Spring Cleaning As Meditation

Ah, Spring Cleaning: the annual ritual of clearing out the clutter racked up over the previous year . . . sorting through piles of stuff that have morphed into monuments to “Yeah, I’ll get to it tomorrow,” washing windows to let the light of a new season shine through, ransacking drawers and closets, hunting down the clumps of dust that lurk behind really big pieces of furniture, swelling from humble bunnies to hungry crocodiles.

Some people find all this an invigorating exercise.

I look forward to it with nearly as much transcendent joy as I derive from, say, contemplating a root canal (although, at least with a root canal I enjoy some tenuously effective form of anesthetic).

Usually, I rip through the process as quickly and ruthlessly as possible. Get it over with, get it done, so I can move on to more important things. Like procrastinating for another year.

This year, however, inspired by having spent some effort over the past few months integrating meditation practice into daily life, I’ve decided on a different approach. I’m challenging myself to turning Spring Cleaning into an opportunity for practice.

To do this, in addition to various cleaning supplies I’m taking along a couple of tools from my meditation room: looking (or noticing) and appreciating.

Take, for example, the grime that has accumulated on my windows. Just look at it, I urge myself. Notice the patterns it makes. Notice the small particles that make up the patterns.

Now, a couple of things happen when I take this moment to notice. First, I begin to recognize that what I ordinarily view as a species of nasty, urban “gunk” is actually a present-moment manifestation of the coming together of uncountable causes and conditions.

This “gunk” isn’t, ultimately speaking, a solid, independently existing “other”—with which I, as a solid, independently existing “self,” have to engage in some kind of battle for dominance. The “gunk” and I are all part of a continuous, creative play of interdependence.

From that perspective, cleaning the windows becomes less of a chore and more of a game. A conscious decision to participate in the adventure of the endlessly expressive nature of reality.

As this shift from dread to awe occurs, I also find that my mind has grown a bit more still and spacious. The frequently less-than-constructive chatter begins to recede to a barely perceptible murmur.

Hmm. “Gunk” as an object of meditation. Never read about that in any of the traditional texts before. I can work with that.
With a quieter, roomier mind, I find myself taking more time to navigate the process of unlocking the latches that keep the windows locked into their frames and gently lowering them to their resting position. The process becomes almost a Vinyasa exercise, linking mind, body, and breath.

The actual process of cleaning assumes a kind of yogic/meditative quality, as well. Noticing the pattern of spots that the spray makes on the glass and the almost seashell-like forms that appear as I rub the cleaning spray into the gunk.

Cleaning as an act of creativity. I can work with that, too.

When the process is complete, I take a moment to appreciate the new brightness of light that shines through the window. I appreciate the fact that I have windows.

The same tools of noticing and appreciation can be used for all the other aspects of Spring Cleaning. The closet? The drawers? First, I notice my reaction. (Overwhelmed at the amount of stuff. Regretting that I’ve never learned how to properly fold a fitted sheet.)

Then I take time to just notice the individual items. The colors. The shapes. The sizes.

To keep or to throw? Ay, there’s the rub.

That shirt, for example, was given to me by someone I love, but who unfortunately doesn’t really get my taste. I appreciate the thought that went into the gift, but I’m never going to wear it. But someone else might find real joy, or at least comfort, in it. Into the Goodwill bag—an opportunity to practice generosity.

I have yet to start in on moving the large furniture. But already I’m eyeing the sofa with a deeper awareness of interdependence. A bit more appreciation for the craftsmanship that went into making it and the work that went into producing the materials of which it’s composed.

I’m also grateful for the effort of the movers who carried it all the way up to my apartment and their ingenuity in getting it through the door. I couldn’t have managed that on my own. So I get to reflect a bit on humility.

As for the crocodiles behind the sofa?

Well, one step at a time: my Spring Cleaning mantra.

Photo Credit: Iakov Filimonov

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