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When I am practicing being mindful, for example when washing the dishes, there seems to be so many things going on at once that I kind of don't know what to focus on. There is the warmth of the water, the smell of the detergent, the sound of the water and sounds all around, sights out the window etc etc. I have this problem in general with mindfulness. Feels like many things pulling my attention in all different directions. Can someone please clarify for me how I should be doing this correctly because I feel confused about it.

  • You don't have to focus on anything except the dishes. Just be aware. Things come, things go. If you notice you've embarked on a daydream let it go and return your attention to the task. – user10515 Apr 30 '17 at 3:05
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Most Buddhist meditation taught in the world is from an incorrect interpretation of suttas, which results in the mind being too busy, rigid & controlling.

'Mindfulness' means 'to remember'. It does not mean 'awareness', 'observation' or 'attention'.

'Mindfulness' remembers to keep the Dhamma in mind, which is the Four Noble Truths & the Noble Eightfold Path, or, in brief, mindfulness remembers to keep the mind free from craving.

For example, the instruction posted in another post should practically read as follows:

And what, bhikkhus, is right mindfulness? Here, bhikkhus, a monk dwells observing the body in the body by being exertive, clearly knowing & mindful to remove covetousness and displeasure in relation the world

Therefore, when you are washing the dishes, the practise of mindfulness is to wash the dishes without craving, i.e., without greed (impatience), hatred (aversion) & delusion (self-views).

When this right mindfulness (remembering) is practised, the observation will occur automatically.


It is important to recognise the mind is always aware or conscious of some object. So when dishes are washed with a silent craving-free mindful mind, awareness of what is going on (such as the warmth of the water, the smell of the detergent, the sound of the water and sounds all around) will still occur. There is no need to make a special effort to be aware of these things. The only effort that needs to be done with right mindfulness is keeping the mind free from greed, hatred & delusion.


MN 117 states:

One makes an effort for the abandoning of wrong view & for entering into right view: This is one's right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view: This is one's right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort & right mindfulness — run & circle around right view.

  • Thanks but that makes very little sense to me. Sounds like jargon. You have explained what to do but not how – Arturia Apr 25 '17 at 12:40
  • So then what's the point of your comment – Arturia Apr 25 '17 at 19:22
  • I can't tell you how to make the mind maintain itself in a clear state; free from craving, liking & disliking; since one has to just do it. My answer to your question is the role of mindfulness is to keep the mind clear & that is all. Regards – Dhammadhatu Apr 25 '17 at 20:32
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You said "so many things going on at once". Please don't confuse what to do. Only to note mindfully what is most distinct once at a time. Nature of mind can focus only one phenomenon at one moment. For example, if you feel cold with water, just note "cold". It is enough. Without any frustration to note all other things like in wide and spread noting which you will get it automatically at higher nana stage with better concentration. Not to miss noting the single phenomenon is more important than noting nothing which will lead to delusion. But to achieve in every day chore mindfulness, you must have enough Samadhi through your sitting meditation sometimes it works better but depend on the individual.

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Perhaps it is enough just to be joyfully aware of washing the dishes. Not to wander to work, to the past, to the future. Just that is radically different than the way our minds usually work...

Thich Nhat Hanh on mindfulness and happiness

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iLHm7LixaM

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When I am practicing being mindful, for example when washing the dishes, there seems to be so many things going on at once that I kind of don't know what to focus on. There is the warmth of the water, the smell of the detergent, the sound of the water and sounds all around, sights out the window etc etc.

There is actually so many things going on. They are all categorized as:

  1. Kaya (body in its material form)
  2. Védanã (feeling though eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind)
  3. Citta (that occur in your mind - not to be mistake as thinking)
  4. Dhamma (Phenomena).*

I have this problem in general with mindfulness. Feels like many things pulling my attention in all different directions. Can someone please clarify for me how I should be doing this correctly because I feel confused about it.

Being mindful about these things are called Satipattãna (wedging consciousness) meditation. (Which you call mindfulness here)

  1. Kãyãnupassanã - is the observation of body of oneself and others with Sammä Ditti explained in the Noble Eightfold Path.
  2. Védanãnupassanã - is the observation of mind of oneself and others with Sammä Ditti explained in the Noble Eightfold Path.
  3. Cittãnupassanã - is the observation of experiences of oneself and others with Sammä Ditti explained in the Noble Eightfold Path.
  4. Dhammãnupassanã - is the observation of phenomina of oneself and others with Sammä Ditti explained in the Noble Eightfold Path

While these can be practiced separately, a skillful apprentice will practice all four of these observations from the time he or she wakes to the time he or she sleeps. It is also important to note that anäpänä sathi meditation is practiced under Käyänupassanä.

All these so called mindfulness practices are definitely to be done with a clear understanding of Sammã Ditti.

It is also fundamentally important to note throughout this meditation that one should affirm these obeservables are not me, not mine, not my soul.

Why go to such extend to be mindful? To realize The Four Noble Truths. So you should not forget this or it would be like going to get a university degree but forgetting why you are there and exploring things without an objective.

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Can someone please clarify for me how I should be doing this correctly because I feel confused about it.

Seems like you are asking for specific instructions, so I will post Mahasi Sayadaws instructions for "moving" insight meditation based in the Four Foundations (Satipatthanas) of Mindfulness.

These instructions are given with regard to taking a drink of water but can be applied to dish washing as well:

If you are thirsty while contemplating, notice the feeling, thirsty. When you intend to stand, intending. Keep the mind intently on the act of standing up, and mentally note standing. When you look forward after standing up straight, note looking, seeing. Should you intend to walk forward, intending. When you begin to step forward, mentally note each step as walking, walking, or left, right. It is important for you to be aware of every moment in each step from the beginning to the end when you walk. Adhere to the same procedure when strolling or when taking walking exercise. Try to make a mental note of each step in two sections as follows: lifting, putting, lifting, putting. When you have obtained sufficient practice in this manner of walking, then try to make a mental note of each step in three sections; lifting, pushing, putting; or up, forward, down.

When you look at the tap or water-pot on arriving at the place where you are to take a drink, be sure to make a mental note, looking, seeing.

When you stop walking, stopping.

When you stretch out the hand, stretching.

When you touch the cup, touching.

When you take the cup, taking.

When dipping the cup into the water, dipping.

When bringing the cup to the lips, bringing.

When the cup touches the lips, touching.

When you swallow, swallowing.

When returning the cup, returning.

When withdrawing the hand, withdrawing.

When you bring down the hand, bringing.

When the hand touches the side of the body, touching.

If you intend to turn round, intending.

When you turn round, turning.

When you walk forward, walking.

On arriving at the place where you intend to stop, intending.

When you stop, stopping.

Remember that this is a gradual training, meaning that if a meditator is unfamiliar with the noting method, (s)he should gradually increase the number of objects as mindfulness develops.

Noting too many objects will lead to restlestness and agitation of mind, while noting too few objects will lead to dullness and drowsiness. It's about balance.

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When you are washing dishes you may perceive the water is too cold and react with aversion. When you notice the water is too cold unpleasant feeling will arise before aversion. Concentrate on this feeling. Be equanimous noting it as impermanent.

When you look out of the window you might see something you like which might lead to craving. Before craving arises a pleasant feeling arises. Concentrate on this feeling while being equanimous while noting the importance.

When you hear the sound of water you may not consider it likable or unlikable, i.e., you will find it to be neutral. Though it is neutral there is ignorance. When there is a neutral feeling contemplation on impermanence.

Now when you are doing kitchen work you will find that when you stay in one posture for a while it becomes unpleasant (standing near the sink) and when you sit down it becomes pleasant.

When looking you of the window you see a beautiful person it is pleasant, if the person is plain it is neutral feeling, if ugly it is unpleasant feeling.

So from the body also generate sensations which lead to covetousness and displeasure. Likewise, feelings themselves, the mind and phenomena.

Keep the focus on one of the Satipatthana like the body. Whatever you do look at sensations which arise in the body. With this focus you will not feel your attention is dragged here and there.

A more detail and technical discussion is as follows.

The basis of mindfulness should be:

And what, bhikshus, is right mindfulness?

Here, bhikshus, a monk dwells exertive, clearly knowing, mindful, observing the body in the body, removing covetousness and displeasure in the world;

a monk dwells exertive, clearly knowing, mindful, observing feelings in the feelings, removing covetousness and displeasure in the world;

a monk dwells exertive, clearly knowing, mindful, observing the mind in the mind, removing covetousness and displeasure in the world;

a monk dwells exertive, clearly knowing, mindful, observing dharmas in the dharmas, removing covetousness and displeasure in the world.

This, bhikshus, is called right mindfulness.

(Magga) Vibhaṅga Sutta

So you should be mindful of body, feelings, mind and phenomena without attachment or aversion. Attachment and aversion arises due to sensation / feelings (Vedanā) so when any sensation arise just know impermanence and be equanimous to any feeling which arises.

Also you should guard you sense doors.

On seeing a form with the eye,

  • one investigates the form that is the basis for mental joy,

  • one investigates the form that is the basis of mental pain,

  • one investigates the form that is the basis of equanimity.

On hearing a sound with the ear,

  • one investigates the sound that is the basis for mental joy,

  • one investigates the sound that is the basis of mental pain,

  • one investigates the sound that the basis of equanimity.

On smelling a smell with the nose,

  • one investigates the smell that is the basis for mental joy,

  • one investigates the smell that is the basis of mental pain,

  • one investigates the smell that is the basis of equanimity.

On tasting a taste with the tongue,

  • one investigates the taste that is the basis for mental joy,

  • one investigates the taste that is the basis of mental pain,

  • one investigates the taste that is the basis of equanimity.

On feeling a touch with the body,

  • one investigates the touch that is the basis for mental joy,

  • one investigates the touch that is the basis of mental pain,

  • one investigates the touch that is the basis of equanimity.

On cognizing a mind-object with the mind,

  • one investigates the mind-object that the basis of mental joy,

  • one investigates the mind-object that is the basis of mental pain,

  • one investigates the mind-object that is the basis of equanimity.

Dhātu Vibhaṅga Sutta

So when you get a sense imput be equanimous towards these sensation without it leading to craving, aversion and ignorance.

(1) the latent tendency to lust reinforced by being attached to pleasant feelings;

(2) the latent tendency to aversion reinforced by rejecting painful feelings;

(3) the latent tendency to ignorance reinforced by ignoring neutral feelings

Pahāna Sutta

All sensations are unsatisfactory.

pleasant feeling is pleasant when it persists, painful when it changes;

painful feeling is painful when it persists, pleasant when it changes;

neutral feeling is pleasant when there is knowledge of it, painful when there is no knowledge of it.

Cūla Vedalla Sutta

Use this as the basis to understand the 4 Noble Truths as unsatisfactoriness is the 1st Noble Truth and the link where Dependent Origination (DO) can be broken.

The meeting of the three is contact.

With contact as condition, there is feeling.

What one feels, one perceives.

What one perceives, one thinks about.

What one thinks about, one mentally proliferates.

Madhu,piṇḍika Sutta

with the six sense-bases as condition, there is contact;

with contact as condition, there is feeling;

with feeling as condition, there is craving;

with craving as condition, there is clinging;

(Paṭicca,samuppada) Vibhanga Sutta

Also all worldly calamities, immorality and conflicts start with sensation / feeling:

Thus, Ananda,

dependent upon feeling (vedanā), there is craving;

dependent upon craving (taṇhā), there is seeking;

dependent upon seeking (pariyesanā), there is gain;

dependent upon gain (lābha), there is decision-making;

dependent upon decision-making (vinicchaya), there is desire and lust;

dependent upon desire and lust (chanda,rāga), there is attachment;

dependent upon attachment (ajjhosāna), there is possessiveness;

dependent upon possessiveness (pariggaha), there is avarice;

dependent upon avarice (macchariya), there is safe-guarding;

dependent upon safe-guarding (ārakkha), there arise various bad unwholesome states—taking up of the rod, taking up of the sword, conflicts, quarrels, disputes [strife], back-biting, harsh speech, false speech.

Mahā,nidāna Sutta

So basis of morality is also linked to feelings.

This is what needs to be done when being mindful in day to day activities. You do not have to go through all this. Just see this is a pleasant feeling which is the basis of attachment to arise, this is a unpleasant feeling which is the basis of aversion to arise, this is a neutral feeling which is the basis for ignorance to arise. As soon as feeling arise stop the train of event so you do not mentally proliferate, does not result in clinging and craving, does not provide nutriment, does not lead to unwholesome roots, does not lead to immoral actions, does not lead to unwholesome karma, etc. So be equanimous thus not letting the aversion and craving to arise and contemplate impermanence or the 3 characteristics not letting ignorance to arise. Displacing ignorance also helps break the cycle of DO.

Generally being aware and mindful is good but is not Wise Attention (Yoniso Manasikara), Clear Comprehension (Sampajañña ) and Right Mindfulness. If you are a surgeon, acrobat, bellarian, gymnast, etc. you will need a lot of attention and mindfulness. This will wear you down. Perhaps this is what is happening in your practice. What you need is the right type, i.e.:

  • free from unwholesome roots
  • free from Vipallasa (see: Vipallasa Sutta)
  • free from Nutriment (Mental and Contact)
  • free from Fabrications (Saṅkhāra)
  • free from unwholesome volition leading to unwholesome action
  • free from producing new karma
  • So feeling and sensation are different? Can you please elaborate on this? – Arturia Apr 25 '17 at 19:27
  • Feeling and sensations are the same. They are 2 English words for Vedanā – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Apr 26 '17 at 5:31
  • Im not sure what you're saying is correct. I further investigated and found feeling and sensation are very different. Feeling is the feeling tone of pleasant, unpleasant, neutral. Sensation is in the body such as an itch, tingle, pain etc. – Arturia Apr 26 '17 at 19:22
  • Itch, tingle, pain can also be pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Apr 27 '17 at 2:36
  • @SumindaSirinathS.Dharmasena could we ideally used only shorten forms Buddha used? I'm afraid might lose our originality of our Dhamma in the long run if not. The decision was made by Arhatans who wrote the Tipitaka for this very reason (pariyatti, patipatti - baminithiyasaya). – Ravindranath Akila Apr 30 '17 at 2:18

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