Monday, March 16, 2009

Zen Cleaning

This little collage reminds me of Spring.  I remember as a kid that a new skipping rope was one of the delights of Spring.  After a long Winnipeg winter you could take to the sidewalk with that cheery new length of blue or yellow plastic and skip ecstatically.

It must be Spring because (no I didn't get a new skipping rope!) today I had the urge to clean, not that let's get the dishes out of they way cleaning, but a sense that I wanted to go through the house and really clean.  Call me crazy but given the right mood I love to clean.  There is something satisfying in a cleaning job well done.  I love nothing better than to get rid of some collected winter clutter or to make something sparkle.

Where is the Dharma in this you ask?  I sense it is there, I know it is there.  Let's look.  For starters  it's about following what it feels good to do, today, right now in this moment.  Not what should I do or what can I do.  I  am talking about looking inside and sensing  what is it good to do, what wants to be done, sensing that urge to clean if it is there, learning to follow that inner sense.  This is a big part of the Dharma for me, being able to tune in to that inner sense of knowing, to actually hear that still small voice within.  Because where does the real Zen truth come from but deep inside.  So part of our training is on a daily basis to become familiar with getting in touch with what lies inside of us, that is living in harmony with the truth.  And it takes a lot of practice.  There are often a lot of competing voices vying for attention.  What a good proving ground , the small things of life, so that when bigger issues arise we are more acquainted with that inner voice. 

And cleaning away clutter is a very Zen idea to me, stripping things down to what is needed, doing away with the extraneous.  This is an important aspect of training.  As it is in the inner world, so it is in the outer world.  There is a symbolic aspect to this clearing, a ritual that reminds me of what we are aiming for inside, getting down to what really matters, the essence.  Strip away confusion, throw away that accumulation of papers.  Lessen our attachment by giving away a few things, some old clothes, perhaps something we cherish if we really want to loosen the grip of clinging.

And then there is the dusting and washing and cleaning.  Look in a Zen monastery, how things are clean and uncluttered , how cleaning and working is part of the daily training, done with mindful attention and loving care.  As well as an opportunity to train it is symbolic of what we aim to do on the inside.  The refining of life.  Each time we shine the light of our attention on a nook and cranny of the kitchen drawer or cupboard or the inside of the fridge we  finding something new that needs our attention.  So it is with our confusion, delusion or ideas that don't serve us well.  On all these fronts we can work with right effort to remove what clouds and obscures, whether it is a dusty piece of furniture exposed by the Spring sunshine or a thought or habitual pattern that we finally notice.

We can take pleasure and pride in our cleaning, getting satisfaction from the effort of our work and enjoying the fruits of our labour.  And we can move back and forth between the real and the symbolic, the inner and the outer, knowing they are all connected.  "When we pull on a single thread (in nature) we find it is connected to the rest of the world."  -John Muir.  And so it is with Sunday cleaning.  


  1. Sometimes I can get into the zone by washing dishes and listening to Portishead.

  2. Yeah, dish washing is a good one, I totally agree. Even my qi gong teacher mentioned last week that his Uncle used to say he could really feel the chi when he was washing dishes!