Cleanliness as a Spiritual Practice

cleanlinessI’ve been toying with the yogic concept of Sauca (sow-cha) or cleanliness / purity for a long time. But this week, as the state of my desk and the students’ desks got to the point of “possible breeding ground”, it came to a head. I’ve always used the excuse that I am a messy person (and way too busy to be neat) and tried to accept that it is just how I am, that my brain doesn’t work that way. But I know that our brain is elastic and can be changed with practice and patience so my excuse is in no way legit. I also truly believe that our external environment is a reflection of our internal state and this week the piles of paper were impacting my calm and feeling of being in control. This week also saw me lose my house keys and have to climb into our very high and very tiny bathroom window. If it wasn’t for my wonderful hamstrings and strong upper body I would have been locked outside with a “starving” 5 year old until after midnight. I also had another teacher come into the staffroom one day and say “Did you leave your coffee on the roof of your car out there?” Me? No….of course not. So it was a combination of events this week that made me stop ignoring my ingrained habit of disturbing disarray and commit to a more orderly and mindfully organised work (and kitchen) environment.

As I deepen my yoga practice and develop more control of mental activity I am increasingly becoming more able to identify (and begin to break) unconscious habits. But I have been putting this one off for a long time.This topic brings up shame for me as I associate mess with laziness or incompetence but I know that this is just my inner talk – I am far from lazy and highly competent. I’m just messy. I have begun to take note of where I put things when I arrive home or during lessons and it is a constant source of wonder (and alarm) to actually notice these actions that were once unconscious.

Some questions to ponder if you think you may have a “Sauca” issue (I know I’m not the only messy teacher who secretly envies the ridiculously neat ones but I’m certain extreme neatness has its own back story anyway):

* Do you feel overwhelmed or anxious about the state of your desk / classroom or work and living environment?

* Do you put things away randomly or misplace items regularly?

* Is there a sense of spaciousness in your classroom / home or is it cluttered with items that don’t seem to have a place? This spaciousness (or lack thereof) correlates with our internal world.

* Does your own messiness frustrate you and leave you feeling depleted?

It may be time to tackle it – one pile at a time.

I am convinced that clarity in our external environment creates clarity of mind and spirit. This is going to be a killer of a habit for me to break but I know I can’t remain in denial any longer.