Clean Up on Aisle 7. ~ Shanan Harrell

Via elephant journal
on May 15, 2012
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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


Editor: Cassandra Smith


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36 Responses to “Clean Up on Aisle 7. ~ Shanan Harrell”

  1. suzette conrad says:

    My energy rejoices, learns, expands through my body and the practicality of everyday experiences and this article urges me on to do just that in a picturesque and understandable language. Thank you Shanan

  2. Cindy W. says:

    I tend to have lots of cat food and dog food on the floor. I wonder what that says about my mind? Loved this essay!

  3. Barbara says:

    Hmm, let's see what's on my kitchen floor: food I dropped while chopping, ants (for cleaning the food droppings) – ah, see, that's how my mind works: have somebody else do the clean-up. That's not going to work, is it?? Better read that article again!! And that's just too much fun – LOVE this article!!!

  4. Sally says:

    Love it, love it! Shanan has a way of placing the words so that the work is not so daunting. One piece at a time be it spaghetti on the floor or in the mind! Thank you.

  5. Krista says:

    I'm currently scrubbing away at a semi-permanent stain of "oh shit what if I fail?"
    I think I'm going to need Clorox and possibly a Brillo pad.

  6. Lisa says:

    I went straight for my credit card and ordered Shanan's book after I read this! Not sure what took me so long. Her combo of wit and enlightenment is right up my alley! Much easier for a simple mind to understand than the Bhagavad Gita or Patanjali 🙂

  7. Debbie says:

    My mind is blown to think that my beloved Shanan has EVER thought herself inadequate in any form . . . I thought I had cornered that market.
    I LOVED this article. Of course there's never been anything Shanan's ever written that I haven't loved.
    You just flippin' ROCK, Sistah. I now have hope that there's hope for me in the I'M NOT GOOD ENOUGH arena . . . One day I just might be good enough. Thanks for your transparency and hope.

  8. dlane says:

    Useful metaphor! Henceforth, cleaning the floor will remind me of getting rid of mental clutter, that really insidious kind that trips me up again and again. Thanks, Shanan!

  9. Ventifact says:

    Refreshing to be reminded how we all face insecurities and how meditation helps us to find peace from our fears.

  10. shanan says:

    thanks suzette!

  11. shanan says:

    Thanks, Cindy. I tend to find banana peelings on the floor as well – my monkey mind leaves them for me to slip on occasionally….

  12. shanan says:

    thanks, Barbara. Yeah, I don't think there's a housekeeper on the planet that can take care of our mess. Some things we just got to do by ourselves (and for ourselves). Sweep….sweep….sweep….;)

  13. shanan says:

    Thanks, Sally. The task can seem daunting at times – and the broom is always available – right there in that spot between the fridge and the stove….or is it between the inhale and the exhale??

  14. shanan says:

    I could lend you my blow torch…..that particular stain can be a real bitch. 😉

  15. shanan says:

    Ha! Thanks Lisa…..I'm all about the simple. And thanks for buying the book!

  16. shanan says:

    Oh, Debbie, you silly girl. I've patronized the I'm Not Good Enough Superstore on many occasions. They know me well there. In fact, if you go on Wednesdays, you get 20% of your total tab of Inadequacy. Tell them I sent you. No, wait. I forgot I'm boycotting that place these days. Let's do some yoga instead. (love you, dear one).

  17. shanan says:

    Thanks, D!

  18. Carol Casey-Newell says:

    Refreshing take on what can be some pretty 'heady' stuff. Love it!

  19. Ginnie Gregg says:

    Dear Shanan ~ You paint pictures that this kid's brain can follow. You make learning fun & fun happens to be what I'm signing up for these days, so sign me in. And let's have more! Ginnieeee

  20. Constance says:

    Yep! That's my mind exactly. Just like the kitchen floor. Has Shanan been reading my mind?
    I want to mix up some of that super-clean solution recipe on the double & I'll pull the Hoover
    out, just in case,

  21. Sal says:

    Okay, I'm breathing. I'm breathing. Got the broom out of the closet and I'm sweeping and breathing. That broom is really moving now, baby. I'm sweeping. I'm breathing… Oh, holy crap – the dog just tracked in mud from the backyard.
    I'm breathing. I'm breathing. I'm dialing Merry Maids…

  22. Jodi says:

    Shanan, your brilliance lies in the way you're able to bring the subtle and esoteric down to human, mundane terms we can all completely grasp. And darn, I cleaned my floor yesterday and just look at it now. Cluttered and messy as always. And that doesn't count the ants and all the bloody critters the cats drag in.

  23. Donna Z says:

    Sweeping takes me away to where I heard I should be….My two dogs handle my big issues (Yogi and Zen) I just try not to sweat the small stuff…

  24. edgar says:

    Always truly inspiring… and just plain good fun reading your wonderful essays. LOVED your book, too!! You are one of my favorite writers ever!!

  25. Mitzi Chandler says:

    Shanan, Your kitchen "metafloor" reminds me that whether they be loosey-goosey or icky-sticky those spots and stains that splish and splash require lots of heart work to clean up. And just when I think I'm done for the day, there ya go, I step on a glob of chewing gum! Back to the flooring board…again. Thanks for being funky,fun and full of love YOU! Love you SO

  26. shanan says:

    Aw, thanks Edgar!

  27. Shauna says:

    Oooh I need enlightenment to explode in my face!! Pleeeease! Oh wait I guess I need to start sweeping first. Breath breath sweep. Explode please I am waiting! Hmm. Shanan please write us more. Looks like I am in denial about how dirty that kitchen is!

  28. shanan says:

    Thanks, Mitz.

  29. shanan says:

    I'll lend you my HazMat suit. Maybe we could get a deal on multiple orders.

  30. Ruthanne says:

    love the metaphor's!!! so relatable!!!

  31. Joan says:

    I'll never be able to sweep the same again…instead of a drudgery it will be a freeing experience. I might even find myself sweeping on a more regular basis!

  32. Deanna says:

    I loved the teaching……….so true so true…………..but as fate would have it, my kitchen floor pattern makes it very hard to see the dirt !!!
    I know………the cleaning supplies are still the same.

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  34. donna says:

    I can so relate to this! I picture me chasing the monkey mind out with a clean breath of broom! 🙂

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