Cleaning as a Spiritual Practice

I could have resented the task. I was doing it out of frustration, not from the goodness of my heart. The yoga studio where I teach, which doubles as a walk-in massage clinic twice a week, needed deep and thorough spring cleaning. I’d suggested a group effort, but for various reasons, no one signed on.

It was a hard place to keep clean. The former owner/manager had left a lot of well-meaning clutter three years ago, things she mistakenly thought would be used, and people were reluctant to get rid of her stuff. I excavated in the corner behind the altar that hides the CD player and the massage supplies and found a sword, a goat-toe-shaker, a slide projector screen, and a very dusty massage chair that hadn’t been used for over a year, as well as a variety of colorful markers and odd wooden massage tools. I got permission from the current owner to remove them. One of the massage therapists offered to store them for the former owner. Phew. And one of my students offered to help, saying God put her on earth to clean and organize—that it was her calling.

I think it is. Not just because she got the job done, but because of the way she did it. She was so positive, and I was so grateful, I felt little need to vent. I only did it once, and I was mindful enough to tell her I was going to, and then I was done. It took the two of us five hours of hard work, but we got the dust and desert grit and clutter out, reorganized the space, and did laundry. It’s quite a transformation. The details of the tasks don’t matter. Her attitude does—her genuine, no-strings-attached giving of her time and energy. I offered her some free classes in thanks, but she said no. She’d come a couple of times when she was the only student, and to her those private classes for the price of group classes were more than enough.

She found a tiny house gecko living behind a large plant. Since we were vacuuming, she tried to hand him to me to put him out. I lost him for a second, and then captured him again, holding his firm yet delicate body with enough of a grip to get him safely outside. I was surprised how sturdy he was for such a miniscule being, and how unafraid of me.

In the sunlight, he was a miraculous being, like gold brocade on an off-white background. Even his eyes seemed golden. I was enraptured by him, glad to be cleaning because we found this treasure in the process. I set him on the outdoor adobe wall. He’s a house gecko, so he’ll probably come back in. The clutter won’t. Now that’s it’s easy to clean, a housekeeper takes care of it. I won’t have to do this again. No resentment necessary, only gratitude for my student’s teachings. Anything done from a place of love can be a spiritual practice.

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Spring Break

I’m grateful for the ultimate New Mexico April day. It looks nice out the window—warm and sunny, with new green figs on the fig tree. But the wind is blowing at thirty-six miles per hour, the pollen count is eleven point two on a twelve-point scale, and humidity is only nine percent. I think that means there’s more juniper pollen than moisture in the air, and it’s moving faster than a sneeze.  Ten minutes outdoors, and my head felt like it was being squeezed in a vise. Finally, on a day when I have no obligations or appointments, the April-ness of April is so bad I have to stay in.

Why am I grateful for that?

A new acquaintance, recently retired from the Coast Guard, mentioned that she sometimes wished she was working again so she could have vacation time. I understood. When I had an academic job, I had weekends and vacations. I even had snow days once in a great while. Those were intense writing times, and so were my evenings after work. I now live in the place where I used to take my summer and occasional spring and winter vacations. Supposedly, I’m writing full time, but I feel less productive. I used to teach yoga four times a week when I had a regular job. I teach yoga the same number of hours now, and I don’t even have to drive to the studio, but I’m busier than I was before I moved. So what’s taking up all my time?

I thought downsizing to a tiny apartment would save time, but it doesn’t. Everything I do, even cleaning and cooking, is like playing Tetris. I have to move something in order to do anything. There’s no dishwasher. Hand washing takes time. No curbside recycling. Driving it to the recycling center takes time. I don’t live right next to a park anymore, so I drive to one for running. Most medical appointments are in Las Cruces, an hour’s drive each away.

The big factor, though, is that life is so interesting here, far more than it was back east. I’m more engaged in the community, not only with meetings and volunteering, but with social and cultural activities. One thing I love about T or C is how friendly people are. When I was a summer visitor, I had two good friends here. Now I know so many people I feel guilty about not keeping up with them all, and I run into people I know wherever I go, meaning we stop and talk. It can take twenty minutes to get my mail if a neighbor is at his mailbox at the same time. The number of professional artists and musicians residing in such a small town, plus the ones who visit, means there are events I could attend several evenings a week. I’m trying to cut back, but how can I not go to a concert when I know the performers? How can I not support the arts in my community?

Except … I’m part of the arts in my community. A less visible part except in the local authors’ section of a couple of stores, but I’ll be even less visible if I don’t stay home. I know there are people wondering when the next book is coming out. So, blow, winds, blow. I’m in for the day and writing.

The Bats are Back!

On Sunday last week, my eighty-three-year-old neighbor said, “If I was a bat, I’d be thinking about heading north about now.” We walked down to the icehouse, the roofless building with the mural on the back, where the bats reside most of the year. We were a day early. I could tell our little friends arrived Monday. Not because I went to see them that evening, but because there were no gnats falling onto my keyboard or crawling over my laptop screen.

As of today, it’s been a week since the T or C bat colony came home from their winter trip to Mexico, and I’ve watched them three times already. Their delicate wings are translucent as they flutter out in groups of ten or twenty, emerging into the evening sky from the blue sky of the mural, and then dispersing toward Turtleback Mountain and the Rio Grande. The joy that surges in me with each flight of bats is pure and wordless. Transcendent. My neighbor feels the same way. When bats take off, he sounds like a kid in his delight. On a windy night, he was disappointed to see only a few. Tonight, I was thrilled to witness flight after flight, a seeming infinity of bats.

An out-of-state tourist staying at the Riverbend RV park, right behind the mural, saw me standing and staring at the wall, and I explained I was watching bats. He stopped and watched briefly and said it was good the owner of the icehouse let them live there, but I don’t think he shared the mind-clearing flash of happiness these creatures give me. Nor can I explain it. Perhaps their silent sounds are penetrating my consciousness, sonar bouncing off my inner landscape and attuning me to the present moment in which they, my honored relations, always live.