I recently read a wonderful novel by a Turkish author, Elif Shafak, called The Forty Rules of Love. It’s a powerful book, but one of the lines that struck me most was “Cleaning is praying. Praying is cleaning.” Why? Well, to me, the feeling of being in a totally clean place is so peaceful and freeing, I feel there is nothing between me and God—it’s a sort of heaven on earth. When things are messy and dirty, I feel a heaviness that feels like depression, and like I am in a hole I can’t get out of…kind of like hell on earth. Most women, and a few good men, know that keeping something clean is temporary at best. The perfectly cleaned kitchen is marred by the first meal. A lovely cleaned living room is, for some reason, a favorite place for pets to vomit (don’t get me started about the white chair in my office!!) So cleanliness is never permanent; it’s a process…and the process of cleaning is, to me, a lot like praying.
Which doesn’t mean I like it! I am, in fact, an angry cleaner. I get very frustrated when people around me don’t pick up after themselves, or have the same standards of cleanliness as I do. I am one of those people who notices when things aren’t organized and in the right place. And in the process of cleaning, and cleaning out, I face all my own faults and weaknesses. I buy too many tablets and never use them. I buy too much food and don’t eat it. I buy too many toys and cheap crap for the kids, and then don’t make them pick them up. And there is always too much damn plastic in the house! But the closer I get to a clean and organized space, and the more I unload my junk, the happier and lighter I feel.
When a place is finally clean, it’s easier to realize that we actually need very little to be happy, and the less we have, the easier it is to keep it clean and organized. Praying is like that, too—it’s an unloading of fears, thoughts, and wishes that can weigh us down. So when we ask our God or Goddess or the Universe for help, we are letting go of things and messes that are holding us back from feeling closer to our chosen deity.
But just like cleaning and praying (and weeding, for that matter), it’s really about paying close attention to the small things in life. We are not rushing and running and looking at the big picture, we are focusing in on the details, and sorting through the tiny bits and pieces that we want to either “keep or get rid of.” We are taking action to make the world better—whether it’s our own homes, our natural outdoor areas, or a village in a place that needs our help. Cleaning or praying is taking action and responsibility to improve ourselves and our world, to get closer to that feeling of spiritual bliss we all crave. We may do it for ourselves and for our own satisfaction, but the fact is it helps others, too—whether it’s the enjoyment they, too, feel in our clean space or the fact that our cast-offs are others’ treasures.
I have also been thinking about this a lot lately because a year after my mother’s death, we are STILL cleaning out all her stuff. Her stuff gave her a lot of pleasure. But more than ever, the idea that “we can’t take it with us” is real for me. I’m leaning more and more towards the backpacker’s credo: Pack it in, pack it out. Easier said than done. Maybe I need to pray about it.
Full disclosure: I do have an amazing “cleaning lady”—but the fact is, no outsider can clean out our stuff the way we can. And she was on vacation over the holiday, so I recognize even more what she does to keep me sane all year long!