How a Shower got me Thinking about Skillful vs Unskillful Actions

I was having my usual morning shower, doing my best to be mindful of the activity, when I had a sudden impulse to increase the water temperature. Instead of acting on that impulse, I observed it carefully.

Upon close examination, this impulse was an attachment reaction to the pleasant sensations of the warm water on my skin. I wanted “more” of that pleasant sensation, more of that initial bodily pleasure and relaxation that you get when you first step into a warm shower. Since my body had acclimatized to the water temperature, I would need to increase it to recreate that feeling.

Now, it was clear that the temperature of the water was just fine. And it was pleasant just a few moments ago, before I had the impulse. So there wasn’t any real need to increase the water temperature. On the other hand, where was the harm in it? A little indulgence. Not a big deal, right? Why not make the water a little warmer and enjoy that pleasure a little longer?

If you read the old Buddhist texts, such as the Pali Suttas, which are considered to be the oral teachings of the Buddha that were later written down after his death, you come across a lot of passages that talk about “wholesome” and “unwholesome” or “skillful” and “unskillful” thoughts, actions and states of mind.

For the Western reader, this kind of language smacks of moralizing and it’s often omitted from popular books on meditation and mindfulness. I used to bristle every time I ran into the words “wholesome” and “unwholesome” while reading the suttas.

But my experience in the shower made me pause.

If I made the water in the shower warmer, I would be strengthening the habitual attachment reaction to pleasant sensations. I’d be greasing the groove of grasping. But if I refrained from increasing the water temperature, wouldn’t I be depriving myself of an innocent pleasure?

Looking closer at what was going on in the mind made the situation clear. The pleasant sensation of the warm water on my skin had been largely obscured by the grasping after more pleasant sensations. Attachment itself created the feeling that there wasn’t enough pleasant and that I “needed” more. As I continued to observe, the attachment melted away, and the enjoyment of the water was revealed once more. At that moment, there was pleasant, and there was no need for further pleasant.

So clearly, I wouldn’t be depriving myself of an innocent pleasure by refraining from following my impulse to increase the water temperature. In fact, it was the attachment reaction itself that had deprived me of the initial pleasure I was experiencing in the shower! Who knew that a simple shower could get so complicated?

That brings me back to those words, “wholesome”, “skillful”, “unwholesome” and “unskillful”. A wholesome or skillful thought, action or mental state is one that brings you closer to freedom from the habitual reactions of attachment/aversion. These are the things that take you one step closer to ending your suffering. Unwholesome or unskillful thoughts, actions and mental states do the opposite: they reinforce these habitual reactions and further entrench and fuel your suffering.

My experience in the shower made me realize that abstaining from enacting attachment to pleasant sensations isn’t deprivation, it’s a wholesome, skillful act that helps loosen the bonds of that attachment. It was the attachment itself that had already deprived me of the joy in that moment! Refraining from following the attachment helped me to uncover the joy that was already present.

When I looked at it this way, every time I followed through on an attachment reaction, I was actually depriving myself of the joy and pleasure of this moment.

This is where mindfulness comes in really handy.

In the West, mindfulness is generally conceptualized as a kind of awareness without judgement. To be mindful is to be aware of the bare sensation, accepting of whatever comes.

But there’s something really important that’s missing in that definition of mindfulness: discrimination.

Mindfulness allows us to discriminate between skillful and unskillful thoughts, actions and behaviours, and in that sense, there is some judgement in it. It’s not a harsh, penalizing form of judgement. It’s a wise discernment that has our ultimate best interests at heart.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this! Please write a comment below and let’s discuss this together.

P.S. If you like this kind of stuff and want to discover how to develop mindfulness effectively and apply it in a simple, straightforward way, then you may be interested in signing up for my weekly blog updates.

I’ll share with you how to cultivate and apply mindfulness to transform your relationship with things like stress, anxiety, anger and other difficult emotions, based on my 20+ years of meditation experience.

I’ll also share a precise, effective, down to earth method for spiritual development (if that’s your thing), without all the fluff and hazy mystical language you’ll often run into with this kind of stuff.

If this sounds interesting to you, click here to find out more.

40 Responses to “How a Shower got me Thinking about Skillful vs Unskillful Actions”

  1. Anne Gerard

    Thank you Nicolas, really enjoyed this blog, and certainly got me thinking about the “non-judgement” aspect most usually referred to in practising Mindfulness. My sense is that through the “seeing more clearly” our habitual responses this kind of insight regarding wholesome/unwholesome or helpful/unhelpful reactions, arises naturally. My experience is that it (insight) may not be as immediate or spontaneous as you experienced in the shower but that at times momentary glimpses of insight can happen. However, your description here has given me a some very helpful guidance that could be incorporated into certain Mindfulness “more active” practises. There’s a place for all of this stuff. Thank you so much. Anne

    • Nickolas Grabovac

      You’re most welcome Anne. Insight experiences seem to come in many shapes and forms. Often, after I have a “spontaneous” kind of insight, it takes many smaller, more gradual insights before I’m able to integrate it and have it shape and affect my daily life.

  2. fireplace repair

    fireplace repair

    See top gas fireplace service and repair that’s available now in addition at great prices. Get it now!

