Tidying as a Spiritual Practice

When I learned that “Tidying” is currently the subject of several best-selling books I remembered with pleasure that in the book The Vision of Dhamma by Nyanaponika Thera, one of the definitions that the Venerable Mahathera offers for Mindfulness is that it functions as a tidier of the mind. At the time, I thought of the word “tidy” as being quaint and probably reminiscent of the meticulous housekeeping of his German Jewish mother. I recall teaching about it and extending that furniture metaphor to saying that if I tidied my mind I would know what was in it and where it all was so I would not trip on anything and cause pain.

What I am thinking about now is that tidying, more than knowing what and where everything is, includes knowing what I no longer need to hold on to and what I am better off not having. And, it includes taking steps to disencumber.

De-cluttering closets and minds are both spiritual practices, interrelated of course, but one visible and one invisible.

My daughter Elizabeth, when I discussed my idea with her, said I should use the rubric WWTBGA, What Would The Buddha Give Away. Traditionally, Buddhist monks and nuns have only the bare necessities of clothing which they keep with them and rely on others for supplying food and medicine and other basic care items. I know that what Elizabeth means is using discriminating awareness to discern wise life choices. My friend MaryKay Sweeney who runs the homeless services of the county we live in once gave me a magnet reminder for my refrigerator door: “The sweater in your closet that you have not worn in a year is not yours. It belongs to a homeless person waiting for you to return it to them.” I think about how many pairs of socks I actually need given that I do laundry once a week. How many anything do I actually need? Do I need to keep the sweatshirt with the cute logo on it just because my adolescent child gave it to me as a Valentine gift 30 years ago? Do I really need the contents of numerous plastic bags of half-knitted sweaters that I might someday finish or aren’t they better off as a gift, with extra yarn and needles, to the senior residence nearby that has a knitting group? And the tiny plastic bag of mini-cassettes with scratchy barely audible conversations I had with my 98 year old grandfather 35 years ago? I do not have a player for them. I hear his voice in my mind. Who else, other than me, needs or wants to hear them? I once had a reel-to-reel tape of a conversation that my mother and my husband’s aunt Celia had 59 years ago when my son, Michael, was born and every time I go through certain old boxes I have the hope I’ll find it again. I surely won’t. It positively does not matter. I remember what they said and I hear them in my mind and I am always happy when I think of them. I do not need the tape.

The Buddha’s central teaching is that imperative in the mind, the sense of needing something to be different from how it is, is suffering.

(Check my blog in three days. There is a lot more to say about un-cluttering. Next we’ll move from the closet to the mind where finding clutter and addressing it becomes more complex.)