Organise Kindly

Tree Reflected in a Tea Cup by Linda Aitkin

Advice on organising yourself or maintaining a household tends to focus on practical matters. Whether it be a foolproof system  for sorting an entire house or random tips and tricks, the emphasis is on getting the job done. Knowing “how to” perform an activity is certainly useful information. However for many people, it’s not a lack of knowledge and skill that gets in the way of housework harmony. If they are resisted and resented, daily household activities can easily become a chore to be endured, or a guilty omission to be swept under the carpet. The experience of cleaning, sorting and tidying is then regarded as unpleasant – an annoying distraction from the important things in life.

Yet many spiritual traditions make use of everyday activities as teaching tools. Unlike practical advice for getting things done, they focus on the process, rather than the outcome. Perhaps the most famous of these is Thich Nhat Hanh’s instructions on dishwashing.

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, that 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.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Doing a task for the experience of doing it, rather than to get it done, turns our expectations on their head. It doesn’t seem feasible to consider the washing up as a pleasurable activity, rather than an annoying impediment to watching TV or surfing the net. Yet there is something alluring about the possibility of any task being pleasurable, if approached with awareness. What is this wondrous reality awaiting us at the kitchen sink?

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the idea is to wash the dishes perfectly, as this turns the chore of washing the dishes into the chore of mindfulness. The idea is to be aware of what you are doing with kind attention, without fighting it, resisting it, or resenting it, or being so distracted that you miss it altogether.

What difference would it make if household activities were regarded as an opportunity to bring your attention to the quality of your actions, rather than the quantity of work you can get done. Could the caring attention that you want to bring to your family be right there in the act of folding washing, ironing uniforms, and taking out the garbage? Could the sense of peace, calm and loving attention that you long for be right there in the midst of whatever you are doing?

 

Quote from The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh.

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