Posted: 04 Sep 2012 10:46 AM PDT
Post written by Leo Babauta.
Our home isn’t as clean and sparse as a Zen temple, but when I see the clutter and dust of other people’s homes, it reminds me of how far we’ve come.
This is not a judgment on others, nor a proclamation of how great we are at cleaning and decluttering, but a reminder of what I’ve learned.
Cleaning and decluttering, for me, are mindfulness practices. They are not chores that I dread, nor ways to strive for a perfect living environment, but ways to practice living in the present moment. As such, they are some of my favorite things to do.
I wipe a counter with a rag, but I’m not doing it thinking, “This kitchen is so dirty!” (judgment) or “I wish people would clean up after themselves!” (expecting things to be different) or “I have a lot of work to do today” (future thinking) or “My son really got on my nerves when he said that this morning” (dwelling on the past). Or at least, when I do think these things, I notice them, and return to the wiping.
As I wipe the counter, I notice the crumbs and dried spilled liquid. I feel the rag going over the bumpy surface of the counter, and gradually feel the surface smoothing out. I feel the tension in my shoulders and jaw, and relax them. I become aware of my breath as it comes in and goes out. I rinse the rag out carefully, cleaning it and watching the dirty water run down the drain.
This is practice for a mindful life. It is also life, already, not practice but the actual event. Wiping things down, mindfully, is just as full of wonder as any other moment in my life.
I do the same as I wash dishes, declutter my closet or shelf, wipe down the sink or toilet, sweep. Each moment I spend doing these things is joyful wonder, and I am grateful for the moment I’m in.
In the next section, I’m going to present a list of guidelines, but they’re just a bunch of specific things that help remind me of the general principles. The most important things are the general principles, which I try to remember:
1. When you clean, just clean. Don’t plan, don’t have your mind on the next task as you’re doing the current task, don’t listen to a podcast or watch TV as you’re doing the task at hand. Just wipe. Just sweep. Just declutter. Just wash, just rinse.
2. Do your work with gratitude and compassion. Before you start, remember to be grateful for what you have, for being able to clean or declutter. Be grateful for the people you have in your life, and remember why you’re grateful for them. Then remember you’re cleaning out of compassion: for the people in your life, so that their day might be a bit better for having a clean counter or sink, for yourself, so that you might have a nice uncluttered space in which to read a good book. This is your intention, and it will help you remember to be mindful.
3. Pay attention to your thoughts, body, actions. Practice focusing your attention: on the rag, on the broom, on the dust. But also notice your thoughts: are you thinking about other things? Are you judging others? Are you wishing things were different? Are you angry? Don’t banish the thoughts, but notice them. Then return to the cleaning. Notice too as you clean your body, and your breathing. Notice everything about the moment, immerse yourself in the moment.
4. Leave no trace. This, of course, is a philosophy of those who use the outdoors — to have a minimal impact on the land, to leave only footprints and take only pictures. But what about in our homes and workplaces? These aren’t quite as natural as a lake or mountain, perhaps, but they are our habitats. We must live here, often with loved ones, and so we should be mindful of the impact we’re having on this habitat. Leave no trace means that you don’t leave a mess, that you dispose of your waste properly, that you are respectful of other people in your space.
With the above general principles, I’ve started creating a list of guidelines. These are not rules, but guideposts against which you can check yourself, to help you pay close attention to what you’re doing.
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