“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes. ” – Agatha Christie
Years ago I read a book by Thich Nhat Hanh entitled the “Miracle of Mindfulness.” As someone who has had the humbling task of washing dishes domestically without a dishwasher, this subject caused me to ruminate on the profundity of this quote from his book:
“If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future -and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, The Miracle of Mindfulness
If you think this teaching merely applies to dishes, think again. We live in a world of constant distraction and the dish can be substituted for almost anything that requires our attention, from the mundane to the mind boggling. When we are fully concentrated on the task, that’s when we achieve what psychologist Mihalyi Cskszentmihalyi called “flow.” This has also been referred to as the “white moment” that athletes and performers experience, and I frequently have these moments while immersed in playing music or writing. Everything seems to fall away and I am fully connected on the task or experience.
Years later, I would read another quote by one of my favorite mystery writers, the great Agatha Christie who claimed to get her best ideas while doing the dishes. This quote was not in conflict with Hanh in my opinion. Conversely, she shifted her creative focus but credits the task of dishwashing as the inspiration. I’m sure when she sat down to realize her book and write it, she was immersed in the moment and “washing the dishes” so to speak.
Ms. Christie may not have been mindful of the dishes in a Zen-like way, however the simple task of washing dishes served her well in her storytelling and gave millions and generations of readers the gift of her writing.
If you find yourself without a dishwasher, or maybe facing writer’s block and must roll up your sleeves to do this dreaded chore, remember to enjoy the moment and either focus on the simplicity of the moment or your next great mystery. Either way, you have made your world a better place.Agatha Christie