. Maitreya remarked:

"Yeah, it's like the world is at ease when he washes the dishes."

He always took his time, clearing the drain board in full, waiting patiently for the sink to fill with soapy water, washing each dish thoroughly, rinsing with cold water, and then placing intently into the drain board, one at a time.

This is the heart of mindfulness -- taking care to notice with specificity what is going on right in front of us, to the degree that the world in our periphery is affected by our quality of attention. By taking care of what is immediate, we can set a precedent for the actions that will follow, even if we don't yet know what they will be.

Routine activities such as dishwashing are vulnerable places for losing mindfulness because they are relatively boring. It's easy to get lost in planning or playing back a memory in our heads while "half doing" what's in front of us.

So one practice that can help bring mindfulness to life is doing some "mindful dishwashing." Yes, it's not very sexy, but it can be a great chance to check in with our state of mind in the middle of our often-busy days. Doing things slowly and intentionally can come off as really "weird" in social environments, so dishwashing is a nice one, because you can do it at home, by yourself, where being "weird" is A-okay.

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Mindful Dishwashing Practice

(You can download a PDF of this practice here.)

- The first time you practice mindful dishwashing, do so when you have plenty of time and don't expect any social interruptions.

- Before you begin moving anything around, take a moment to visualize the whole process from beginning to end. If you are hand washing, is the drain board empty? If you live in a place with a water immersion, is there enough hot water?

- Lay the ground for mindful dishwashing by attending to the particulars of your set-up -- so empty that drainboard or dishwasher, assemble all the dirty dishes next to the sink, make sure you have enough soap and a clean sponge.

- Take a few mindful breaths to center in your body, then begin filling your wash bin or sink with warm, soapy water. Notice the sensations of smell, feeling of warmth on your hands, sound of the water running. If you notice you are lost in thought, just notice that and come back to the sensations in the room.

- Begin washing the dishes -- one at a time. Choose less oily dishes first, so the water stays cleaner longer. As you rinse each dish, give it a brief inspection to make sure oils and food residues have been thoroughly removed, then place gently into the drainboard.

- Repeat, and adjust dish placement in the drain board along the way as needed. If you notice you are lost in thought, just gently notice that, and come back to the dishwashing. Just this dish, these feelings, these smells and sounds.

- When all of the dishes have found their way into the drain board, drain the sink / dump the wash-bin / turn on the dishwasher. Rinse the edges of the sink and dump any food scraps that have collected near the drain.

- Take a moment to appreciate the clean sink and drying dishes. You have created something beautiful, congratulate yourself!

- Offer thanks to the clean, running water, the people who made your soap, who built the sink, and the people who dirtied your dishes, so you could have this opportunity to clean mindfully.

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That's it, and of course, don't feel like you need to do this practice each time you are washing the dishes -- that's a great idea, but in my experience, very ambitious. Start with once a week, and work your way up to once a day until mindful dishwashing is just a way of life. Always be kind to yourself when taking on a new practice, and never force anyone else to participate in your weird mindfulness things, no matter how great you think they are.

Happy dishwashing!

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Dishwashing Photos by Maitreya Levanchild, used with permission.

Visit Living with Mindfulness for more Mindful Living Tips, Practices and Coaching.

For more by Patrick Groneman, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.