Road in Etten. Vincent Van Gogh. 1881

Cleaning is powerful magic.

The ability to order the space around us can be used to order the space within.

I woke up feeling off today.

Maybe it’s being worn out from eight days of writing. Or the depth work I’ve been doing. I can feel something brewing inside.

Maybe it’s just an odd mix of chemicals.

Whatever it was, I felt twisted, not right, and I desperately wanted to clean.

Order and chaos, within and without.

Back in the states, I do the cleaning. . . and I’m not the best at it.

I have no problem letting dishes pile up for a day or two. Nothing particularly disgusting.

To me, chaos collects, it’s the way of life. When it’s time to bring order to the mind I light my incense, invoke the archetype of the hearth and home and do the dishes.

I pray that my mind is cleaned and cleared and my thoughts clarified as I scrub plates and pans.

Usually, it works really well.

When I need an extra jolt of inner order, I scrub the counters, the stove, the cabinets.

It’s a habit I picked up from my mental breakdown a decade ago. I didn’t have much control over my mind but I could make the kitchen shine, so I did. It gave me a lot of inner peace and self-mastery.

We try to find order where we can.

Honestly, I probably cleaned a lot more during my breakdown than I have the last couple of years.

It helps that that kitchen really could shine. Some counters just don’t have it in them.

Waking up today all I wanted to do was scrub a stove until it sparkled.

I had an image of a white stove with rays of light bursting from its front corner.

Sadly, they don’t have stoves here in Bali. They have propane burners that go on the counter.

I was seriously pining for a stove to clean.

Something inside was disordered, here they’d call it adharma, chaos. I didn’t know if I could explain trying to scrub down the homestay’s kitchen. . . seemed like it could be interpreted as a bit insulting.

Instead, I swept my room and asked if I could help with the sweeping they were doing in the courtyard.

Of course, they said I didn’t need to and I said “oh but I do. I need to clean.”

I think they understood. The core of the Balinese faith is about about bringing balance in order (Dharma) and chaos (adharma).

They invited me to sweep out the family temple.

Yes, houses here each have their own temple. Not just a shrine, they have a half-dozen shrines and a temple.

I love it, the gods (and The All-Is-One God) are right here and the incense is almost always burning.

When we order the space within we’re better able to observe the many parts of self.

They use brooms made from twigs here.

Apparently called a besom. (Word for the day.)

You bend over, back parallel to the ground and simply sweep, the besom whisking against the stone cobble in a most delicious manner.

A part of me recognized the privilege of it all. Treating cleaning as novel here in a place where I’m able to buy any service I want on the cheap.

That in itself is a whole other essay, living mindfully as the privileged member of an empire.

The part that recognizes this privilege is still here, it’s still present, it’s still trying to figure things out but there was another part of me that was ecstatic.

It felt good to be useful beyond the money I can spend. Felt good to engage in a simple task, to bring order to the world, to the temple, to the home of the gods.

It’s important to make room for all parts of self. The socially mindful, the bits that need ordering, and the part of self that can lose itself in the tsk, tsk, tsk, of a broom while rejoicing.

Cleaning can be a powerful ritual.

In ritual, we give our acts meaning. We can take the most mundane thing, eating, drinking and turn it into a sacrament. The way we become one with God.

Some people like complicated rituals, a movement of a hundred pieces, runes and sigils, chants, and visualizations. Wands carved from a particular type of tree, harvested at the right astrological time.

Give me a broom or dish any day.

Give me a shower, food to eat, a glass of water, maybe some wine on a Blue Moon or a Thursday.

Complicated rituals are powerful when they are able to invoke enough numen that we feel them working. We can awe ourselves in the dance of components.

It also helps that there’s so much to focus on that our minds are stretched and there’s not much room for distraction.

They’re a technique, a tool to help us go beyond our normal state.

Personally, that’s why I love simple rituals.

If you feel the awe in simplicity, if you feel the numen of the moment, you know something is alive in you.

If you can stay mindful and present in the most simple of tasks you know your mind is clear.

In mindful simplicity we discover a new threshold of “normal.”

What rituals do you use?

What clears your mind? What turns waking up on the wrong side of the bed right again?

Do you prefer more elaborate or simple rituals?

They needn’t be spiritual, simply something that transforms the moment.

Whatever kind of ritual you choose, may you be alive in your chest and clear in your mind.

Love and share.

I’m starting something new. Writing every day as I put my random thoughts on binary paper.

If you’d like to join me on this journey you can sign up for my email list here.



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Joshua Burkhart

Joshua Burkhart

Transformation coach specializing in mental health, spirituality & relationships — the way we connect to self, society & cosmos.