William Alexander

I carefully took each piece separately and washed it thoroughly, feeling the heat and the viscous quality of the water on my hands. When the water began to get cold, I would add more hot water. I don’t remember exactly, but I feel confident that it took at least twenty minutes to wash and dry those few dishes from my solitary dinner of meat and potatoes.

I knew enough to realise that what I had done was a form of meditation. I also knew that what appealed to me so much was how ordinary an endeavor it was. There was no temple incense burning; I hadn’t chanted over the forks or prayed over the skillet. I had simply washed my dishes in the sink. The ordinariness of it was overwhelming. I realised that I didn’t need to do anything “special” to meditate. I only had to wash my dishes in the kitchen. From that night to this moment, the time I spend washing dishes has been my most personal time. I feel the water running out of the tap, the soap, and the food scraps as the gifts I know they are.

This was how I began the practice of meditation. Years later, I read in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book The Miracle of Mindfulness that novice monks in Vietnamese Zen monasteries are assigned the job of washing dishes when they first arrive.

It is not so easy a job for them as it was for me, with all my hot water and Joy. They only have cold water, sand and rice husks to use for scraping the pans. How fortunate I was to have Joy.