Tag Archives: letting go

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.


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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The flavors of attachment

The other day, while working on piece about yoga and conflict resolution for a blog (www.yogabasics.com) that I contribute to a few times a month, I was reminded yet again what a rich resource Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are for dealing with life’s daily concerns. Though Patanjali compiled this collection of 196 brief sayings roughly two millennia ago, it remains fresh and relevant today.

As I was writing about how the sutras offer a path for resolving inner and outer conflict, I realized that the seeds of conflict, and of so many of life’s difficulties, arise from attachment or (in Sanskrit) raga. But the yogic concept of attachment is often misunderstood or considered problematic by householders. How, we ask, can we be non-attached (practice vairagya) and still love family members? What if I don’t want to detach from the things I enjoy, such as art and music, worthy causes, my work, etc.?

In traditional Indian culture, where yoga philosophy developed, the four ashrams or stages in life lead to renunciation. Most of us in the West will ever remain in the second stage (grahasta), as householders. But just because we don’t intend to renounce our worldly attachments and become sannyasins doesn’t mean we can bypass raga/vairagya. Every day as a householder brings new opportunities for considering various aspects of attachment and non-attachment.


Even Nature can teach us about the art of letting go gracefully.

For instance, much of the conflict we experience in life—with others or within ourselves—arises from what Patanjali calls asmita. This word is often translated as “egoism,” another easily misunderstood concept. In terms of yoga, “ego” doesn’t refer to being prideful. Ego is simply the personality or shell that we’ve unconsciously crafted over a lifetime. Asmita is mis-identification with (and attachment to) this false sense of self. When this ego structure feels threatened, it tends to react in certain ways—anger, fear, retreat, stonewalling, etc. Conflict—inner or outer—is inevitable. Yoga practices lead us away from this false identity to the true self, a process of detaching that grants us healthy perspective. We become dispassionate observers, noticing what pushes our buttons and choosing our responses instead of reacting blindly.

Another flavor of attachment is abinivesha, usually translated as “clinging to life.” Recently, I’ve seen this as holding on to “the way things used to be” (even if “the good old days” never really were that great!). Resistance to change, fear of letting go or losing face, suspicion about people and places that are new or different—with these fear-based attachments we box ourselves in. Like asmita, abinevesha is another obstacle (klesha) to growth, and another area in which a householder can practice non-attachment.

We also cling to things—not only possessions but also information. I’m particularly guilty of the latter; my bookshelves are crammed with reference material, and I could happily spend years researching a book without finishing the writing. In the U.S., hoarding is a common enough cultural meme that entire television series focus on it. This form of attachment is one householders face in myriad ways, large and small. (Think of sorting through your junk mail or cleaning out the refrigerator as a yogic practice and it might not seem so trivial or tedious.) In fact, the opposite of hoarding—aparigraha or non-covetousness—is one of the five yamas, the ethical guidelines that mark the beginning of yoga’s eightfold path.

Next: The yoga of letting go

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