I love how we humans share so much in common- far more things than not- and that when we tend to those shared needs instead of our opinionated differences, we do better as a species. Housekeeping is one of them. Cleaning is universal. I don’t mean necessarily wanting to clean things or actually doing it, but the need to be clean and keep things clean and orderly for optimal function, well—it’s just a fact of life we all share. And in the first week of the New Year, it’s a place I like to shine the light.
Cleansing, Clearing, Cleaning, Letting Go. It can happen intentionally or inevitably. Out with the old and in with the new. I start clearing on the material level and let it work into a soul level and just when everything seems all clean and uncluttered, my house and I become a mess and have to do it all over again. But better to do it regularly than let it build up, right? Cleaning is like putting beads on a string with no knot on the end. Like washing windows while there are pigeons on the roof. It’s a never-ending cycle, so you might as well just surrender and make the best of it. Make it an art.
As a child, I saw cleaning as a form of play. My parents had a woman named Alice who came once a week to help with the housecleaning and the story goes that when I was four-years old, I asked my mom to help me make a sign to hang on my bedroom door: “Please leave my room alone. I can handle it myself. Thank you.”
To me, having things in specific, organized spaces was a work of care and beauty, and it didn’t make sense to have someone do it for me if I was capable of it myself. I also saw cleaning as my statement to the world for expressing love for my surroundings and an appreciation for what I had. I was never able to draw well, so cleaning a room was my equivalent artistic expression- an open space for creating the scene in your mind’s eye. I have always been highly attuned to settings and known there was a basic standard of care and attention needed to bring flow into any space.
If I went to a friend’s house and their room was a mess, I would ask if they wanted me to help clean and organize it. My best friend Stephanie’s mom loved having me over, needless to say. But I think the overarching thing cleanliness did was help me find order in a nonsensical, uncertain world. It brought me into the present. It brought peace.
“If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future—and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”
-Thich Nhat Hahn from The Miracle of Mindfulness
Cleaning is what makes me feel alive! Caring for our space is an honor, a privilege. When I wash the dishes, I am aware how blessed I am to have running warm water, to have dishes, to have dirty dishes, which means that I had food to eat! When I clean the toilet, I remember how it felt to not have a pot to piss in. I have been there. Every little corner of my home holds energy, and I want that energy to flow. Cleaning is attention and attention is love. And it’s not always easy or fun. I think of Sri Swami Satchidanada’s way of explaining purifying things in the Yoga Sutras. He says if you want clean clothes, you don’t just fold them and stick a rose on top. No- you shake it, soap it up, agitate it, put it under water over and over, ring it out until, finally, it comes out clean. It’s like that with our hearts and minds too. I love how housework mirrors our soul work. Whether with the broom or vacuum, the way you clean up the outside is usually a reflection of what’s going on in the inside…..
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