One of the nicest explanations of mindfulness I find is in Thich Nhat Hahn’s description of washing the dishes. I remembered it as I had a lovely cup of coffee this morning. We can never be at peace if our mind is racing ahead of us thinking about what we must do next or fretting over what has just happened. Mindfulness helps us see the beauty in each moment. Sometimes, the fact that the event is already beautiful helps, like the cup of coffee this morning. But at other times the mind prefers to label certain activities boring or unpleasant. I find that this explanation helps me to attend fully to whatever I am doing:
“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.
If, however, 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 wash the dishes, chances are we won’t be able to enjoy our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future —and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.