The Magic of Washing Dishes

Doing dishes in itself is nothing – a blinding, busy chore that can even hold negativity or resentment at times (read: have you ever tried getting your teenagers to wash dishes?)  When performed with mindfulness and intention, however, it can become a small act of worship;  of consecration, a prayer of gratitude and praise toward the day.
The well-known Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that by focusing on chores we normally find annoying and time consuming, we can bring joy and meaning to them, as a part of our whole and meaningful life. In his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation, he explains, “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 the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water and each movement of my hands.”

Mind Full or Mindful?

I didn’t have a dishwasher until I was in my 30’s. It’s true. All of the apartments and houses I had rented had been older places in larger cities, and apparently none of the landlords thought it was worth the expense of putting in a dishwasher. It didn’t bother me though, I was raised washing dishes by hand anyway by my mother, aunt and grandmother. Pretty much anyone can do dishes,  right? It doesn’t require any special education or fancy tools, just water, soap, sponge and willing hands. There is however, a certain amount of art involved in the process. Fill the left sink with hot, soapy water (because the right side is usually for the disposal and rinsing.)

  • Glasses first. We wash glasses first, since the water is the cleanest and hottest.
  • China/Plates and bowls second. Assuming you’ve pre-scraped the food, you won’t have a lot of soil from the plates so do them next.
  • Silverware third. We’re getting progressively dirtier here, see? Make sure you stack your silver in the drainer with the handles down. That way, any soapy residue goes away from the parts that go in your mouth. (Aha!)
  • Pots and pans last.

If you think about it, the very fact that you have dirty dishes at all means that you have eaten food recently. What a thing to be thankful for. We can also take a moment to notice our dishes themselves. Maybe they were grandma’s or maybe you picked them up at the Goodwill store, or maybe you paid a buck for them at the dollar store or maybe you spent a whole brick of money on them at a local arts and crafts show. Regardless, we can be grateful recognizing that we have a dish at all. Look at the pattern, color, texture, glaze. Someone created this design, maybe even this plate, by hand. Does it please you? It’s a small shift in thinking that makes a large difference.

We must find a way to replace yearning for what life has withheld from us with gratitude for what we have been given.” Kent Nerburn

Mindfulness is the act of being fully conscious and aware of what is happening in the present moment. More than that, really, and the magic of it, is the quality and the fullness of our awareness in the present moment that can lift our spirits. In practicing mindfulness, we do not have to be perched atop a mountain shrine entranced in deep meditation or focusing on heavy concepts such as world peace. That is not to say that we are not benefited by such lofty pursuits given the time and space to do them, rather we can practice mindful meditation in everything we do, everywhere we are, at any given moment. Including when we’re washing dishes.

Once we’ve filled our sink with hot water (mmm fire and water), used some wonderful, herby soap that we love (mmm Earth) because it smells (mmm Air) fantastic, then we can get with the washing. But first, let’s talk about that soap. Another very small, seemingly insignificant thing that can literally create magic right here. Use something you enjoy– I love Mrs. Meyers and all of their mouth-watering aromatherapy. Use something non-toxic and natural, so that you aren’t lathering up with chemicals that could hurt your skin, and that is gentle on the earth. You can also make your own (recipe follows.) Feel the lather and consistency of the bubbles. Close your eyes and breathe in the fragrance. Recite a prayer or invocation, calling divine witness to your work:

God, (Goddess, Lord and Lady, Universe) help me this day to be fully present in my living; awake to every breath. 
Remind me, please, that you are present in the smallest of activities as well as the profound; in the hidden beauty of ordinary moments and everything in between. 
Namaste, Amen, So mote it be.

Anything you say is the right thing, don’t get hung up on words. Use mine or make up your own. Let this be a reverent second or two, and then have fun with it! Sing, blow bubbles, whistle, dance or say the following incantation. Feel the energy moving through you, from the earth up through your feet, your chakras (or your spine), and out through your heart and the top of your head. Pull the energy down from the Universe through the top of your head, out your feet and back into the Earth. If you have little ones, and you want to make this a social festivity, get them involved. If you are doing dishes with a partner or helper, take a minute to connect with them in some way. Ask them about their day and really listen intently to their response. Be slow to open your mouth and quick to open your heart.

“Soap and water, fire and earth,
Clean this dish for all its worth.
Next time it is used, in good health we dine
With joy and happiness for me and mine.” Incantation for washing up

This is the magic: Reverence, joy, connection and gratitude, and you’ve still managed to get your dishes done!

Blessings, and don’t forget to take it all with a grain of salt…Literally!

Recipe for homemade dish soap:

  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1/4 cup grated Dr. Bronner’s bar soap, tightly packed
  • 1/4 cup liquid castile soap
  • 1- 2 tablespoon  super washing soda  depending on consistency.
  • 1/2 teaspoon vegetable glycerin
  • 15-40 drops essential oil (lime, lavender and mint or lemon, rosemary and mint are my faves.)