empty sink fulfillment

Updated On — 19th Aug, 2020

When I do some sitting meditation when I get home from work, before even looking in the kitchen, something really cool usually happens.
When I do some sitting meditation when I get home from work, before even looking in the kitchen, something really cool usually happens.





Katina and I have been life-long renters, living in Manoa for the past twenty-five years or so. And as the owners of the various properties have sold their homes, we have had to scramble to find a new place in Manoa, so our kids could still attend the great schools here. And with each house search I would find myself thinking – I hope we find a place with a dishwasher.

You know the kind that automatically washes dishes after you load it up.

And inevitably – sigh- you guessed it. We find a great older house with ample space to host the weekly sittings. Only none ever had the dream dishwasher I secretly pined for.

Katina cooks wonderful healthy meals, and plans and shops, with astonishing frugality and flair. I do the dishes. Fair trade, right.

So why the long face when the new place does not have a dishwasher?

Three home-cooked meals a day for four people. The kids all get home lunches made by Katina. We rarely eat out. Equals lots of dishes that greet me when I get home from work at 8 Am.

I ask myself – washing dishes until kingdom come, is it getting in the way of my life? Is it interfering with my life? Keeping me from my life?

Only my imaginary life, that life of what-ifs and how-comes: the life I’m dreaming of.

At the moment that I’m busy working towards “empty sink fulfillment” — at the moment I’m doing anything, it is my life, it is all of me.

If we have a busy few days and I can’t work on project ESF (Empty Sink Fulfillment) — I am inevitably saluted by dishes and lunch containers and knives, forks, spoons, tumblers, pots, pans .. all inviting me in, to roll up my sleeves.

And if I haven’t done my mindfulness meditation that day, well, I just might want to say “later dudes.”

But if I manage to regain my focus on what’s at hand I realize it’s just one dish. One lunch container dyed red from pasta sauce.  One sticky fork.  There’s always just one dish thing to do next.

I do dish thing by dish thing, and the dish things always show me how.

Mindful dishwashing.

Sometimes the sink and the dishpan and the surrounding counter spaces seem so crowded with dish things I can’t see a beginning or an end. In my most un-mindful moments I wonder, is  there a point to doing work that seems endless?

When I do some sitting meditation when I get home from work, before even looking in the kitchen, something really cool usually happens.

The most ordinary things take on inexpressible beauty.

I just take in the look of those myriad dish things, like anxious puppies at the Humane Society, waiting to be taken home.

When we cultivate simple, mindful awareness as a formal sitting, standing or walking practice, we call it meditation.

When we cultivate it in our home life, we call it the dishes, the laundry, or the yard full of un-raked leaves since that last windy spell we had.

But it’s hard for us sometimes to believe that simple mindful attention is all there is to it. We complicate the matter with our judgment, putting down the ordinary as insignificant and idealizing and pining after the spiritual.

Never fully realizing they are the same thing.

It’s Just a Fig Newton of our judging mind.

I’ll leave you this week with an excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings, which, when I reflect on it deeply, puts my dishwasher-wanting mind to rest.

Ah- mindful dishwashing!


Thirty years ago, when I was still a novice at Tu Hieu Pagoda, washing the dishes was hardly a pleasant task. During the Season of Retreat when all the monks returned to the monastery, two novices had to do all the cooking and wash the dishes for sometimes well over one hundred monks.

There was no soap. We had only ashes, rice husks, and coconut husks, and that was all. Cleaning such a high stack of bowls was a chore, especially during the winter when the water was freezing cold. Then you had to heat up a big pot of water before you could do any scrubbing.

Nowadays one stands in a kitchen equipped with liquid soap, special scrub pads, and even running hot water which makes it all the more agreeable. It is easier to enjoy washing the dishes now.

I can see a machine for washing clothes, although I wash my own things out by hand, but a dishwashing machine is going just a little too far!

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.

 I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.


Katina and I are here to support your meditation practice in any way we can, just contact us through the Contact Page on this site. Or if you live in Honolulu, or ever visit, feel free to drop by our free, weekly meditation evenings.


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About Tom Davidson-Marx

Former Buddhist monk, now father of two and full time registered nurse, my passion is sharing what I have learned from a life-long love, study and practice of the early Buddhist teachings. Thanks for reading.