Zen And The Art Of Meditative Cleaning

Find Freedom In The Daily Doldrum

Let me preface this by saying that cleaning — in and of itself — is not necessarily my idea of finding bliss. I know I’m far from alone on this one. We push through loads of laundry, folding and furiously vacuuming, sweeping — sweating — in a futile attempt to get to some forever-out-of-reach finish line. But the truth is, it never ends. There’s always more dust, always more clothes to be washed, always another dish left in the sink. Such is the nature of life – it is fluid, forever moving, forever changing — which leads me to the subject of Zen.

Zen philosophy, invoking the practice of mindfulness meditation, is all about finding stillness amidst the chaos of everyday life. Meditation, which can take on many forms — including your cleaning routine — is essentially the practice of turning one’s attention to the present moment. Often the first step involves focusing on the breath, bodily sensations, or even a simple word or phrase, known as a mantra. 

Not surprisingly, mental health professionals often recommend that their clients practice both meditation and take the time to clean their home environments every day. It is widely accepted as truth that living in an unsanitary or overly cluttered space can be a symptom of unhappiness or mental illness. Practicing regular cleaning, in combination with your meditation practice can be a powerful experience. Findings published in the Journal of  the American Medical Association suggest that mindful meditation can help ease psychological stress — anxiety, depression, and pain. Why not kill two birds with one stone? 

The practice of cleaning your space and meditation are also both an integral part of Japanese Buddhist tradition. The basic concept follows that we are not separate from our environment, and cleaning is an expression of respect for ourselves and for the world around us. The repetitive act of cleaning, whether you’re scrubbing a toilet or sweeping the floor, naturally lends itself to meditation practice. 

Mindful cleaning can be transformative. The next time you find yourself tackling a tedious task, take your time and turn your attention inward.

Here’s How To Get Started

  • Choose your cleaning tool for the task at hand and take a moment to notice the senses both within your body and the environment around you. Feel the softness of your sponge, the grip of your mop — bring your full attention to the present. 
  • This is the tough part for me: try to  remind yourself that it’s not the end result you’re after. You are cleaning to clean. Yes, a clean kitchen or bathroom may be the happy bi-product, but give your full presence to the act of cleaning.
  • Remain present within yourself and focus on the repetitive motion of wiping, scrubbing or sweeping. You can try to match the motion of your hands with the rhythm of your breath, syncing body and mind. 
  • Find a mantra that works for you and repeat it as you clean : “I am present” or “I am grateful,” “I respect my body and my environment.” Play around with words and phrases that hold meaning for you. 

It’s been said that if we can be mindful while cleaning the bathroom, we can be mindful, present and calm even in the most difficult of times and throughout our daily lives. To reference the Zen proverb:

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” 

Find the meaning and clarity in those gifted moments of peace and happiness as well as the less glamorous moments spent doing everyday tasks. Be in your space, wherever you are: be there. Remember, that what’s past is past and the future is always uncertain. The moment you’re in — even if it is just scouring your sink — may well be the only moment you have.