  3. indoor boat storage near me

    indoor boat storage near me

    Find the top quality deals for car storage that are available for you and for fast deliver and at a reasonabe value for today only!

  4. fireplace maintenance and repair

    fireplace maintenance and repair

    Find here top quality gas fireplace repair phoenix az currently available now and on sale. Get it now!

  5. gas fireplace maintenance phoenix

    gas fireplace maintenance phoenix

    Find top phoenix fireplace repair that’s available now in addition on sale. Get it now!

  6. phoenix plantation shutters

    phoenix plantation shutters

    Locate the best plantation shutters immediately on a best offer and gets your money flowing immediately!

  7. storage unit

    storage unit

    Buy the top deals for self storage facility currently available for you and ready to s and plus at a good value for today only!

  8. gas fireplace maintenance

    gas fireplace maintenance

    Get the hottest gas fireplace services and repairs that’s available plus on sale. Get it now!

  9. auto storage

    auto storage

    Buy the top deals for trailer storage near me that are available for you and for fast deliver and plus at a good value for today only!

  10. gas fireplace service

    gas fireplace service

    Find here the best gas fireplace repairman near me that’s available and currently available. Get it now!

  11. gas fireplace service

    gas fireplace service

    Find here top quality gas fireplace maintenance that’s available now plus currently available. Get it now!

  12. phoenix blinds and shutters

    phoenix blinds and shutters

    Get going with top quality window shutters interior immediately on a best offer and gets your money flowing immediately!

  13. fireplace cleaning omaha

    fireplace cleaning omaha

    Find top gas fireplace repair phoenix az currently available now in addition currently available. Get it now!

  14. storage units

    storage units

    Get the top deals for self storage near me currently available for you and for fast deliver and plus at a reasonabe value for today only!

  15. gas fireplace repair

    gas fireplace repair

    Find the hottest gas fireplace maintenance near me currently available and at the best price. Get it now!

  16. phoenix window blinds

    phoenix window blinds

    Procure highly amazing interior shutters now on a best offer and gets your money flowing immediately!

  17. affordable storage

    affordable storage

    Buy amazing deals for storage unit prices near me that are available for you and ready to s and plus at a good value for today only!

  18. see it here

    see it here

    Get amazing deals for storage units Santa Fe that’s available for you and for fast deliver and at a good value for today only!

  19. boat storage facility

    boat storage facility

    Buy amazing deals for storage in santa fe currently available for you and ready to s and at a good value for today only!

  20. public storage near me

    public storage near me

    Get the top deals for climate controlled storage currently available for you and for fast deliver and plus at a good value for today only!

  21. indoor boat storage near me

    indoor boat storage near me

    Buy the top deals for storage units for rent that are available for you and ready to s and at a great value for today only!

  22. gas fireplace repairman near me

    gas fireplace repairman near me

    Find here the best gas fireplace service phoenix that are available in addition reasonably priced. Get it now!

  23. fireplace cleaning omaha

    fireplace cleaning omaha

    See top quality gas fireplace cleaning services that’s available now plus at great prices. Get it now!

  24. window coverings phoenix az

    window coverings phoenix az

    Get going with top quality window coverings now on a best offer and gets your business ROI immediately!

  25. phoenix window blinds

    phoenix window blinds

    Procure top quality window shutters blinds now on a best offer and creates efficiency for you immediately!

  26. my review here

    my review here

    Find top quality gas fireplace maintenance that’s available now in addition currently available. Get it now!

  27. window shades near me

    window shades near me

    Get going with top quality window shutters interior today on a best offer and gets your business ROI immediately!

  28. shutters, phoenix, az

    shutters, phoenix, az

    Procure top quality window treatments now on a best offer and creates efficiency for you immediately!

  29. climate controlled storage near me

    climate controlled storage near me

    Get the top quality deals for storage units Santa Fe texas that are available for you and for fast deliver and at a reasonabe value for today only!

  30. storage units Santa Fe, tx

    storage units Santa Fe, tx

    Find amazing deals for cheapest storage units near me that’s available for you and for fast deliver and at a reasonabe value for today only!

  31. car storage near me

    car storage near me

    Buy the top quality deals for cheap storage currently available for you and for fast deliver and at a reasonabe value for today only!

  32. fireplace repair

    fireplace repair

    Find here most popular fireplace maintenance service that’s available and reasonably priced. Get it now!

  33. phoenix fireplace repair

    phoenix fireplace repair

    Find here most popular gas fireplace repair phoenix currently available and reasonably priced. Get it now!

  34. shutters

    shutters

    Procure top quality shutters, phoenix, az now on a best offer and creates efficiency for you immediately!

  35. phoenix shutters and blinds

    phoenix shutters and blinds

    Get going with top quality window blinds immediately on a best offer and creates efficiency for you immediately!

  36. great post to read

    great post to read

    Get going with the best custom window treatments near me now on a best offer and gets your money flowing immediately!

  37. All Valley Fireplace Repair

    All Valley Fireplace Repair

    Find most popular fireplace maintenance near me that are available now plus currently available. Get it now!

Comments are closed.