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An enthusiasm for cleaning

Am I the only person in the world who looks forward to cleaning house? Yeah, I know—it’s kinda weird. But I love it when the weekend arrives, and I can leave my desk to spread some love around my home. I admire the light coming through the windows, watching it shift with the seasons, highlighting mini-still life compositions around the rooms. I’m grateful to have the shelter of a roof and the ability to do physical labor. And I show my appreciation by caring for things—washing, polishing, sweeping. (Dusting? Meh—that’s another story.)

Of course, with possessions comes the potential for attachment, including attachments to the past or to an idea of one’s identity or worth (i.e., ego). But when I’m housecleaning, I seem to be able to appreciate things for themselves, even if they’re not new, perfect, or valuable. Even the humblest, shabbiest item—a wooden spoon, a tattered book—can hold a certain beauty. In the Zen concept of wabi sabi, the transient and imperfect are seen as reflections of the natural world. Things with the patina of age inspire present moment awareness, and imperfections like chips or cracks can help us transcend the material.

teddy0001

A shabby teddy bear or a meditation on impermanence?

And by the way, I don’t only clean on the weekends. Some days seem like an endless loop of dishes, tidying, laundry, etc. But one of the foundations of yoga is saucha (purity), and the cycle of housecleaning is symbolic for the cleansing that is essential to yoga practice. I’m not strictly referring to jala neti or the shat karmas. Nearly all of yoga’s practices are cleansing in nature: Asana purifies the body. Pranayama clears the energy fields. And meditation cleanses the mind.

Many yoga teachers have compared the body/mind to a mirror. We clean the mirror so that we can see the reflection of Atman—the true self—shining back when we look within. Now, I don’t necessarily think of all these things while I’m cleaning, but they do elevate an action that many of us take for granted or even hold in aversion (dvesha). To shift this, it helps to approach cleaning house like karma yoga, when we act for the action’s sake, without thinking of rewards or goals. We act because it’s the right thing to do, the householder’s dharma. It is an expression of love, not for things, but for God.

The right music, of course, is also helpful. Mantra is a natural choice because it cleanses space the way a damp soapy rag cleans the floor. My housecleaning playlist includes Krishna Das, Deva Premal, MC Yogi, and traditional Vedic mantras like the Gayatri or the planetary chants. But at the very top of the list is Jackie Wilson. His music is brilliant and effervescent, his enthusiasm contagious. Enthusiasm, more than anything, is my secret for housecleaning. My yoga teacher of many years, Rama Jyoti Vernon, likes to remind students that the word’s Greek roots, en theos, mean “in God.”

I could end with a bad pun—“In God we dust”—but since I’m still working out my aversion to dusting, I’ll leave you with this quote from Brother Lawrence, an uneducated Carmelite monk who lived during the 1600s and whose words continue to inspire people today: “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which is performed.” That’s enthusiasm.

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