Being around mess is like being the loser in an argument. We like to think we’re in control but the mess has all the power and it wins in the end. Mess and uncleanliness can make the act of living unsettling, not just on a physical level but also in the mind. Living in a mess creates the irritability that comes with losing things; the anxiety of feeling out of control; the despondency of feeling overwhelmed; the blocking of creativity. Often we’re not even aware of ourselves feeling these things – they just feel like natural states!
Yoga understands the relationship between mind and matter very well. It offers this simple truth – mess outside equals mess inside. Mess disrupts the peace of mind just as a disrupted mind reveals itself in mess. You might have experienced the sense of clarity that comes from clearing your desk for work, or the liberating effects of throwing away of junk and hoarded items, or the feeling of relaxation that comes from sleeping in a freshly-made bed? You might have noticed how the simple of act of creating a clean and clear physical space also clears the slate of your mind.
These actions and effects are what yoga calls ‘saucha’. Saucha is the first of the yoga niyamas (lifestyle habits) defined by Patanjali for bringing clarity and purity into our lives. It translates as ‘cleanliness’ and as with all yoga, it is concerned, ultimately, with purifying all facets of the self.
Saucha expresses itself in our physical environments through the cleaning of the body (showering, cleaning teeth, wearing clean clothes) and the clearing of the spaces we inhabit – the wiping away of dirt, the de-cluttering of home, the organisation and simplification of our physical worlds. When we take saucha beyond the physical into our ‘mental house’, we can begin to observe how cluttered or ‘unclean’ thinking effects our emotional states, our sense of optimism, well-being and self-belief, as well as the quality of our relationships with others.
One sign of a cluttered mind is a reactive tongue – an aggressive way of communicating to self and others (judgements and criticisms). Speaking a lot and quickly is another, as is interrupting others as they speak, and finding it hard to listen and respond sensitively to those around us. Yelling and yabbering is just another way of throwing dirty clothes on the floor which we then must spend time and energy on cleaning up afterwards. A calm, steady way of speaking keeps the floor clean and no one hurts themselves stepping on lego.
According to the yoga philosophy, a responsive (rather than reactive) way of speaking originates from cleanliness of thought. This doesn’t mean the mind never has a negative thought or feeling. It just means that the self becomes aware of when such thoughts become a dominant thread in the mind and consciously chooses a different course. The self says, ‘I’m not going to throw the clothes on the floor today, I’m going to fold them and put them away.’ It chooses to stop the dirt from building up to the point where it becomes unmanageable.
One of the most powerful avenues for mental cleaning or purifying is meditation. Meditation allows us to become an audience to the patterns of our thinking and makes us aware of when we’re throwing stuff on the floor. It helps us stop losing our keys.
If you’re interested in this kind of mental housekeeping, ten minutes of natural breath awareness morning and night can have significant de-cluttering effects. Regular meditation creates a cleaning habit that stops our mental laundry piles reaching volcanic proportions.
Might be worth a mention that saucha doesn’t mean being that anally-retentive person who won’t let anyone step on their freshly-mopped floor. It just means being aware of the interplay between our physical and mental spaces and making friends of the two. Put it this way, a lot of productive and fulfilling work can happen from a clean desk.
©The Yoga Experiment, December 2015