Shiny Happy People
In the locker room at the yoga studio I frequent is a sign reminding the students of “Saucha,” or “cleanliness,” but this Niyama (observance) from the Yoga Sutras is about much more than just keeping the locker room clean. Saucha instructs us to seek cleanliness, inside and out, in order that our light can shine brighter and be shared with the world.
At the root of Saucha is the fundamental truth that our basic human nature is goodness and gentleness. Tara Brach discusses this in her book, Radical Acceptance, and points out that all the evidence we need is evident in our own lives. From the time we are born, until the time we die, we are fundamentally nurtured by affection. And when we feel affectionate, we seek to nurture others. Our physical body thrives with health and vitality when we are affectionate and nurturing in our behavior, and we can clearly see that our body suffers when we engage in destructive and harmful behaviors.
Fundamental goodness of humans can be hard to swallow when we are talking about a murderer, the CEO of a corporation that pollutes the planet, or a child molester. All humans started out as babies, not as sinful or evil people. Negative behavior manifests when we are ignorant-- ignorant of the truth that we are connected to all life-- ignorant of the truth that grasping and hatred create more separation and suffering. When we stop rigidly identifying people by their undesirable behavior, a shift starts to happen. Without denying anything, we open our heart and mind wide enough to see the deeper truth of who they are. To radically accept life depends upon clearly seeing the full truth of it. (Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance). Then, as if by magic, when we trust the goodness in others, we become a mirror to help them trust themselves. At the same time, since we all share the same struggles, we increase our understanding and forgiveness of ourselves. As our trust in our basic goodness deepens, we are able to express our love and creativity more fully in the world.
Once we begin to realize that fundamental “cleanliness” is our natural state, we can turn to other ways to practice cleanliness in our lives. One of my favorites is cleaning and organizing my physical living space! This includes decluttering, keeping our belongings organized and practicing good feng shui. Although it can sometimes be hard to motivate, there is no denying the good feeling of hanging out in a freshly cleaned space. Sometimes we cling to our internal and external clutter as a way to avoid emptiness or loneliness or a sense of unworthiness. Ask yourself, “Is this the way I want my life? Does this stuff really make me happy, relaxed content? Can I feel relaxed and rejuvenated here?”
Decluttering can also apply to our internal world. Charlotte Kasl, in “If the Buddha Dated”, writes that in order to make room for the beloved, we must “clean our room.” Start by noticing the physical and emotional effects of a chaotic space and life: our muscles constrict, stress hormones are secreted, and our body’s receptors sound the alarm! Chaos causes irritation and agitation, and can be composed of an accumulation of tiny irritants… food that doesn’t nourish you, people that don’t support you, possessions that don’t serve you. There is no right amount of stuff, people, or activity to have… it’s about being aware in your life of what stimulates frustration and takes you away from the aliveness that you are.
As much as our house is our temple, so is our body. Saucha, as it relates to the body, includes a clean diet, hydration, avoiding excess use of intoxicants or stimulates, exercise, good hygiene and a well-kept appearance. We all know people who always seem put together-- who take the time to do those little touches of self care. When we are healthy and make time to nurture our bodies, we will be able to be more present on our spiritual path. Then we can focus on having a clean mind. Consider the amount and quality of the information you are inputting. Be selective. Notice how you feel after binge watching a Netflix series on serial killers or getting sucked for prolonged periods of time into facebook. Our mind can get cluttered from external sources, but from internal as well. We are all carrying around baggage from our past. It can be beneficial to purge things that no longer serve us by making amends or ritual. As we forgive ourselves and others, our minds and hearts will feel lighter.
Seek clean company. Find the people who uplift your spirit and inspire you to be your best self, and hang out with them. With everyone else, set clear boundaries. Then, when you spend time with these people, relate to each moment as it is, not as we wish it was or think it should be. The purity of the moment is missed when we arrive frazzled and late because we tried to get one more thing done before we left. Often when we get there we are already mentally preparing for the next thing we have to do. Slow down and do one thing at a time. Make realistic plans.
Purity in our relationships with ourselves and others looks like acceptance. We are often hoping and working to make ourselves into a more picture perfect version of ourselves. Rather than “planning ourselves” what if we practiced “unplanning ourselves”? Instead of striving to be someone loveable, what if we loved ourselves fiercely, just as we are? Similarly, we can be pure with others by letting go of judgment, criticism, control and expectations. See them as they are. In Twelve Step programs, there are a couple of very helpful slogans-- “clean up your side of the street” or “keep your focus on what’s inside your own hula hoop”. Rather than focusing on what other people need to do, which is beyond our control, keep our attention on ourselves, our actions and reactions.
”When the disciple is ready, the guru comes.” This maxim does not necessarily refer to a literal guru, but rather a teaching, or an experience on the path. The practice of Saucha is a practice of “readiness”. When we ready ourselves, our space and our relationships, then we will find ourselves in the flow. The divine light is in all of us, but just like an oil lamp, when the glass casing is clean-- when we incorporate Saucha into our lives-- our light can shine more brightly.
* (For further reading, check out “If the Buddha Dated” by Charlotte Kasl, Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, Deborah Adele, Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice, How Al-Anon Works, by Al-Anon Family Group, and Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Much of the content of this essay was taken from or inspired by these insightful works.)