From Cleanliness to Contentment
It seems that our lives are so full of messes.
Physical messes. I can’t go a few days without having to clean my three cats’ litter boxes.
Emotional messes. Holiday times, most can expect a cornucopia of family feuds to go along with their dinners and presents.
Personal Messes. What am I supposed to do with my life?
Interpersonal messes. How do I get my people to listen me?
Interspecies messes. How do I get my cat to listen me?
We learned about Cleanliness, or Saucham, as spiritual value in last year’s Yoga Sutras classes in the Vedic Spiritual Studies Program. When I took on a new year’s resolution to focus on cleanliness, I knew there was a deeper significance than just cleaning messes. I had faith in my teacher that this was a door worth opening. As with all journeys, the experience has been more full, and messier, than I could have anticipated. (Read my reflections from earlier this year in my last blog, A New Value for Cleanliness.) As it turns out, this journey through Saucham began with cleaning my home. It delivered me to a lesson in abundance.
The act of cleaning can seem ironic. What’s the point? I often had that question as a child when my mom would tell me to make my bed. What’s the point? It’s just going to get dirty again! There is a subtle difference in the way that the Vedas address cleanliness from the way I learned it as a child. I often thought of cleaning as removing messes. That has merit, too. But in contemplating Saucham, I came to a new perspective: no longer removing the bad and the unwanted, but making space for the beauty, the potential. Allowing for the opportunity to return to innocent simplicity.
I started out this year by cleaning my home. I emptied out my closet of old sweaters and gave them to homeless individuals off the freeway. I pawned off unused kitchen appliances and furniture on my friends. I organized the monstrosity of my hallway closet and took a few items off the wall. I felt relief. I felt like there was more space to breathe in my home. More room, less clutter. I then began to clean my home more often, wash my laundry more often, not procrastinate quite as long at washing the dishes.
Cleaning can be seen as a therapeutic process. Resolving unaddressed problems, sublimating any pent up energy. Why else did I voluntarily spend my college years procrastinating on my final papers by mopping the kitchen? I have come to realize that part of the reason why cleaning has this therapeutic value is that it is also clarifying. My teacher, Acharya Shunya once said that sometimes, when she feels sleepy or dull, she picks up a broom and just starts sweeping. Not because her house needs sweeping, but because she is brooming her mind, cleaning out the mental clutter.
That is where the twist in my personal story begins. Sure, I cleaned my living room. I even found a new way to organize the furniture. But then an itch, a thought, came. Wait, maybe that chair would fit better over there. Ugh, I wish I could move the TV over there. In the process of bringing cleanliness to my home, I somehow got sidetracked, caught in trying to make my house fit into some perfect ornamentation, to fulfill some unattainable expectation I had dreamt up. In this process, I forgot something vital. I forgot to slow down and breathe. Wasn’t that my goal from the beginning?
After rearranging the living room so many times I can’t remember, another lesson from Shunya ji’s Vedic Spiritual Studies class finally hit me. She once said during a class: “Many people work in the world for contentment, people like me work in the world from contentment.” I loved this sentence when she said it; it stuck with me. So I took some time to think about what it meant. I realized that this whole ongoing search for a “perfect living room” came from a subtle, unaddressed dissatisfaction with the living room I had. I realized, in a moment, that if I just became content with the living room and the life I had, there would be nothing I had to worry about fixing. The heaviness, the agitation of the situation and those thoughts immediately lifted. I simply got to a point that I could flip the switch. I was immediately so happy with my life and the beautiful couch that I was laying on watching Star Trek Voyager with my angel of a kitten and my life partner. Life felt perfectly simple.
I have spent so much of my life obsessing, perfecting, stuck in this notion of fixing. In doing so I forgot about appreciation. I forgot to remember how blessed life is. I forgot to be happy, first. I feel like I am finally getting to a point where I can remind myself, on an ongoing basis, that cleanliness, that happiness, that restfulness, that simplicity is my treasure to claim. Like a winning lotto ticket that I forgot all about. I simply have to remember. With all this, I just want to say thank you to this lineage of teachers for reminding me that I can feel perfectly content in the midst of any mess that this benign universe can throw my way. There are endless messes in the world, but all it takes is a quick thought, a reminder, that I have everything I could ever need, and these so-called messes simplify.
The author Shreyas Derek Cousineau is a student of Acharya Shunya, and serves as the Kitchen Coordinator, creating and offering delicious Ayurvedic meals to our Vedic Spiritual Studies classes and Vedika Global events.
Learn more about how you can study Vedanta with Acharya Shunya in her Vedic Spiritual Studies Program.