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Scrubbing My Way to Freedom...

Posted Jun 10 2009 12:20am

So, in order to pay for my many, many yoga classes, I clean my yoga studio once a week. It's a sweet gig, just a couple hours of elbow grease yields me unlimited free classes, and makes me feel a bit more part of the community, to boot. And there are worse places to clean than a yoga studio, let me tell you what...

I do my cleaning either in the evening after everyone has gone home, or early in the morning, before everyone arrives. Both have their pluses. The evenings are serene in their isolation--the city is dark and hushed outside the windows, and without the threat of imminently arriving yogis, I can relax into my work, secreted away on the third floor with my vacuum and toilet brush. However, it can also get a little creepy--late at night, me the only one around, in a building that is rife with noises of banging radiator pipes and a settling foundation. I have freaked myself out on more than one occasion with visions of "robbers" scaling the side of the building and crashing through one of the studio windows. (What a disappoint to someone looking for wads of cash to come tumbling into a yoga studio...).

In the mornings, however, I am waking the studio up, as opposed to putting it gently to bed (as it sometimes feels I am doing at night)...I make tea and get all the loud cleaning done before anyone arrives, and the rest of the morning finds me scooching around the early-morning yogis with my roll of paper towels in one hand and a bottle from our selection of "natural" cleaners in the other. There is another kind of peace these early mornings, but it is a bit more electric, and because of the solitary nature of the work, and the quick action which my mind tends to leap to immediately upon waking, I am a bit more prone to...um...shall we say... flights of fancy? Or rather... whirlpools of fancy? Sometimes muddy sucking quicksand voids of fancy? There's something about those early hours and the unconscious repetition of toilet brush in toilet bowl, three sprays of glass cleaner to every mirror and a backwards-forwards vacuum stroke that lends itself to...obsession.

Lately I've been cleaning a lot of mornings.

But this week, I tried a little experiment. Instead of letting myself sink into thought thought thought endless compulsive thought while absently scrubbing away soap-scum, I decided that I would try my best to pay attention to what I was doing. Fully. With totalness of mind.

While visiting home my mother told me a story, which she has told me many times before, about her days as a youth, working in a bank, before the days of computers, where her job consisted of slipping many many checks into many many check-sized slots--a job which, no surprise, became a feeding ground for a variety of worries--and how she one day picked up a book all about the Japanese tradition of the "tea ceremony" and how it changed her life. The Japanese tea ceremony is, apparently, all about the triumph of aesthetics over the mundane, and so she--my mother--began to apply these principles to her check-sorting. She began to give the checks and the slots and the sorting of the checks into the slots her full and total and beatific attention and according to her, it changed her life. She even said that one day, while the checks were flying into their proper places, and her hands too, were flying, she looked over to see a customer hanging around her area of the bank. Assuming the man was lost, she asked him if there was something she could do to help and he shook his head, no, and said:

"I was just watching you do that."

Why? Because it had become beautiful. Why? Because she had become fully and wholly devoted to it. And watching anyone do anything fully, is a beautiful sight. So, it was by this principal that I attempted to operate this week while vacuuming rugs and cleaning toilets: Japanese tea ceremony, baby, Japanese tea ceremony.

I can not say that I found any yogis hanging over me, watching me spray cleaner on the sinks, delighted by my beautifious concentration, but I can say that I had a more enjoyable morning of cleaning than I have had in quite awhile. I attempted to be gentle with myself, and every time my mind wanted to go rampaging off in this or that direction, I just softly guided it back to the task at hand. I tried to notice the small beauties of the room: the gleam of a cleaned handle, the brightness of a light, the juxtaposition of two colors, the feel of fabric and paper in my hand. And I began to ask myself questions about what exactly I was doing: why was I doing it, for whose benefit, how good a job could I possibly do--was I willing to do? And all of these things led me deeper and deeper into the task at hand.

Which is, ultimately, the only thing that is at hand anyhow. Always. No matter what. Now I only have to master this for every OTHER MOMENT OF MY LIFE. And then, finally, I will be perfect. (hehheh)
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