Updated: Feb 25, 2020
Imagine a sink full of washing up....
What do you do?
Do you get straight on with washing them, so they are washed, dried and put away, done, straight away without giving it a thought? Do you accept any offers to help in the process? Do you leave them for a few hours, a few days? Ignore them in the hope or expectation that someone else might wash them first?
When you wash them do you take time to notice them? Perhaps appreciating their form, and grateful for their function? Are you mindful about the washing process?
Or do you pay more attention to your mental list of to-do’s, the shopping to get later, what to have for supper, what happened, or might happen at work, your plans for the weekend? As you wash the mental list of subjects to contemplate is endless – perhaps the dishes get cleaned while you are not really noticing the process of them becoming clean.
You might have heard the phrase how you do anything is how you do everything. Indeed your approach to one thing, even a seemingly mundane task such as doing the dishes, is reflected in and forms your approach to life.
The microcosm is reflected in the macrocosm: how you do things on a small scale is reflected in how you do things on a vast scale.
It is directly related to how you meet the tasks and challenges that you face in your career, your relationships – in fact in everything.
It is fundamentally easy to overlook our modus operandi (ways of doing) relating to the small things because when learning new tasks very quickly the brain becomes hard wired to recall the process. Neural pathways form, because the more you fire (nerve impulses through the brain repetitively) the more you wire (forming those neural pathways).
This is fantastic evolution, a feat of neuro-plasticity, because it means that very quickly you are able to automatically go through the motion of whatever it is you have learnt. Furthermore it leaves the mind free to notice more present concerns, giving you a peripheral vision to engage with your tribe or keep an eye out for or potential threats. In a non-threatening environment rather than watching for wild boar the mind comes to unconsciously skip from topic to topic. You have probably noticed it indulging in holiday plans or general fantasies or making mental lists (ad infinitum!).
However, if you start to pay attention to how you approach these mundane tasks, and your repetitive patterns inherently within them they can be a source of transformation.
Whether you are washing the dishes, preparing a group presentation, or doing your admin, you will be following a pattern of habits; your habitual approach.
To notice and engage with these habits it takes a mindful approach, starting with even the smallest of tasks. A mindful approach, in other words, is bringing your attention to see, experience, the world as it is, rather than how you want or expect it to be, or fear that it might be.
Mindfulness encourages a state of being rather than doing. By stepping out of the mind and into a state where you are aware of, and presentto sensation it brings you into ‘being’ mode. It is consciously stepping out of the mental to do list, fantasy, or judgmental stories you tell yourself that get stuck on repeat.
It is noticing and taking time to notice the present moment, thereby noticing your ways of doing things which might have become automatic, but yet are not serving you to fulfill your potential. In fact they may even be sabotaging you.
In her article How You Do Anything is How You Do Everything Carolina Caro uses the example of her inability to accept help from others and writes that:
‘Those transformational moments where you can see your drawbacks so clearly and how they get in the way of your own success are both challenging and a blessing.’
The moments in these seemingly mundane tasks allow you to see how your habits on a small scale translate into habits on a far greater scale and adds that:
‘Perhaps just one simple concept, like the inability to accept help from others, could be sabotaging different aspects of your life without your awareness.’
Coming back to that mindful approach to the sink full of dishes - Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist thinker uses the analogy of washing the dishes to draw attention to being in the moment to cultivate mindfulness, Therefore you come to notice how you do anything and therefore how you do everything.
He encourages you to take time to really wash the dishes. Notice but don’t indulge the mind stories, and notice your approach to the dishes.
Notice the water on your hands, the feel of the china, the look of the bubbles, the fragrant smell of the soap.
Take time to care for the dishes as you handle them.
Notice their form and appreciate their function. They have just served you your last meal after all.
This could apply to any task, not just dishes.
This could be sticking to a new morning routine to improve your perseverance.
It could be taking time to notice your surroundings when you take the dog for a walk.
It might be accepting the offer of help to carry your things.
It might be involving other’s feedback where normally you wouldn’t.
Noticing and changing how you do anything on a microcosm level will then apply to and change your macrocosm.
Carolina Caro sums it up like this:
‘A simple shift in one habit, instead of a long list of resolutions, could open up an entirely new set of possibilities […]’
Time to fill the sink and mindfully do those dishes.