Be Mindful: Do the dishes just to do the dishes

“Washing the dishes is at the same time a means and an end; that is, not only do we do the dishes in order to have clean dishes, we also do the dishes just to do the dishes, to live fully in each moment while washing them.”

- Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh

It was a typical night after dinner. The meal was finished and conversations about the day began to trail off. Time to clean up.

Our four children cleared their plates. Then they rinsed and stacked their dishes in the dishwasher.  As they made their way up to bed, I finished rinsing the last of the dishes, pots, and pans, distractedly thinking about my plans for the following day.

washing the dishes just to wash the dishes

We can wash the dishes just to wash the dishes

When the last dish was rinsed and stacked, I put the dishwashing detergent in the little detergent compartment, snapped its lid shut, closed the door to the dishwasher and listened for click that indicates the door is locked and the dishes are ready to run.

Then I pressed the start button.


I figured that I had probably not shut the door to the washer tightly enough.  So I opened the door and shut it again. Hard.

Pressed the button again.  Not a sound.

Then I did what any reasonable person would do.  I pressed the button repeatedly. Opened the door. Slammed it shut. And then mashed the button again as hard as I could.


Taking a deep breath, I knew what I must do.  Something I hadn’t done in quite a while.  I filled the sink with soapy water and began to unload the dishes from the dishwasher and back into the sink.  Tomorrow, I thought as I angrily scrubbed each dish and glass, I will call someone to repair this blasted thing.

Well, it turned out that my work schedule was not so accommodating.  There just wasn’t a window of opportunity to pick up the phone that day.  So the day passed without a call to a repair technician and that evening I found myself back at the sink with soapy water and a sponge. Tomorrow, I promised myself, I will definitely call someone to repair this blasted thing.

The next day came and went. And the day after that. And the day after that.

And then something remarkable happened.  I began to enjoy washing the dishes. I liked the sound of the water running. I enjoyed the warmth of the water, the feel of the bubbles, the smoothness of the dishes under my hands.

You see, when the dishwasher was working, I was just rinsing the dishes so I could get the dishes into the machine.  So I could press the start button.  So I could get on with the next activity. Every part of the process was just a stepping stone to the next.  I was doing the dishes just to get the dishes over and done with.

But when the dishwasher broke, I learned to wash the dishes just to wash the dishes. I found that dish washing time is an opportunity to slow down and enjoy the moment. It’s a time to slow down my movements and enjoy sights, sounds, and sensations. I also found that it’s a good time for the family to be together. To work together. To enjoy one another’s company for a few more precious moments before the day comes to a close.

For a month I enjoyed the simple pleasure of a sink full of warm, soapy water and the deep quiet that ensued when I was engaged with it.  Then one day, a circuit blew that supplied electricity to the microwave and the stove.  I called an electrician who quickly and ably replaced a switch that had blown in the wall.

“Anything else?” he asked as he turned the screw driver one last time.

I hesitated.

“Well, the dishwasher hasn’t been working for about a month,” I admitted.  I took a breath, somewhere in my heart hoping that he would recommend a repair whose astronomical price would make it necessary for me to continue to wash the dishes for another year or so.

He walked over to the dishwasher and stood for a moment.  Then he eyed a switch on the backsplash above it. it.  ”What does this switch control?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly.  I’d played with the switch before and had never seen a light indoors or outdoors so much as flicker when I touched it.  I figured it was some artifact an old circuit that had long ago been disconnected.

The electrician flipped the switch and then pushed that same button on the dishwasher that a month before I had pushed repeatedly in panic.

The lights on the dishwasher’s front panel glowed green.  HMMMMMMMMMMMM, it hummed contentedly.

The electrician shrugged.  ”No charge,” he said grinning.  My face turned red about as quickly as those buttons glowed green.

Later that night our family excitedly loaded their dishes back into their old, trusty friend.  We all joked about the switch, where the electrician — in a fit of good humor before he departed — had adhered a label that in bold capital letters announced: DISHWASHER.

But something inside me was already missing those quiet mindful moments when I did the dishes just to do the dishes.

About Lauren Rosenfeld

I am a mystical multitasking mama of four. An author. A speaker. A soul declutterer. My hair is pink. My heart is wide open. I am here to help your soul shine.
Lisa says:

Dear Lauren,
In the beginning of your blog you described the exact relationship I have been experiencing repeatedly with my dishwasher. Our dishwasher is on its last legs. It sometimes has to be opened and closed repeatedly before the buttons will work enough to star it and the money I so carefully squirreled away to pay for the new one has long since been used for another financial "emergency".

I have been letting the impending "crisis" of being dishwasherless sit in the back of my mind, worrying it smooth like the worry stone I kept in my pocket, years ago, to rub when I worryied. I have long since given up carrying the worry stone in my pocket and I thought I had given up worrying. But after reading your "Worry Wants To Be Your Friend" blog on June 8th, I realized that worry still haunts me at times.

After reading todays blog I have reworded my thoughts about the impending doom about being dishwasherless, like this . . .

"When the dishwasher finally breaks down, won’t it be nice to have the extra time to just BE with my husband and daughter while we wash and dry the dishes by hand . . . until we save the money to buy a new one. It will be like a mini vacation!"

Thanks for this timely reminder to be mindful and grateful when detours come our way. That dishwasher detour might otherwise have been wasted on frustration, anger and worry. Now it will be welcomed as a restful break from my busy day’s usual routine.

Ekhart Tolle says, whatever you resist persists. I try to keep that in mind because a part of our natural reaction as humans is to resist the changes and detours in our lives.

I don’t ever want to forget that most miserable "disasters" in our lives end up bringing great discovery, beauty and joy into our lives in the long run.

"You can plant seeds of impatience, fear and frustration, or of Love, Contentment and Faith."


Wow, so simple and still profound on many levels.

Just this morning I was complaining (inside my head) about the noise my dryer makes (repeatedly) when the load is done. Then I remembered a book I read in grad school about Lyndon B. Johnson’s mother (?!?!) and how in their little corner of rural Texas in th earlier part of the 1900s, one full day each week was devoted to laundry. And it wasn’t popping a pile of clothes in the washer and then into the dryer and then asking your kids to put their folded clothes away. This was back-breaking, hard work in a place with no running water, no spin cycle and definitely no dryer sheets or spray stain removed.

Remembering this from that book allowed me to just be grateful in that one moment for the annoying dryer sound.

Sorry for the tangent — thank you for the reminder!


Kelly says:

maybe just maybe you could turn the switch off :)