SOUCHA : CLEANLINESS
Here we begin exploring the niyamas, or moral observances, specifically in relationship to ourselves. Before I share with you a personal (and very literal) story related to soucha, I should mention that cleanliness here does not only refer to keeping ourselves physically clean (although that applies too – see below). A useful way to work with this principle is to be mindful of what we ingest, physically, mentally and emotionally. It is no coincidence that the niyamas begin with the practice of cleanliness. If our minds are “clean”, along with our physical and emotional bodies, it will be far easier to cultivate the environment needed for the practice of meditation. Ideally, we do our best to leave very little for the mind to worry about by the time we come to sit.
Brad and I got married in the summer of 2016. We did not live together before we got married. At the time, Brad was teaching at a boarding school in New Hampshire which provided us with on campus housing. We were offered a larger house to move into one month before our wedding. So we moved my things up from New York City amidst all the planning, and for the next year I would spend 4 days a week at the house and three days a week back in the city teaching. It wasn’t until I fully cut the NYC apron strings (so hard!), that we were living together full time. If you’ve ever moved in with a partner, I don’t need to tell you that there is a ‘getting to know you all over again’ period – which ideally ends in some compromise and a nice blending of both parties best qualities. Ideally! If you have a story about that happening, please let me know.
I brought my stuff up from NY. Of course I did! I brought my gazillion books – which I liked out where I could see them. I brought my beloved blue couch that my beloved cat had lived on for 13 years. I brought the pillow covers and delicate cut out curtains that I had brought home from India. I brought the tea cups and table coverings from Hungary. I brought the decorative plates from Jerusalem. I brought the dried flowers from all the times I was a bridesmaid, and then finally a bride. I brought my meditation rugs, dreamcatchers, conch shells (filled with other smaller special shells, obviously), wall hangings, open boxes with notes and small gifts from students from over the years. All of which I wanted out where I could see them. Because otherwise I might forget them.
If this list of things is giving you anxiety, thinking about all the dust they must collect, then you and my husband would get along really well.
If this list makes your heart feel warm, whimsical and cozy, welcome to my world.
You probably know where this is going…..
But I have a twist for you!
August 2017: I have just moved up to New Hampshire full time, and am getting used to living with other people again (Adan lived with us part time). September: Brad is having trouble breathing. October: Brad is having trouble breathing and is sleeping on his leather couch downstairs. November: Brad can barely breath and is trying to sleep on the linoleum kitchen floor. December: Brad is on lots of medications and not sleeping at all. Things are not good.
Turns out, the house we had moved into had black mold. Turns out, Brad had lymes disease when he was younger. Turns out, some people have a gene that gets turned on by lymes disease which makes you far more susceptible to black mold. Once this happens, your body becomes hyper allergic to everything.
My poor non sleeping hardly breathing husband. He was not only allergic to our house, but he was allergic to practically everything outside too, where he did most of his work.
All this led to us having to find, and pay for, an alternative space for him to live. We had accepted the job in New Mexico by then, so it was only another 6 months that we had to get through. Aside from trying all the eastern and western medical advice under the sun, Brad felt strongly that if we could move away from the damp northeast to the dry southwest, he would get better. We called this new space, 25 minutes from the house, the bubble. He had to live in the bubble ideally with no contaminants. This meant nothing from our other place could be in there. Clothes. Furniture. Stuff. Me basically.
I wish I could tell you (I sure do wish that a lot!) that I was so wonderful that I left everything in the old place behind and moved into solitary confinement with my husband. But I did not. I could not. I was feeling so disoriented from having just left 15 years of NYC behind. I was doing my best to adjust to the new roles of full time wife and step-mom. I was trying to wrap my head around the idea that New Hampshire was not going to be my home post NYC, but New Mexico would. The thought of having to get rid of all my physical things on top of these inner struggles – it was a bit more ego letting go than I could handle all at once.
I know I know. It’s just stuff. But I am being honest to you. I was really attached to all that stuff.
So we had conjugal visits for 6 months and then it was time to move to New Mexico. This really does deserves an entire chapter unto itself but in a nutshell: moving required either A) letting go of something completely, or B):
- Sanitize an item
- Place the item into a black garbage bag and seal it
- Place the bagged item into a box and seal it
- Place the box outside where it can sit in the sun and not be re-contaminated by the moldy house
- Repeat with every single item in the house. Everything. Single. Thing.
- Pray it does not rain while boxes are outside waiting for the moving truck
And if you are doing the math, only Adan and I (or angel friends) could be in the house to do all of this.
What’s my point?
Cleanliness has taken on a role in my life so much greater than I ever imagined.
It’s not that I wasn’t neat before. But safe to say that I did not have the same principles around cleaning as my husband, even prior to the mold. It’s still our number one source of contention. But (for the most part) I have realized that upping my standards was probably better than having his come down to mine. And with the allergy issue, there really wasn’t much of a choice.
Don’t tell Brad, but there have been some positive effects related to this deeper care and attention to all the “stuff” (beyond that in general, things are a little more neat).
I used to minimize the importance of something like a really clean house. If I had the choice, I’d much rather do the “more important” inner work of yoga and meditation than spend my time cleaning the floors (they will just get dirty again!) . But if I’m really going to walk down this path of going “in” to go back “out”, then the two things can not be separate. The same way taking care of our physical bodies can not be separate from our emotional and mental states of being.
I know that my mind is more at ease when the space around my yoga mat is clean and free of clutter (instead of using up half of my mental focus trying to ignore the clutter). I know that it’s just as important to give the same care and attention I would to a challenging yoga pose to the props I use to get there. So I fold the blanket neatly. I roll the strap up nicely. I place the blocks down gently, rather than tossing them to the side when I’m done. These might sound like small things but they are not. Taking care of the “outer” stuff is a reflection of the work we are doing on the inside. And vise versa.
The key behind soucha, and one of the reasons it is the first niyama, is that along with it comes a stage of an increasing reverence for everything; ourselves, the people, the things – everything that we interact with. After all, yoga means to yolk, or union. It’s not just our physical, mental and emotional bodies that we are yolking. It’s also our inner development in relationship to the world we live in. Eventually the practice of soucha leads to less attachment to the physical body (and all the things around it), but until then, extending our care can increases our understanding of the interdependence of all things. It might feel tedious at times, like doing the dishes for the millionth time 🙂 but like a clean sink – it’s probably worth it.