Contemplative Cleaning

I spent most of this weekend cleaning, which for anyone who knows me, you will understand that this is an incredible feat.

If Martin Luther King, Jr. can accomplish everything he did in his lifetime, surely I can clean my room.

I woke up drinking a cup of coffee and listening to “Audacity of Hope.” There is a point where Obama explains why he is calm about most things. Because most things are not as terrible as what others have endured — like Mandela. This is true. And this is why I like Obama.

One of the reasons I decided clearing (or cleaning as the layperson or non-new agey person might say) was so important for me this weekend was because of my dating life.

And no, it’s not (only) because I’d like to make room for another person in my bed instead of piling it with dirty underwear.

It’s because I tend to collect things. And like most people I know, I don’t tend to throw them away with quite the efficiency or speed with which I acquire them. And while I clean, my mind goes nuts. There is always a deer in headlights moment where in my hands I have two mismatching socks, a granola bar wrapper, a book I want to read still, a worn-out favorite shirt… you get the idea. Once I’ve dodged the shame in realizing I’ve allowed myself to be this messy (that’s another post,) my mind still whirs and tangles along with the things in my room. “Where to put them? I said I would do this first, but then now there’s this other thing. I don’t even use any of this!” And once I’ve been cleaning a good long while, if I haven’t meditated beforehand, my mind spins the same old wheels, traveling along familiar “problem-solving” neural pathways of stories related to my relationship with my parents, friends, co-workers, reasons I’m not perfect, how much weight I need to lose, why I don’t have kids, whether I want kids, who my partner might be, and on and on and on. Of course I don’t want to clean if this is where my mind goes each time! Cleaning turns into an endless rebuilding of the sandcastle. “Why am I cleaning it now? It’s just going to get dirty again anyway.” Which is why I have finally had to see cleaning/clearing as a contemplative practice. Like the Buddhist monks who sweep the steps every morning at the Page Street Zen Center (San Francisco.) They’re, like, cleaning their minds too!! Duh.

And yes, it will get dirty again. And no, none of my cleaning this weekend resulted in an immaculate apartment. It’s functional. And a little prettier. And I get to see more of the things that are important to me. But I also have a list of 42 bags to go through: places where I’ve stored shit I don’t need but didn’t know what to do with. As I go through my stuff, there are a few important lessons I’ve learned (especially after reading Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” One important lesson is that my living space does indeed reflect the space inside my mind, and heart. I have to say, there was a palpable leap of joy in my chest when I threw all the trash out today. If that doesn’t clear my life for love, I’m not sure what will.

I also recently finished Aziz Ansari’s “Modern Romance”! Brilliant, witty, insightful. I’ll be the first to say that I wouldn’t mind having a little modern romance with Aziz Ansari. But, he’s taken. And his reflections towards the end of the book reflect what I love so much about Obama too: a respect for every human.

I am often dating multiple people or no one at all. Like with cleaning, I am distracted easily. Almost collecting people and experiences as much as I do things in my room. And as lovely as that is, there is a certain amount of mental and emotional clutter that stays. What do I want to keep? What really sparks joy? (Marie Kondo’s question.) And inevitably the choice to keep or throw away is a decision, an incision, a cutting away. And cutting away can be really painful. But it will help what we’ve chosen shine more.

There was a cough drop on my desk.

I almost threw it away.

I didn’t need it now. I’m not coughing. But oh, would that cough drop be gold when I needed it. So I kept it where I can see it. Keeping things visible seems to be key for me. Not for everyone, but for me.

This is another thing I have learned, actually with the help of someone from work who helped me organize our cabinets. The way I organize is not wrong. It simply is. And it simply is the way it suits me. For years I have beaten myself up over throwing clothes around and not hanging them up. But for whatever childhood trauma or lack thereof I have to blame, it does not fucking matter whether I hang up my clothes! (Kondo might disagree) It actually just matters that where I have them works for me. It turns out throwing them on the floor does not work for me. And neither does putting them in the closet (like I said, visible.) What does work for me is throwing them in a hamper. Even if they are clean. And when I say hamper I mean plastic white bin because I’m not that fancy.

Beyonce says “perfection is the disease of a nation.” And it’s true. Clearing my space really allows me to dive into my own imperfection, my constant disgusting smelly nostalgic greedy and still somehow loving imperfection. And come back up for air unscathed. Actually reveling in an ability to enter chaos and then come back to myself, many times over. To allow completion and in-completion to co-exist. Isn’t that just all of life?

And isn’t love simply a constant choice? The partner or partners, the moment, the self we choose to be with someone else. My greatest fear is that I will be trapped in an unhealthy relationship. Or maybe that my room will be completely clean. What I don’t always see is that the relationship is not one large narrative choice (as Aziz Ansari posits is one option) but a succession of tiny choices. I didn’t just clean the bathroom. I put in a new toilet paper roll, I relabeled a drawer, and if I’m lucky, I’ll keep relabeling. Allowing my relationships to evolve with my living space. The idea of living space has always felt too practical for a self-identified creative wanderer like me. “Who has time to clean? I wanna live!!!”

And what if they are the same thing? Living and cleaning. What if the mirror influences the rest of my world? What if my living space is an ongoing living art piece, reflecting the people things and experiences important to me? What if by some stretch of the imagination (and by all means not to stop here.) cleaning my living space is an act of resistance? A carving out my own piece of life. There are a few moments where I look at my made bed and think, “I deserve to be here. I work hard and love hard and even if I didn’t do those things, I still deserve to be here in my little corner of the world. The extension of my body. I am a woman and a caregiver and an activist and a writer and a human and I deserve to be here. So, I made my fucking bed! And it looks awesome!”

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