To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in warm water, it really isn’t so bad.
I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to go and have a cup of tea, then the task will become unpleasant.
That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. Each bowl I wash, each poem I compose, each time I ring a bell is a miracle, and each has exactly the same value.
If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have a cup of tea, I will be equally incapable of drinking the tea joyfully.
With the cup in my hands I will be thinking about what to do next, and the fragrance and the flavour of the tea, together with the pleasure of drinking it, will be lost. I will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment.
You may ask how you can nourish awareness while washing dishes or sweeping the floor or working in a factory or an office. I think you have to find your own answer.
Do whatever you can to keep the light of awareness shining inside yourself. You will discover ways that suit you, or you can try some techniques that others have tried — like concentrating on your breathing.
You can maintain awareness of each inhalation and exhalation, of each movement of your lungs. When a thought or feeling arises, allow it to flow naturally with your breath. It may help to breathe lightly and a little more slowly than usual as a reminder that you are following your breathing.
We lead extremely busy lives. Even though we do not have to do as much manual labour as people did in former times, we never seem to have enough time for ourselves. I know people who say they do not even have enough time to eat or breathe, and it appears to me to be true.
What can we do about this? Can we take hold of time with both hands and slow it down?
First, let us light the torch of our awareness and learn again how to drink tea, eat, wash dishes, walk, sit, drive, and work in awareness. We do not have to be swept along by circumstances.
We are not just a leaf or a log in a rushing river. With awareness, each of our daily acts takes on a new meaning, and we discover that we are more than machines, that our activities are not just mindless repetitions.
We find that life is a miracle, the universe is a miracle, and we too are a miracle.
Excerpted from the book The Sun My Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh.