The Zen of Hand Washing

The Zen of Hand Washing

By Vickie MacArthur

“The bells of mindfulness are calling out to us, trying to wake us up, reminding us to look deeply at our impact on the planet.”  Thich Nhat Hanh

One of the many lessons we are learning from the spread of the Covid-19 virus is how inter-connected we truly are. This virus knows no borders. It is no respecter of persons, countries, status, religion, culture, etc.. We are all in this together. The mindful breathing and awareness of yoga and meditation teaches us the same thing, but in a kinder way.

Another lesson we’re learning is the need to slow down and be mindful…of our interactions with other people, of how many times we touch our face, of the importance of frequent, thorough hand-washing. Perhaps hand-washing can be come a mini-meditation for us many times during the day… come back to ourselves, to let go of our worries and fear.  Hand-washing can become an opportunity to slow down and pay attention…to the cries of each other, and the cries of our planet.


When you attend a Plum Village retreat, one of the first practices you learn is the practice of “Listening to the Bell”.  Every time a bell is sounded during the retreat, the invitation is to stop whatever you are doing, come back to your body, come back to your breath, come back to the present moment.  It is a powerful practice of stopping and learning to pay attention to what’s happening all around us, instead of getting lost and distracted in thoughts and worries about the past or future.  Since learning this practice almost ten years ago, I find it has slowly been seeping into my life.  I find little moments of stopping during the day, whether the sound of my cell phone ringing or beeping, or stopping at a red light.  Now that we are dealing with the reality of the Covid-19 virus, I have begun using that 20 seconds by the sink as an opportunity to be mindful, instead of mindless!  I share my practice with you here.  Feel free to add your own creative ideas.


Hand Washing Meditation

Standing by the sink (or using sanitizer if you have it).

  • Feel your feet on the ground and the stability of the earth.
  • Be in touch with your breath in and out through your nostrils.
  • As you turn on the water, be grateful you have clean running water.
  • Lather and wash your hands with gratitude for the many tasks your hands do for you and others.
  • If you like, repeat the following words from a breathing gatha by Thich Nhat Hanh: (30 seconds)

“In (as you breathe in), Out (as you breathe out)…..Deep. Slow….Calm, Ease….Smile, Release…

  • End your meditation by sending peace and health to all those around the world dealing with the covid-19 virus.


We have no idea how widespread the Covid-19 virus will become in the coming weeks and months.  We do know that we are all in this together.  We need each other.  We can learn from each other.  None of us our immune to both the virus itself and the economic fall out.


This Covid-19 pandemic is another mindfulness bell (just like the climate pandemic) that is calling out to us to wake up, and look deeply at the impact we are having on our planet and the way that we interact with each other.  As we face this invisible and unknown virus together, may we remember to be kind and look out for each other.  My prayers are with those people and countries already devastated by the Covid-19 virus, and especially the old and vulnerable.  May we somehow find ways of slowing the virus down, while slowing ourselves down at the same time so we can bring more thoughtful and creative solutions to world wide problems.  Perhaps it all starts by simply learning to wash our hands slowly and mindfully, so the virus of kindness can spread across borders and around the world.