Washing The Bowl

In the weekly edition of Caesura Letters, I read about the concept of washing the bowl. It’s a way of life, initiated by a Vietnamese Buddhist monk named Thích Nhất Hạn.

He teaches that when washing the bowl, focus on the act of washing the bowl. Too often, I’m only concerned about rushing through the soiled dishes. The objective was not to wash the bowl, but to finish washing them.

It’s not just because it’s a chore. When doing something enjoyable and relaxing – watching a movie, sipping coffee in a nice cafe, and reading my favourite magazine, I never really “live the moment” and savour the things I always wanted to do. Instead, my mind’s filled up with tasks yet to be done. I’m always looking forward without understanding the present.

This sentence particularly sums up what I’m going through. Our tendency to mentally disengage from our tasks means that we are forever living in the future…Whatever we are doing, it seems, becomes a task we practically ignore in order to think about the next task.

Indeed, my thoughts are always filled with the next cafe to visit, the next movie to watch, the next book to get and what’s happening at work. My mind never seem to be in the present, even though I’m doing what’s supposed to be done on the agenda. It’s actively seeking out new things to do. There’s a disconnection between my body and mind. The body lives in the present while the mind lives in the future. I never really feel, smell and appreciate the things before me until I consciously grasp this concept of washing the bowl.

It has been instrumental in my change of outlook in life. I no longer cafe-hop to merely document them in Day One or Field Notes. I travel to new cafes to seek out new adventures and smell the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. I no longer sit through the show for the sake of striking another movie or TV drama off the “must-watch” list. I listen intently to the dialogues and appreciate the cinematography. I make an effort to never do work-related stuffs at home or when I’m with my partner. It should never precede the precious personal weekends we spend together.

The simplest thing may sometimes be the hardest thing to do. Is it so hard to not look beyond the things before you? I used to struggle with this and in return, I was never done chasing things after things. 

Now, I’ve learned to slow down and smell the roses. It may not always work, but by making a conscious effort, I’m beginning to reap the rewards of experiencing life in a more tangible and honest manner.