If you are looking for motivation on how to use your time at home in the most productive way, we have a few tricks for you. I’m currently at Great Vow Zen Monastery locked down like many other people around the world. In Zen, we try to see every situation as an opportunity and make it our practice in order to fully benefit from it. Being in quarantine requires keeping your space as clean as possible but you finally have enough time to do it.
Last Sunday, we decided to do Deep Cleaning Practice in our kitchen. We used some techniques to make our work more efficient and also to make it our training process. The most difficult part is motivation. Fortunately, during 2500 years of this practice some tricks have been found that we can share. Motivation is not something that rises from nowhere. It is something that you can develop.
If you are locked down with your family members, announce your Deep Cleaning Practice and invite them to join you. This will help stop you from changing your mind. First, explain your intention. In Zen, we rather try not to recruit others. Our method is to show by example and affect others this way. However, we make this practice available for others in case someone wants to join. So say to others what you decided to do and that anyone is welcome to join. You will find that working with others is more energetic than alone. This is why we usually practice Zen in communities.
Why do you want to do this work? Is it because you want to feel better in this space, or you want other people to feel better? How does it relate to your life intentions? It’s good to reconnect to them. In the monastery, we have many ways to do this. For example statues of Buddha represent a clean mind. When we pass a Buddha statue we can be reminded that our main intention is to clean our minds.
Very often, statues are part of an altar. The altar helps us also to focus our attention. Instead of looking in all different directions we can focus on one place that helps us to connect and synchronize as a group.
You may be surprised to discover that you also have altars in your home. It could be your family picture which represents something that is very important to you. It might be an important quote you posted on the wall. A picture of somebody can represent some virtues you would like to develop. Nature paintings can represent a desire to be more harmonious. Is there any object in your house that naturally focuses the attention? It could be a kitchen table or a clock on the wall. What does it represent for you?
Space and time container
The practice will be stronger if you prevent distractions. Unfortunately, most distractions come from our own mind. While dusting shelves we may feel an urge to check emails or to turn on music. An hour might go by while we lose track of time and we find ourselves doing something completely different.
In Zen, we always want to do only one thing at the time and allow ourselves to be completely consumed by this activity. It helps if you limit the task to some space and time. Our Sunday Deep Cleaning Practice was limited to the kitchen and it happened between 3pm and 4pm. Thus after that we could come back to our other responsibilities. We knew that these other tasks would have their own allotted times and could wait.
To distinguish this practice time from the rest of the day, we do some gestures at the beginning and the end like bells, bowing, chanting. They help us in transition from previous tasks to another one and to build the focus. It is like saying “hello” and “goodbye” in conversation which signals the intention for an interaction. Before “hello” and after “goodbye” you may not have 100% of the attention of the speaker. These brackets create a special space for something to happen and in some way both participants cooperate in maintaining that space.
You do not need anything unusual to do this practice. At home, you can use two spoons to make three clicks at the beginning and at the end of your work. You can also listen to a song you or your family like. Be creative. You will see that something often called “sacred space” is not reserved only for cathedrals and temples. It’s available to anyone, anywhere.
Five Steps of Deep Cleaning Practice
- Choose the object to clean
- Get the right tools and prepare the space
- Clean the workspace and tools
- Appreciate the results
1. Choosing the task
Choose one thing. The idea is that you should rather clean one thing very well rather than touch many areas. It should not be too complicated and time consuming. It’s better to divide bigger jobs into smaller tasks and then focus on each thing one at a time.
2. Get the right tool
Preparation is as important as the cleaning process itself. If you don’t choose the right tools you will struggle, results will not be satisfying, and your mind will be irritated. It is important to see the nature of your task in order to harmonize with it. Rather than fight with waves, surf on them. Go with the flow.
It’s also good to prepare the space around your working area to have better access to your object. For example if you predict that you will often be going to the sink, it might be a good idea to remove chairs which are in the way. Or if the sink is full of dishes, clearing those out so the sink becomes accessible..
Be mindful of other people working around. How can you organize your workspace in order to make their tasks easier?
In Zen, we very often hear the instruction: “Become one with your task”. It happens when your mind does not go to any other thoughts. You’re just observing what you’re doing. Then you can clearly see the nature of the task and it becomes obvious how to handle it. It’s easier when you remove distractions, such as tv, radio, music, noises etc., as well as focusing on your breath. Use inhalation and exhalation to propel your movement. It helps a lot.
Be energetic. Give 100%. Sometimes people enjoy every move so much that they almost don’t move. Zen practice is not about finding excitement. It is a deep cleaning of the mind. Be careful because ecstatic states are as misleading as boredom or dislikes. Working fast will help you to feel your body, breath and blood flow which will anchor you in the present moment.
I like saying that it’s easy to get enlightened when cleaning. But the goal is to clean in such a way that other people who later would pass by get enlightened too. How does this work? If you see objects placed randomly on shelves, this randomness reflects your state of mind. But if you see that each object was aligned exactly with other objects, you know that somebody who put them there was present. That brings this state of presence into your mind. When you sit in a beautiful garden you feel different than when you sit on a pile of trash. In fact, each gesture and each interaction with objects affects others whether you intend it or not. You can only choose how you want to change the world. It is not possible not to affect it at all.
You might notice that it’s better if you treat a cleaned object as a living being.You build a personal relationship with it. It can help to talk to it, or ask it what it wants to be done. Although this is only a mental shift, you might be surprised how different the process can be.
4. Clean the workspace and tools after yourself
This is a good time to say “thank you” to all the tools you’ve used. Sometimes we’re so excited about the work we’ve done that we forget to collect cleaning supplies and restore all the objects we’ve moved. It wouldn’t be very beneficial to clean one place and make another one messy! It’s also a good opportunity to see all the elements that participated in your work
A word of caution: take care to be mindful. A significant number of car accidents happen on the last mile when coming back home. Stay focused until the end.
5. Appreciate the results
Don’t forget to just stand for a moment and appreciate the results of the project. It’s even more pleasant to appreciate it with others. Gratitude has a therapeutic effect. Share your experiences and reflections. Be sure to appreciate them as well, and thank them for doing the work and the practice with you.
(I’d like to thank Dechen and Doug for help with editing)