Friday, February 10, 2012

Cleaning as Meditation: How to Transform Your Chores

Rules for Mindful Housekeeping

Elisha Goldstein, coauthor of "A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook," tells us how to make peace with cleaning.

1. Imagine you're doing this chore for the first time. In your mind, it's just a sinkful of dirty dishes. Look for the bubbles instead.

Use your five senses, focusing on one at a time. Appreciate the warmth of the water, the scent of the lemon cleanser.

3. Consider it a neural workout. Incorporating mindfulness-based techniques into everyday life can make you calmer and your brain more adaptive.

Don't think of housework as punishment. Goldstein says, "You're cultivating kindness toward yourself."

These are additional excerpts to ponder from this article.  Click here to read the entire article:

What if I Could Slow Down?

I'm thinking of that Zen proverb: "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." The idea is that we should find meaning in ordinary tasks, because true clarity is fleeting enough -- and when it's over, somebody still has to clean the crisper.

Cleaning Out Your Soul

"When your physical surroundings are cluttered, your emotional and spiritual self is cluttered. If your space is clean, then your mind is open and you can let God in."

Work as Prayer

For the Benedictines, work and prayer are one and the same. "I think one of the reasons the order is still here after 1,500 years is that no one is excused from kitchen duty," Norris says. "They try to honor work as part of just being human." She tells me about one young novice she met who made a meditative practice out of running the commercial cleaner, again and again, in circles over the hallway's hardwood floors.

On a More Earthly Plane...

Floor cleaning is the therapy of choice for Alexis Stewart, Martha's daughter and cohost of "Whatever" on Martha Stewart Living Radio. "You don't have to do it," she says. "But the result is fun. I never liked cleaning out the chicken coop when I was a kid, but I sure liked the result." (I bet her crisper is spotless.)

This is the kind of old-fashioned pragmatism that women adopted in the days when we were better at wringing meaning out of chores. Take"The American Woman's Home,"written in 1869 by Harriet Beecher Stowe and her sister Catharine E. Beecher. It's a complete compendium of how a woman should manage her household's physical and spiritual ecosystem, from prayers to healthy beverages, dusting to moral foundations. There are three chapters on how to ventilate the house: Homemaking is not about managing the moisture emitted by your furnace; it's about putting the very air in your family's lungs.

The Magic Soap

"When we expect things to be more than they are, or when we value them as less than they are, that keeps us at arm's length from our own life," Miller says. "We think we're supposed to follow our bliss, but when we're really present in every moment, even when we're vacuuming, we can begin to chip away at the feeling of inadequacy. And little by little, our lives are transformed." 

Miller thinks the way we work can tell us something about who we are -- the way we tenderly fold our children's clean pajamas or rage over our husband's towels in dank trails on the floor -- and so it is a spiritual practice of sorts. Plus, "the rituals of daily work just enfold your day in dignity. They make life tasty." Uh-huh........

"Well, here's the magic soap," she says. "Your own attention is what spiritualizes things. Attention to the meal you cook, the clothes you wash. Attention is love. And that's transformative."

My Life as a Bathroom Sink

Kathleen Norris was right about life as repetition. Am I the only person who keeps having the same disagreements, the same gripes, the same bad habits? I was in that slough of despond where it wasn't the bathroom sink but my life that was covered in toothpaste sludge and someone else's beard hair. I set out to clean the thing with attention and enfold my day in dignity.

At first all I noticed was the usual simmering irritation. Then I saw the thin layer of funk on my drain (not much dignity there). But as I worked the cloth around the spigots -- focusing on the doing, not the getting done -- it started to feel pleasantly personal, like giving someone a bath. Not the newborn Buddha, but some cranky elderly relative. Because the sink had been entrusted to me, and because it deserved to be clean, and because I was the one to do it. I scrubbed at that film of filth on the drain, which I'd never noticed all the times I'd spit into it, and there actually was a shiny circle underneath.

Making Things New

The cleaning seemed different when I wasn't doing it for the guy with the clipboard anymore. That guy had been me anyway. In some way, I was starting over again. What was that quote from the Bible that my mother kept on our spotless refrigerator? Behold, I make all things new.

I'll never love it, but I can say this: Cleaning changes things. So much in life is uncertain -- you take vitamins and get sick, love people who disappoint you, pour your heart into a job and lose it at the end of the fiscal year. But if you take a rag to a piece of soap scum, it will go away. From that point of view -- the pure continuum of cause and effect -- cleaning stops seeming futile. It starts to look like the only thing worth doing.

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