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.

White Tile Floor

 It makes the rooms seem larger and brighter.

It shows every grain of desert sand, every drop of spilled tea.

I was doing my housework and noticed how cluttered my mind was, how full of random inner chatter of no importance, and how un-restful that was, like listening to a radio station that fades in and out mingled with another equally unclear one. While I was on my hands and knees washing the white tile floor, I turned off the noise and focused on the moment. The swish of the rag. The movement of my arm. The small crawl to the next stretch of floor. It won’t stay spotless, floor or mind. But imagine my state of home or head without the effort!


In Praise of Patient People: Paperwork as a Spiritual Practice

In the process of transitioning from a full-time employed person to a self-employed writer and retired professor, I’ve had to interface with many institutions, and all of them have required paperwork and forms. This isn’t a 21st century phenomenon. There has been paperwork as long as there have been organizations and rules. 

What’s new, perhaps, is the expectation that it should be quick and easy now that it’s electronic. This isn’t always the case.

I’m impressed by the warm humanity people have shown me while slow computers did their things. I got to know them a little, learning that the woman who helped me at the Motor Vehicle Division is a fellow yoga practitioner and that the customer service person at the bank also moved here, like I did, after getting “caught in the vortex’ (the feeling you have to live in T or C after only being here a few hours).

The local enrollment counselor for getting ACA health insurance and the agent on the phone at the healthcare marketplace jointly spent almost two hours with me today resolving tangles in the system that had happened because—and it took some detective work to figure this out—someone who talked with me on the phone two weeks ago made a typo that jammed up my account. Human error. The kind I make every time I type. No one got angry or frustrated. We all kept our senses of humor. The enrollment counselor even helped me with simple things that could have been a hassle, such as the fact that I don’t have a scanner or a copier for submitting various documents and that cell phones don’t have free calls on 800 numbers when you need to make a two-hour phone call and don’t have a landline. The marketplace agent said she wasn’t ending the call with me until the problem was solved, and she didn’t.

People who are “just doing their jobs” are different from people who make their jobs into opportunities to practice kindness, friendliness and patience, opportunities to relate to the actual person they are working with, not just process papers and problems. I have nothing to complain about. I have my New Mexico license and registration; I have a local bank account; I have health insurance. And I have been treated with more than respect, treated with genuine human-to-human presence by everyone, including the helpful man two weeks ago who made the typo. Many factors made my application unusually complicated, and we accomplished important things before his finger made that one unfortunate keystroke.

I’ve read Lewis Richmond’s book Work as a Spiritual Practice so many times I gave it away when I cleaned out my college office. Every lesson in it came back to me today as these two persistent ladies hung in with me through what could have been tedious or maddening. I exited my immersion in bureaucracy energized and positive. It takes people who can turn their work into spiritual practice to have that effect. Thank you.


Image of Files: “Paperwork” by Tom Ventura

Other images, Taos County ditch supervisor and Taos County surveyor, public domain