Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Washing the Dishes

Within the past week I've read Thich Nhat Hanh's classic work on meditation, The Miracle of Mindfulness, at least twice. There is a plethora of practical exercises in this short book for how to get still and quiet and focused, many of them revolving around awareness of breathing. These practices transcend any particular religious dogma (for we all breathe, don't we?), and help a person become more fully present and engaged with whatever is happening in the moment. For me personally, they give even greater meaning to Jesus' assertions that the Kingdom of God is here now and eternal life a present reality, and teach me more of how I can "be still and know."

One of the spiritual coachings in the book concerns something as mundane as washing dishes. When you are washing the dishes, the Vietnamese monk Hanh he writes, don't just try to get through the task with the hope of doing something else a bit more interesting. Actually focus on washing the dishes. I tried this, and meditated on what the dishes represented. They are objects upon which my wife and children enjoy their food. I then applied the same approach toward the task of making my nine-year-old's lunch, which certainly can be a hurried chore on a busy school night. This is the lunch my child will eat in school the next day, I reminded myself. And it became a sacred moment to me, packing a little girl's lunch, spreading the PB&J on the whole wheat bread.

Certainly this practice applies most significantly to being in someone's company. The book quotes a story from Leo Tolstoy when emphasizing that the most important time is right now, for this moment is all one ever has; that the most important task is the thing you are doing, for who knows if you will have the chance to do anything else (the future is not guaranteed); and that the most important person is the person you are with right now.

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