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.