If dharma is found everywhere, asks Geertje Couwenbergh, why not start at home?
Anyone who has ever tried to sit, or write, or whatever practice you may have that fuels your life, knows from experience that there are always things that seem more urgent. The heating must be turned up, the dog needs to be walked, the car’s right flasher needs fixing, friends in distress should be called, there’s reading, blogging, cooking, shopping, Facebook should be updated and, last but not least, The Email Inbox Must Be Confronted.
And I don’t even have kids, I think to myself. This thought is immediately followed by a sense of guilt for feeling bad about my to-do list when in other parts of the world people are being trafficked and animals slaughtered. Then I feel guilty about feeling guilty for that, which reminds me to add that loving-kindness practice to my to-do list. Sound familiar?
Often, I find this daily run on my domestic obstacle course almost too ordinary to take notice. Yet, I’ve discovered the great obstacle and potential of our everyday dirt. Do not underestimate the existential power of a clogged shower drain, the dominance of a smelly trash bin so full that it no longer closes. They hold a ridiculously ordinary but underestimated spell on us.
Observing their power, I’ve come to believe our important relationships on the spiritual path aren’t just with inspiration and silence, but with dots of hairs dazzling across the living room floor, and with cell phones ringing. The biggest challenge is to take your seat in the middle of a clogged house, moving a plate of food remnants an arm’s length away to put — in my case — a notebook down, and write. Regardless of how difficult and dirty that may be.
But if you are able to sit or write or draw or listen to someone in the heart of the most basic dirt of your life, you create a relationship with matter out of place itself, with everything unfinished, imperfect, and clogged within yourself. Because your life isn’t that different from a house overrun with whining children, undone chores, and molding leftovers. Sickness, old age and death are the only securities we have. We can clean and organize all we want, but ultimately trying to stay in control is an uphill battle. Our most well-known house, our body, will wither and rot away.
This doesn’t mean we should fall into a nihilistic state and never vacuum again. The art of living is doing everything as wholeheartedly as you can while knowing it doesn’t matter at all. And, at the same time, realizing it’s the most important thing going on. It’s common for us to not pay attention to, say, our dirty laundry or the soaked macaroni in the kitchen sink. These cannot be part of the path to awakening, we think to ourselves, and we fall into the trap of thinking we need to organize our entire wardrobe before we can sit down to meditate.
Falling into that trap too often means missing a very intimate opportunity to train in compassion. If you can enter into a relationship with the rotting tomato in your fridge, you have it in you to become resilient, strong and compassionate in your imperfect life. If you can muster up the strength to be in the presence of dirty dishes and unanswered calls, you can be more available to others in the middle of loss and crisis.
Looked upon with attention instead of irritation, the dirt and discomforts of our homes become silent witnesses of our lives: a water glass holds a story about a disastrous date in 2003, or the hairs in the shower drain launch a steamy memory of a lover. Such things are all proof of your brief, outrageous, mysterious existence.
Most of all, it is you who is the primary witness of your life. If you do not tell us how that piece of tempeh got between the refrigerator and the stove, no one in the history of mankind ever will. These stains, holes and leftovers remind us of the parts of ourselves that are broken and forgotten. These cracks are the openings to the fire of our One Great Life. Don’t miss them.
no, it doesn't sound familiar.. i might even have more in common with your dog
but its interesting reading nonetheless
Aparna Pallavi says
Most charming. Buddhism defines acceptance of things just as they are as a skillfull mental attitude. If a certain amount of mess in the house and our own struggles to balance cleaning up with other imperatives is a part of our life, then it has to be accepted as it is. And moreover, if we can't smile in compassion at the mess in the house, how on earth can we hope to smile at the much bigger mess in our minds, relationships, so on?
Thanks for your kind -and honest- comments! 😀