It seems to settle deepest at the end of summer, in the stark raving middle of withering heat and drought, in the geologic layers of dust, grit and cobwebs that converge at this time of year. It’s dirt, and my house is full of it. It’s a good time to remember these 5 Tips for Finding Meaning in Cleaning:
1. Make it meditative. Focus on the doing, not the getting done. The motion of simple, repetitive tasks can make you more attentive and calm – the back and forth of the vacuum cleaner or dust rag, the concentrated effort of spot cleaning, the methodical sorting of laundry – chores are meditative, as long as you’re not thinking about how much you hate them. The key to mindfulness is not thinking something lofty, but thinking nothing at all, and it doesn’t take any thinking to clean the sink. Throw open the windows and doors! Spring cleaning is spring break for your brain.
2. Find what you’ve been missing. We spend most of our lives ignoring what’s in front of us and looking instead for something more. The life we already have doesn’t seem like it’s worth our time or effort. The life right now is the only life we have, and when we don’t take care of it, we reinforce our feelings of inadequacy. Seeing things clearly is the foundation of wisdom and the path to genuine fulfillment. Plus, you’ll find your car keys faster.
3. Enfold your life in dignity. Carry out the garbage and it carries over into every part of your life. A cluttered closet reflects the distraction and disorder between your ears. The state of your bed is the state of your head. The daily rituals of housecleaning enfold your life in dignity, because they are nothing other than the way you care for yourself.
4. Don’t expect to like it. Just do it anyway. When we expect things to be more enjoyable or rewarding than they are, or when we devalue them as menial and insignificant, that keeps us at arm’s length from our own lives. Most of us think we have to follow our bliss somewhere else. But when you’re really present in every moment, even when you’re just scrubbing the bathtub, you scour away the scum of dissatisfaction that dulls your happiness.
5. Someone has to do it. This could be the biggest aha moment in your life. Someone has to clean the house, wash the dishes, and empty the closets, and the only person you have to work with is YOU. Running away from the things we would rather avoid is what makes our lives feel like an endless chase. Still waiting for the happy ever after? Only you, with your own attention, can change your life. Attention is love. Pay attention to the dusty floors, the dirty windows and the cluttered closet. There are no cleaning secrets, and there is no hidden meaning. Your own attention is what transforms your life.
Photo of the installation Blue Mop by Carolyn Mason