A delicious sunny Sunday morning of breakfast and snuggling with my lover. Then the weekly rituals of cleaning:
Accompanied by the ethereal electronic beats of British musician Imogen Heap, I scrubbed the tub, toilet bowl and sink, wiped down the ceiling and the toilet sides. When I was finished I went into the kitchen and realized that, besides breakfast dishes, the stove also needed a good cleaning. So I went for it, removing the steel grates and other propane stovetop components. I used a steel wool to rub free the grime and buildup from the knobs used to turn the elements on and off. I also wiped down the front of the oven and reached into the grates above the oven door to remove the dirt that had grown there. It was a messy, mindful job. One that people do all over the world, day after day. Although cleaning isn’t something that we take the time to honour, even celebrate.
I grew up in a home that was immaculate. My mother was obsessive about cleanliness. She vacuumed every day, and there were rooms in our first floor duplex that were forbidden to walk into. We brushed our teeth in the kitchen sink because my mother didn’t want to get the bathroom sink dirty. She never let us do any of the work because she complained that we didn’t do it right and she had to clean all over again after we were done, so it was best that she just did it herself. (To balance this picture, in other ways our house was full of doting, open-hearted love.)
I grew up with such cleanliness and yet, it took me years to learn how to take responsibility for it myself. I understood the value but not the effort.
Curiously, my life partner is also quite obsessive about our house. He loves to declutter regularly, ridding his closet, workshop and our kitchen of those belongings we no longer use or need. I once again benefit from this obsession. However now I also participate in it. I have my tasks: the bathroom and the stove are mine. He sweeps and chops firewood. Together we load a week or two’s worth of firewood into the box in the living room. We alternate who does the laundry and often do it together. It’s important to me to have a small home that I can take care of and do what needs to be done to make it gracefully livable. I appreciate a house that is clean and tidy, with everything in its place.
Cleaning is not a very prestigious profession. We often seem to forget that wherever we spend time, whether in an office, school, airplane or shopping mall, someone, many people work at keeping the space clean. We benefit from their efforts. How often do we see the people in films and tv shows cleaning their bathroom sinks and toilets? Some mysterious person is doing it behind the scenes. The other day I stayed overnight at a hotel with a friend. In the morning, we watched with respect as women of varying ages moved about the halls with their rolling carts of cleaning tools, taking care of the rooms for the patrons.
How many other tasks are accomplished behind the scenes that we ignore and leave out of the discourse of daily life, of what matters or how we find spiritual sustenance?
I love travelling because it brightens my heart and teaches me to accept the differences of others.
I appreciate the joy of a new dress, dinner with dear friends, yoga classes and taking myself out to an occasional ballet or play. All are activities that nurture me. This morning of cleaning house was also nurturing, good for my body and soul. To clean is to make things fresh and comfortable for ourselves and others.
My mother taught me the value of cleanliness by her own example. I railed against it as a young adult, avoiding the necessary household tasks as much as possible. Now I value the joy that arises as a result of these tasks.
What is your experience of cleaning? Do you enjoy the task, or do you rush through it as fast as possible? Bringing our mindful presence to tasks that we rather not do, can alter our experience of doing them so that we actually enjoy their accomplishment. Choose a task you’ve been putting off, and be present to the doing of it. See what happens… And let them me know what you learn.