The 5 Stages of Washing a Pan

Lodro Rinzler
9 min readFeb 1, 2024


Ostensibly, a New Year’s Post on attaining enlightenment

This piece originally appeared on Lodro’s Substack: The Laundry

Last night I was washing the dinner dishes while Adreanna was giving our daughter a bath. In my mind there are five stages to washing the dishes. I was on Stage 1 when I began contemplating what to write for The Laundry as we kick off a brand new year.

On one hand, this is the moment to write the traditional “New Year, New You” piece but, on the other, I am sick of seeing them. I’d like to talk about getting enlightened and realizing our self-worth through washing the dishes.

🥘 Stage 1: The Dumping Out Process

This is the part of the cleaning process where I take the pan to the garbage and scoop out the large pieces of muck that have stuck to it.

As I was doing so, my mind went back to my early years in meditation. I initially learned how to meditate when I was six. The instructions themselves are not too hard to comprehend: you take a relaxed and uplifted posture, notice how the body is breathing and then when you get distracted, you return your attention to the breath. To paraphrase an old parable, the six year-old knows how to do it yet the eighty year-old still finds it very hard to do.

However, my mind was on a later period, when I got “serious” about meditation. I was 17 and spending the summer at a monastery. This is a very dramatic way to talk about what, in retrospect, was a very kind and supportive environment, but I did shave my head and take monastic robes and vows and meditated my butt off.

It was during this summer, when we would spend most of the day in meditation, where I initially confronted my neurosis (shockingly, I had less to confront when I was six). I began to unearth and look more deeply at some of the patterns that were not particularly serving me: my attention-seeking nature and outrageous behavior were all of a sudden embarrassing to me when put under the microscope of long hours of practice. Remember, I was 17; any form of self-awareness at that age felt big to me.

🥘 Stage 2: Roll Up the Sleeves and Get to Scrubbing

I continued to reflect on my path of meditation as I rolled up my sleeves, turned on the hot water and pulled out the sponge, turning my attention to really getting in there cleaning the pan. I don’t want to cause damage so the scrubbing is consistent but gentle.

After that summer of monastic life I never dropped my meditation practice. In addition to my daily practice, from my teens into my late twenties I would spend long periods of the summer in meditation retreat, both solitary and in groups. Combined with my daily practice, these periods served to further unpack my neurosis and the limiting beliefs and patterns that were no longer serving me. Whereas the early realizations felt sudden and dramatic, here I was working on the same stuff, but applying myself to uproot not just the behaviors but the mindset that creates them.

🥘 Stage 3: Attending to the Details

I was distracted for a moment in my cleaning process because recently it has come to my attention that I am quite bad at Stage 3 of cleaning pans. My eyesight is not good. Also, I am frequently exhausted by the time dinner is done. I’m sure I could come up with a hundred other excuses, but my wife revealed to me that there are times when I don’t really attend to the details when cleaning the dishes and, as a result, she sometimes has to go back over them the next morning.

I will pretend this didn’t hurt my ego when I heard it, and simply say that I’m now sensitive to this stage of cleaning. I began picking the pan up and holding it to the light, aiming to see what I would normally miss. I would then scrub the handle and look for spots where food residue might have gotten lodged.

Meanwhile, I considered the last decade or so of my meditation practice, where I began to get into the more subtle layers of my own confusion and patterns. The ways that simple things like “You’re not thorough with the dishes” would in the past become internalized, a part of my internal narrative of what I am bad at and feed into that voice we all carry of “you’re bad at a lot of things” or even “you’re simply not good enough.”

From something as simple as looking at the grease on the bottom of the pan I could work myself into stories about how I won’t be able to provide for my family or be a good dad or any of it…if I let it. The last decade of meditation has really been one where I am more conscious of the very subtle stories I tell myself and how I don’t need to give them credence.

I turned my attention back to the topic of what to write to you all for the new year. I thought of some of the Instagram posts and unsolicited newsletters I have received in the last few days with that “New Year, New You” message and how the responsible thing would be to find a fresh way of reworking my rebuttal to that messaging. I’ve been fighting the crusade against “leveling up” on January 1st for ten years now, starting with my book The Buddha Walks into the Office.

*If you are interested in my take on those matters here is a version of the chapter from that book entitled “New Year, Same You” on how to set a New Year intention (think: not “what do I want to do this year” but “who do I want to be this year?”)

And yet, I wanted to offer something fresh and new to you.

🥘 Stage 4: The Pan is Clean?

At this point I had wiped away the last specks of residue and grease and, having examined it thoroughly, I put the pan aside. It was clean. It was clean…enough.

For a moment, I was able to rest my mind in its natural state of relaxation. In doing so I connected with the feeling that, in this moment, I am whole, complete and good as is.

