When I was at the meditation retreat last week, my daily job was pot washing.

There were three of us working in a rather tight space, scrubbing, rinsing, and putting in a sterilizer a lot of pots and all the bowls, utensils, pitchers, trays, and other stuff that went into making lunch for about 100 people. The retreat, and by extension, the job, were conducted in silence.

I’m a spacey person by nature, more likely to be lost in thought than aware of what I’m doing (just ask my husband). So meditation practice, especially Zen practice, which emphasizes mindfulness in action, has been good for me.

But even after years of practice, I can vary from awake, efficient, and well-tuned to the space and people around me to blunderingly oblivious, depending on my energy level and who-knows-what-else.

One day at my pot-washing job I was especially foggy and ruminative. I handed a large pan to the rinse guy, and he handed it back to me with a gesture indicating that I had missed some goop.

And how did I (silently) react?

Annoyed:  Pot Nazi!

Defensive:  Hey! It’s hard to see the junk on these old pot!

Insecure:  He thinks I’m sloppy!

Self-Judging:  I’m a loser as a pot-washer!

Not my finest moment! Under other conditions, perhaps I might have received his gesture as a simple statement of fact (there is food on this pot), rather than a criticism.

At Zen retreats, there are lots of little “forms” – ritual ways of doing everything from tying your robe to blowing out a match (not with your breath, but with a side-to-side swish). All this exists, as far as I can tell, for the express purpose of stirring up this effort-mistake-reaction pattern so we can learn not to take it all personally. To learn to pay attention, to acknowledge mistakes, and move on without all the drama.

It’s been very helpful for me, and I try to impart the message to my employees at Summer House Soaps:

Pay Attention

Mistakes Happen

Note Them

No Judgment

Move On