Wash the dishes (in order to wash the dishes)

Today I wanted to share the wisdom of Thích Nhất Hạnh.

Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist

Over the past 3 years since I began studying buddhism, I have read a lot of books, on all different subjects – mindfulness, happiness, the precepts, the eight-fold path etc.

Of everything I have read, the advice that has most resonated with me has been from Thích Nhất Hạnh – by far my favourite buddhist author.

Sometimes you can read things that change your perception of life forever – and I am so grateful to Thich Nhat Hanh for sharing his knowledge and insights with us all.

Today I wanted to share some of my favourite mindfulness exercises from his books:

Wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes

Anyone can wash the dishes in a hurry, try this for a change:

While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance this might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.

There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first way is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second way is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.

If while we are washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as they were a nuisance, then we are not ‘washing the dishes to wash to wash the dishes.’ What’s more we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes….If we can’t washes the dishes, chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either.

Driving Meditation

When we see a red light or a stop sign, we can smile at it and thank it, because it is a bodhisattva helping us return to the present moment. The red light is a bell of mindfulness. We may have thought of it as an enemy, preventing us from achieving our goal. But now we know the red light is our friend, helping us resist rushing and calling us to return to the present moment where we can meet with life, joy and peace. Even if you are not the driver, you can help everyone in the car if you breathe and smile.

The next time you are caught in traffic, don’t fight. It is useless to fight. If you sit back and smile to yourself, you will enjoy the present moment and make everyone in the car happy. The Buddha is there, because the Buddha can always be found in the present moment. Practicing meditation is to return to the present moment in order to encounter the flower, the blue sky, the child, the brilliant red light.


These exercises have made such a huge difference in my life.

I highly recommend you check out his books:

Present Moment, Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living(1990) by Thich Nhat Hanh. Parallax Press, Berkeley, California

The Miracle of Mindfulness (trans: Moby Ho) by Thich Nhat Hanh (1976). Boston: Beacon Press.


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9 responses to “Wash the dishes (in order to wash the dishes)

  1. I hadn’t thought about dishes before, but I recall a few days ago there was a delay on the freeway and a smile came across my face as I knew I might be late for work but the realization that it was entirely out of my control settled in my mind and I simply grasped the moment and cherished it regardless. Is a different sort of joy that is not experienced by everyone and I’ll need to remember that sort of calmness the next time I am doing dishes too. Hmmm…. 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for your reply! :-). Really appreciate it – and I agree entirely. I try to incorporate practice into my daily life. For example I usually mop the floor in my house by hand – I use it as an opportunity to really focus on just that – mopping the floor. I find it a great form of meditation. Thanks again 🙂

  3. EMH

    I had to read the passage about washing the dishes aloud to my husband, who spends most of his free time washing dishes. I used to think he was just OCD, but I’ve come to learn that he REALLY likes washing the dishes! With three small children in the house, we both view washing the dishes as a small respite. We take turns! =)

    • Oh I love that! :-). Thank you so much for sharing :-). I must admit I really enjoy housework – although I am only a (single) Mum to one. I find the housework is so therapeutic though. Thanks again for sharing 🙂

  4. Again. Another post I love! I’ve been working on my driving because its one of the few places where I can either threaten a strangers safty with texting and driving too fast or promote harmony and life by being patient, slow and careful. To help remind myself I take a quick moment to breath and dedicate to promoting the safety of everyone on the road when I get in the car.

    I love your continual theme of working practice into your life!!!!

    • Thank you so much for your comment :-). I love that – I do something similar. Well at least I did before I wrapped my car around a tree a month ago… now I walk lol. However I digress! :-). I always used to state my intention aloud each time I got in the car, and before I started the engine. And that was “my intention is to be a kind and considerate driver”. Ever since I read Thich Nhat Hanh’s tips on mindful driving a few years back, it has changed the way that I drive. I always use red lights now as a reminder to breathe deeply and “check in”. I also only play classical music as I find it a good reminder to stay calm and mindful.

      I look forward to hearing more from you 🙂

      • That’s great. (Sorry to hear about the car! I hope you are okay… sounds like you can type at least!)

        I was struggling with something when I first wrote this and I’m wondering what your take on it is…

        I have started calling these statements of intentions “prayers.” I started because I have friends who I talk about spirituality with who are Christians and it was easier, sort of a short hand… but I get stuck on it a bit because it isn’t prayer in the way that a theist means it.

        I don’t know, I’m probably getting hung up on something I shouldn’t be bothered by… but I was wondering if you have a reaction to that.

      • Firstly, I love that you can have these conversations with your friends. It’s not always easy to find like-minded people. I would be interested to hear more about the conversations 🙂

        I honestly believe it doesn’t matter what ‘label’ you put on the intentions. It is the act itself that is important. Can I ask what your feelings are towards calling them prayers?

        I think that the fact that you are not feeling comfortable with calling them prayers is very valuable information, and a good thing to analyse further. Which is why I am interested to hear more on your feelings towards it.

        Would you feel comfortable calling them intentions? Or perhaps affirmations?

  5. This is awesome! I shall try this! 🙂

    Subhan Zein

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