If you are wondering how this in any way relates to “getting enlightened and realizing our self-worth through washing the dishes,” I will break it down.

📿 Stage 1: The Dumping Out Process

When we first begin to meditate we learn so much about ourselves so quickly. We can’t unsee what we now know about ourselves. We are forced to confront some of the more obvious patterns and behaviors that are not serving us in any way and, simply by seeing them as such, we are more readily able to discard them.

Once we take on a formal meditation practice, we are forced to confront ourselves fully, which is why the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche once said,

“The spiritual path is not fun — better not begin it. If you must begin, then go all the way, because if you begin and quit, the unfinished business you have left behind begins to haunt you all the time.”

📿 Stage 2: Roll Up the Sleeves and Get to Scrubbing

Once we have begun to see what resides in the mind, we can’t ignore it so we roll up our sleeves and plunge in. This “get to scrubbing” stage is where we commit to a serious meditation practice.

Having dumped out the big neurosis pain points we are now rubbing away at their more subtle cousins. Perhaps you were previously incredibly arrogant about your work and, once confronted with that, began to soften a bit. This stage is where we begin to notice that arrogance in other areas of your life and how tempting it is to act from it, and instead learn to refrain from doing so.

📿 Stage 3: Attending to the Details

After some time in meditation, we are no longer so trapped by our habitual patterns. We learn that we might have certain proclivities to act out of anxiety or anger and so on but we rarely bite the hook and do so.

Instead, we begin to look at the root of the problem. This is the stage of meditation where we are no longer simply treating the symptoms of our pain; we are treating the disease itself. If you are (to continue the example) struggling with arrogance there may be some loneliness or anger underneath which, until tended to, will continue to manifest in harmful ways to yourself and others.

Meditation at this point continues to reveal anything that is not our inherent state of peace. But the proverbial pan is more clean than not. In fact, seeing how clean most of the pan is inspires you to keep scrubbing at the small spots you had missed.

📿 Stage 4: The Pan is Clean?

The clean pan is an analogy for our fundamental state of being. Underneath our layers of neurotic muck and habitual pattern residue we are inherently, primordially whole, complete and good. That, my friends, is our enlightened state.

So how do we realize our self-worth? By going through the various stages of confronting the slime and muck of the mind and letting go of anything that is holding us back — all of our limiting beliefs and stories that we have internalized over time. When we meditate, some immediately fall apart under scrutiny while others need us to roll up our sleeve and scrub, all the way to looking closely enough to reveal the many blindspots we might not normally see (and quite literally in this case, our partner sees all too well).

The fun part here is that when I went to toss some of the muck in the garbage in Stage 1, I spotted that clean state on one small part of the pan. That inspired me to roll up my sleeves and get serious. The more I leaned into the work, the more the pan’s true state revealed itself to me until, as I mentioned before, the pan was more clean than not. Then it was just a matter of revealing the last vestiges of grease and rubbing away at them.

This is the path to enlightenment itself. It is the idea that there is no reason for there to be a “New You” in 2024; the You that is present is already a clean pan. It is already fundamentally awake, complete and whole. You (and I) just need to do the work of revealing that.

This morning, proud of myself for coming up with something new to say to upset the “New Year, New You” propaganda, I went and picked up the pan to admire my work. It turns out I had missed a spot.

📿 Stage 5: You Keep Re-Examining and Doing the Work

With the pan, once it’s clean it’s a maintenance process of keeping it so. With the mind, it’s not dissimilar. We can wake up to our self-worth and basic goodness and still end up falling back into some of our old patterns if they aren’t completely uprooted.

Until we are continuously resting in our inherent peace, we will continue to need to clean the proverbial pan. So, if there is a New Year’s resolution for me this year, it is that: to commit everyday to lifting up the pan and examining what still needs cleaning, cultivating a relationship to my own enlightened nature and my self-worth.

This piece originally appeared on Lodro’s Substack: The Laundry. For more of his recent writing, check out The Laundry today.

Lodro Rinzler is the award-winning author of 7 books including The Buddha Walks into a Bar and Take Back Your Mind: Buddhist Advice for Anxious Times. He has taught meditation for 20 years in the Buddhist tradition, is the co-founder of MNDFL meditation studios and travels frequently for his books, having spoken across the world at conferences, universities, and businesses as diverse as Google, Harvard University and the White House. Named one of 50 Innovators Shaping the Future of Wellness by SONIMA, Rinzler’s work has been featured in The New York Times,The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, FOX, CBS, and NBC. He lives in upstate New York with his wife Adreanna, daughter Ruby, and a menagerie of small animals.



Lodro Rinzler

Lodro Rinzler is author of “The Buddha Walks into a Bar,” “Love Hurts” and a handful of other fun books on meditation | Co-Founder of MNDFL.