Spring Cleaning, Inside and Out by Mary O’Connell
In a monastery, there lived a monk who was quite simple-minded and all the menial tasks were given to him, such as washing the dishes, sweeping and scrubbing the floors and so on. He did not mind this, and did all his chores lovingly while always pronouncing little prayers while doing his work. “Dear God, as I wash this dish, please send one of Your angels to wash my heart and make it pure” or “Dear God, as I clean this floor, please send one of Your angels to help me,that every person who walks on this floor may be touched by his presence.” For every chore, he had a prayer, and he continued working in this way for a great many years. Legend says that one morning as he woke up, he was enlightened, and from then on people came from far and wide to listen to his wisdom.*
Last weekend I was doing the annual spring cleanup in the garden at the farm, removing old plant material and weeds to make room for the new vegetables to grow. Some waste was easy to identify–the crunchy stalks of last year’s sunflowers quickly came down and were added to the compost pile. Other things required more of a decision. Is this a weed? A perennial? Some arugula that self-seeded? I did notice that after several years of gardening in this spot, I am becoming more confident in my knowledge of the plants and the soil. The rich, dark humus that I have been consciously cultivating makes pulling weeds much, much easier than the clay soil that existed before. As I worked, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for the improved soil, all that I have learned about this place, and the bounty of this little plot of land that is home to our wonderful tenant farmers, the animals, and also a growing farm education program.
Then I moved on to the bee hive. The honey bees didn’t survive the winter. Carefully and with reverence, I cleaned out all the dead bees, the honey-filled combs and the beeswax destined to become candles. As I worked, I thought about the plight of the honeybees, as beekeepers report losses of 40 to 50% every year. Cleaning out the hive is a somber experience, but it is accompanied by a feeling of making room for something new to happen there…the possibility of new life. As Anne Bradstreet said, “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”
There is something about the springtime that invites us to transform. We feel compelled to clean out the old and make room for new growth, new life. I often wonder why we bother to make New Year’s resolutions that are destined to fail during the coldest time of the year when all we can seem to muster is the will to survive the long, dark winter. Why not make Spring resolutions when we feel exhilarated by the budding trees and the warmer days that fill us with energy and hopefulness? Springtime is naturally the time to examine what is holding us back, so we can shed it and make room for new ideas, new growth, new life.
Is there something in your life that is holding you back? In your family’s life? Maybe a change is needed. Perhaps you can do some transformation of your own. All it takes is a little spring cleaning.
* Monk story from Linda Thomas, “Chaos in Everyday Life; About Cleaning and Caring”, published in Kindling, 2004. Available on the Online Waldorf Library. Linda Thomas has a written a wonderful book: Why Cleaning has Meaning: Bringing Wellbeing Home.
Mary O’Connell was founding director of LifeWays Early Childhood Center in Milwaukie, Wisconsin and now works as Training Coordinator for LifeWays North America; she is also on the LifeWays Board and runs Paradise Farm near Milwaukie.