Cleaning the physical dirt around us is great cross-training for the work of cleaning the internal metaphorical messes we all face in life.
The equinox has come and gone, and I find myself thinking about spring cleaning. You’ve likely seen the emerging body of research espousing the psycho-emotional value of keeping a clean home or workspace. I agree with the notion that if we de-clutter our closets our minds will follow. I’m also fond of the stories of the Buddhist monks who make a meditative practice out of scrubbing their bowls and am intrigued by the idea that doing dishes might be a pathway to enlightenment.
That said, although I love a clean space, I have never really loved cleaning, and I’ve always judged it as an unsavory chore. But after meeting Tolulope Ilesanmi, all of that is changing for me. Imagine a cleaning company where the workers approach the task of cleaning as a spiritual venture. How about the idea of a “Cleaning as Practice” leadership development program for Fortune 500 executives? Yes, this is for real, this is Tolu’s company, Zenith Cleaners.
Tolu discovered the therapeutic and meditative qualities of cleaning as a child, he says, and thinks of cleaning as a practice in loving, caring, and making a difference.
“Cleaning is the process of removing dirt from any space, surface, object, or subject, thereby exposing beauty, potential, truth, and sacredness,” he says.
How’s that for a positive outlook when you are staring down a toilet bowl or a sink full of dirty dishes? Thankfully, Tolu is happy to offer advice on how to discover this so-called sacredness of cleaning, and his attitude adjustment proves applicable to many of the challenges in our lives:
- Create a New Conversation: Tolu says it is essential to rewrite our internal dialogue for before, during, and after the act of cleaning. Witness the resistance, and then remind ourselves to focus our attention not just on the dirt we are cleaning (yuck), but on the beauty we are creating (yum). Recognize that cleaning is an opportunity to exercise and move our bodies. Not to mention that the repetitive motion of cleaning shuts down our analytical minds and activates the creative side. Choose a mantra during the act of cleaning that affirms the joy and beauty available to us in the simplicity of this seemingly mundane activity. Speak of cleaning as a deeply satisfying act. Notice the gentleness here of the reorientation, a subtle shift in perspective. The possibilities for flipping the script extend far beyond pushing a vacuum.
- Embrace the Present Moment: Tolu reminds us that cleaning requires being fully present in the here and now, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant the experience may be. To get that job done we have to, as Ram Dass says, be here now. Experience cleaning as a truly meditative practice, Tolu encourages. Let go of the fretting over the past or grasping for the future. Live in the moment and address the tangible conversion from dirty to clean, mess to beauty, yuck to yum.
- From the Literal to the Metaphorical: Tolu knows that cleaning the physical dirt around us is great cross-training for the work of cleaning the internal metaphorical messes we all face in life. “By periodically engaging in physical cleaning,” Tolu says, “we can learn to clean the more significant intangible dirt we all face. It is not pleasant to unearth and confront thorny issues at home or at work, yet they must be dealt with. Our approach to physical dirt trains us to bravely deal with non-physical dirt at every level.”
Happy spring cleaning one and all!