While sweeping up the last remnants of dried mud and old cheese bits from my kitchen floor the other day, I had one of those a-ha moments.
You know those precious nuggets in time when your perception shifts; the clouds part and the glory of Understanding comes streaming down. In this radiant moment of kitchen clarity, a deep and mystical observation flashed across my consciousness:
My mind is like the kitchen floor.
This inspirational discovery is rooted in a meditation slogan that I have always loved: Breath sweeps mind. According to this teaching, the breath is the broom that sweeps the mind of any debris that may have collected there. I love the visual that comes with this idea: the breath gently whisking away my mental clutter; the swoosh of the exhalation leaving the landscape of my consciousness revitalized and fresh. Aaaaah, yes. Sweeping, breathing, sweeping, breathing.
It all goes pretty smoothly until inevitably, the broom/breath smacks up against something that requires a bit more attention. Sometimes a simple sweep ain’t enough. Sometimes there’s a thick smear of spaghetti sauce soaking into the rug and towers of old newspapers and rotting bags of garbage and empty beer bottles all over the place. (My kitchen and my mind can be real trash magnets.)
Where did this mess come from? Who left this junk here? Isn’t that a nasty spill of I’m Not Good Enough festering over there in the corner? Check out the putrid puddle of I Don’t Deserve Happiness oozing across the linoleum! Oh, dear. That grimy, caked-on smear of I Wish Things Were Different Than They Are is really going to take some work; that one is ground in deep.
We all know a spill left unattended will surely grow into a more complex and unpleasant situation. The moment we see the merlot is about to hit the rug, we’re running for the club soda and kitchen towel.
Similarly in my mind, a small thought left unexamined can develop into a mighty giant of maximum torment. I do not think I am alone in the habit of taking a fairly mild gaffe (calling someone by the wrong name) and turning it into a freak flag of self-flagellation (How could I do that? I’m a mindless mouth-breather who doesn’t deserve to teach yoga to anyone). Could I learn to be as quick to correct a mistaken line of thinking as I am to correct an accidental spill of a wine glass?
Just like the superficial residue of dribbles and splats that decorate my kitchen floor mat, the top layer of my mental crud loosens without too much difficulty. The deeper layers of my conceptual junk are stickier and less willing to let go, so I must mix up my heavy duty cleaning concoction to remove those extra-tough opinions and judgments.
My super-clean solution recipe:
1) Combine equal parts Breath, Concentration, and Mindfulness in a bucket of warm Awareness. (Caution: Wear rubber gloves, and work in a well-ventilated area when using this powerful solution. Enlightenment could explode in your face if you’re not careful.)
2) Apply the solution to the mind with Compassion, using extreme Kindness in the heavily soiled areas; rinse with cool, clear exhale for spotless results.
3) Dry with a soft cloth of Thoughtfulness. Repeat as needed.
In the temple of my kitchen, I prepare for the sweeping of the floor as I wrangle the broom, with mop and vacuum standing by just in case I need their extra power. Sitting on my meditation cushion, I prepare for the sweeping of my mind as I consciously employ a softly glowing candle and the sweet smell of incense, with blow torch and HazMat suit standing by. (The breath may need some help today.)
I sit and breathe and sweep and scour and breathe and swab and breathe and polish. And then, just as I’m finishing the job, somebody/thing/thought comes tracking mud through the joint and I have to start all over again. (Sigh.)
It’s a process. It’s a practice. Ya mind handing me that blowtorch?
Shanan Harrell is a fusion of Iyengar-trained asana teacher blended with a powerful streak of Buddhist warrior and seriously devoted gong player. Shanan has been practicing yoga since 1996 and teaching since 1999. Through the years she has trained with many world class instructors and traveled to Pune, India to study with the Iyengar family in 2004. Her reverent and precise instruction coupled with an irreverent sense of humor make classes safe, fun and challenging. Shanan’s column, Yoga 101, is a regular feature of The Loop newspaper. She is also a recurring contributor to Tehachapi Lifestyle Magazine. Her book, Stumbling Towards Enlightenment: A Yoga 101 Collection is a compilation of her entertaining and thought-provoking columns. Her website can be found at www.tehachapiyoga.com.
Editor: Cassandra Smith
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