Spring Cleaning for the Soul (and Your Closets)

Spring Cleaning Buddha DustingWith the arrival of spring, thoughts of cleaning seem to burst forth with the crocus blossoms. As I pondered what I’d like to get sorted in my home, I was reminded of how all yoga teachings are really, at their essence, all about cleansing.

Yoga uses meditation to cleanse from the inside out, while simultaneously chipping away at the obstacles from the outside in, with practices such as asana and even maintaining our environments to help facilitate a gateway to experiencing the essence of yoga. In the book The Life-changing Magic Of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art Of Decluttering And Organizing, Marie Kondo brings a spiritual reflection to organizing and simplifying, such as only keeping things that “spark joy”. This simple observation holds so much wisdom. If the things in your home don’t spark joy why are they there? As we clean our homes for Spring with yogic mindfulness we can weave this same kind of reflection into our meditation practice.

A few years ago in India I was extremely fortunate to have received meditation instruction from a respected teacher named Dr. Bogle. He utilized spring cleaning in its non-literal form to help us transcend the many sensations and blockages that can present during meditation. Dr. Bogle taught that attempting to “do” meditation rather than waiting for it to “come” is a common obstacle to finding meditative focus.  It is challenging because the body gives off so many signals as we wait. In meditative observation we look into spaces that may not have been inspected for some time. Dr. Bogle describes the distractions that appear as mental and spiritual “dust” that rises as we begin to clean it with observation. Like a messy room it would be easier to let it stay dirty but eventually we have to come home to the mess, whether it is in the form of mental, emotional or physical distress. So if we are to ever clean this space we must come back again and again to the present even when the hard work of meditation is felt. Otherwise it is like spraying awareness on the mess but never picking up the cloth to wipe it clean (or maybe emptying out the overflowing drawer and leaving the mess on the counter top in a shoe box. Yes, I did that once).

Spring Cleaning Blue SkyTo help you Spring cleanse on the inside as well as the outside I thought that I would also share three of Dr. Bogle’s meditation insights that have continued to resonate within my meditation practice for some years now.

  1. As you meditate, especially if the mind wanders, repeat “Something is happening in the body”. This reminds you to trust that the discomfort of coming back to the present means that cleansing/change is happening, that there is value in simply coming back to the breath. We just need to keep waiting, feeling, and not being concerned about reaching a specific state of “meditation”.
  2. Remember that techniques of meditation can be taught but meditation itself cannot be taught. Just as a mop is simply a tool for cleaning the floor, meditation techniques are merely tools to help us clean the mind. We may need to utilize a specific technique for an extended period to cleanse the mind, but one day we will leave it behind in pure meditation. We won’t get there, however, by trying to meditate. Thoughts cannot be removed before meditation “happens”. So don’t worry about the thoughts. Thinking about stopping thoughts is just another thought.
  3. All experiences in meditation are correct. Close the eyes, become aware of the body, observe the thoughts, return to the breath. If you are having problems “meditating” then stop, count to 10 and go back to the breath again.

As Marie Kondo writes, to truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. That applies I think to thoughts as well as those knick knacks collecting dust on the fireplace mantle. This spring meditate internally and externally, enjoy the process, expect nothing, and be content with whatever comes. It is all meditation and it is all cleansing. I will leave you with a spring quote from the great Sufi poet, Rumi.

Come to the orchard in Spring.

There is light and wine, and sweethearts

in the pomegranate flowers. 

If you do not come, these do not matter.

If you do come, these do not matter.

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