I think that if you told me 15 years ago that I would be finding comfort and calm in cleaning up other people’s mess, I would have called you crazy. And yet, here I am, covered in dust and happy as a clam.
I’m writing this from a break in my bi-annual (no, tri-annual?) expedition into cleaning my parents’ garage. Last year I spent some (but not really enough) time fighting through a friend’s basement, and the year before that I put a beat-down on my sister’s patio/miscellany-pile. While it wasn’t the highlight of that vacation, it was still a satisfying morning.
The garage is easy for me because none of what I’m cleaning is mine, and there’s a big pay-off. Cobwebs, sawdust, plaster dust, cat hair, everything goes into the shop-vac.
One of my elementary school teachers had a sign that said something like, “If a messy desk means a messy mind, what does an empty desk mean?” The implication here is that an empty mind is a bad thing, of course, but there’s another side to it. An clear desk isn’t really empty, and neither is an clear mind.
For me, remembering to meditate helps keep my mind cleared out of cobwebs and dust. I can’t meditate for anyone else, but I can help make a little space in the world feel clearer. Part of this is purely selfish – I’m storing a bunch of stuff in that garage, and our life literally always benefits from less cat hair in the environment. Beyond that, the nature of cleaning (engaging the body in action while making few demands on the mind) is an easy meditative space for me to enter. But it’s not only selfish – I have the resources (time, strength, non-attachment) to take on the challenge of a dusty garage or overflowing patio, and applying them makes one corner of the world clearer and more functional. “Clear floor, clear mind” is a goal that we often use, especially when things are feeling chaotic. It’s easy to get started, and highly impactful, and transferable. Of course, I can’t clear your mind, but I can clear the way to your toolbench so you can do your own mind-clearing meditative thing.
Is it possible that we can apply “many hands makes light work” to the intensely-personal work of meditation? I do really love to sit in a group setting, much more than sitting on my own. More research is definitely called for!