Written by Loretta Jaunzarins
Learning about the Spiritual Impact of Physical Sweeping
In 2011 I travelled to the southern Indian state of Kerala. I initially went to participate in a wedding ceremony but then was invited to preach in a couple of churches and toured much of the area including Kochi and the capital city of Trivandrum. Kerala is predominantly Christian and one day I noticed people sweeping the porch and steps of a church with traditional, handmade brooms. I found this odd because we rarely see people sweeping church steps in Canada. My host explained that sweeping church steps is part of the spiritual practice for people of different faiths. It’s a way to give thanks to God for blessings in one’s life but also to think deeply about one’s life and actions. Sweeping can be both an act of thanksgiving and an act of penance.
I had not thought much again about sweeping church steps until I discovered Gary Thorp’s book “Sweeping Changes.” It’s all about how ordinary, everyday tasks such as sweeping, raking or washing dishes, can bless us with tranquillity. In fact, ordinary everyday tasks can gift us with delight and joy. Thorp’s goal, in writing this book on sweeping, is to convince us that a change in attitude toward housekeeping, can change how we see our home. Instead of housekeeping being a chore most of us don’t enjoy, housekeeping can change our home into a place that nurtures us.
Practical Steps for Clearing Mental Clutter and Noise
Most spiritual practitioners will agree that a clean and clear working or living space releases mental clutter and noise. Surprisingly, a clean and clear space can become a spiritual act or practice instead of a chore. Here are some tips to help you make sweeping, or any kind of house cleaning, a spiritual practice instead of a chore:
- First, be open to the experience and state your intention (I’ve recently heard that a new year’s intention rather than a resolution can lead to success). Choose a small space or section that you would like to clean. Perhaps a stack of dishes or your office desk. Take a few deep breaths and centre yourself so that your soul/spirit connects with what your body is about to do. Release any thoughts that are pressuring you to get the job done. (Make sure you have your cleaning supplies organized so that you don’t experience any unnecessary stress! Try to use products that are eco-friendly and have a lovely fragrance.)
- And begin! Be present in the moment. Remember to breathe. If you’ve taken any yoga classes remember your yoga breathing. Pay attention to your whole body and what you are doing. Notice if you are holding any tension or are just going through the motions. Be present to all the details of your activity and breathe calmly as you clean.
- Pay attention to what you’re thinking or feeling as you clean and notice how you feel when you are done. Cleaning is an act of cleansing, letting go of what you don’t need. Perhaps this practice can set the tone for other life experiences. Hopefully, the act of sweeping or cleaning has opened you up to being pleasantly surprised in a way you never thought possible!
I’ll end with a quote from Gary Thorp’s book “Sweeping Changes”: “The act of sweeping unites us with our ancestors and with people all over the world. From cave-dwelling times until now, people have gathered bundles of straw and grass in order to sweep clean the flattened surfaces of their lives. And in many parts of the world, dirt floors and walkways are still commonplace. In the hands of the experienced, the broom becomes a multifaceted, functional tool. But no matter how carefully you sweep, you will always find a fine line of dust that still defies the dustpan or a bit of lint that catches on a loosened splinter of wood. There is always something to remind you of what still needs to be done. There is no way to arrive at “finished.” There is no road leading to “perfect.” There is just some wandering atom of life, some single bit of dust, that calls you to attention and keeps bringing you back to life.”
Happy sweeping and cleaning!
For more wisdom on the spiritual practice of sweeping see “Sweeping Changes. Discovering the Joy of Zen in Everyday Tasks,” by Gary Thorp. Available at your favourite bookseller.