Prompted by a dear friend of mine during the new moon, last month I set an intention to “clean my house.” This intention does, to a degree, involve the actual “house,” aka, apartment in which I live. Great—fantastic even, and no problem at all! I actually love to clean, particularly cleaning out closets, garages, cupboard or really, any space where junk can be hidden away, brought into the open, sorted and organized. I’m really not joking. I tell people this, and they laugh and say, “oh, I should have you come clean at my house.” Seriously—do. I am still waiting for several invitations.
But meditatively speaking and in dreams, one’s “house,” is often one’s self and one’s physical body in particular. This work has been a bit more challenging to me. As I shared in my January post, I have been working this year to “create a healthier relationship to food in at least one way,” which also involves creating a healthier relationship with my body altogether, physical, spiritual, mental and emotional.
One reason I began to practice yoga and meditation was so that I could learn to better care for my body. Feminism teaches me to reclaim embodiment and value physical bodies more, and yoga teaches me to incorporate what I learn in a highly physical way. In yoga, I also found a safer place to access what I consider sacred and divine by approaching it primarily in my body while my mind and emotions unlearned an abusive relationship to God. I have even searched my “house” once before through active meditation and visualization. It was extremely powerful. I fixed broken locks. I gave people back items I didn’t even know I had been storing for them. I also realized that I was not ready to open some doors. The process was fun and very rewarding, involving almost two hours of seated meditation.
Yet, I have also struggled to maintain this practice. I felt very disconnected from myself before the new moon last month and hadn’t wanted to meditate. I wanted a vacation from embodiment and myself. Embodiment, after all, often demands that we actually hear what our bodies are trying to tell us. Honestly, I don’t always want to listen. When I have too much work to do, I don’t want to know that I am tired. When I am anxious, I would rather feel in control. I knew, however, cognitively, that “cleaning my house,” would be good for me so I made myself set the intention. I pushed myself to carve out moments in passing during the day to focus my mind and tell me what I wanted to do. I then proceeded to have four powerful dreams in the week following this intention-setting, all related to my “house.” In the final dream, I spoke to me, literally. I faced myself and said very assertively, “You need to work with what you have.”
I need to work with what I have. Interesting. I wondered, when was the last time I accepted what I have in order to work with it? When I consider my relationship to my body, how often am I actually focusing on something completely outside of me: some unattainable oppressive fantasy?
I received two dominant messages related to my body growing up in a conservative, evangelical Christian tradition. One: your body is fleshly, and so, impermanent, of “this world,” less than spirit and a place for sin. And two: your body is a temple for God so don’t defile it. These messages were a little confusing to me at times. I never felt like my body was what it was “supposed to be.” I often felt powerless to change my body (which was sometimes true, and sometimes not), and believed with certainty that my body, particularly my weight, was my “fault.” Which is to say, I thought my body was something bad that I should feel bad about: that I was something bad that I should feel bad about. If I was “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God (Psalm 139:14), it was me who was messing that up.
Focusing on “house cleaning” now, I know that taking responsibility for my role in my health is very important. But what I am learning is that there is a big difference between beings responsible for self-care and being “to blame” for one’s body. Actually, “blaming” oneself for one’s body—which feels like a crazy statement to even write—stands in the way of creating health. In a culture that says some bodies are more valuable than others because of their size, color, able-bodied-ness and/or gender, a belief that one is “at fault” for their body can often correspond to a belief that one deserves to feel or even, is unacceptable, unlovable or less valuable. Internalized oppressive expectations can lead to crippling shame.
To “clean my house,” I work to reject body-shame: I am not bad. My body is not bad or wrong. My body is something I have and is me. So what do I have?
I have a potential to be strong and fast, which I learned when swimming competitively. I can also be weak. I was reminded of this last week as I lay on the couch, sick, chills running up my back and lacking much energy to move.
I have large hands that help me to carry large objects, multiple grocery bags and my nephew; but I have small wrists that demand I make reasonable requests of my hands.
I have big feet that make for good flippers. I have knock-knees that make for awkward running. I have a big tummy that sometimes I hate, but during a meditation last month, made me feel like the goddess image that lives in my head. I never saw myself as so literally, or physically the goddess before that moment. Which reminds me: I have the potential to be beautiful. I also have the ability to be ugly, which I have seen when lashing out cruelly in anger.
I have a brain. I have a threshold when reading that I can actually feel. It tells me when I can learn, create or think something exciting if I push a little harder and release my mind. This is one of my superhera powers (thanks again for the term Barbara)!
Wait…I have superhera powers! This is something I realized that I left out of my post last month when I asked you about your super powers. I have them too, we all do.
When I take the time to think about it, I have a lot to work with.
Interestingly, and maybe obviously, to “clean my house,” I first have to recognize and accept that my body is the place in which I live. It is not a place I deign to live. Cleaning, I often focus a bit too much on what I need to get rid of, so much so, in fact, that sometimes my house doesn’t even look like me anymore. Throwing stuff out is important, but so is recycling, repairing, donating, reorganizing and seeing what’s already there and how it works.
8 thoughts on “Cleaning My “House” by Sara Frykenberg”
Thank you for this post reminding me of the importance of both cleaning my own ‘house’ and of cherishing what I have. Often I need to declutter and simplify by discarding secondary items in order to appreciate what is primary. I think we get in trouble when we confuse the secondary with the primary. That seems to be part of the process of adulthood: recognizing and sustaining what is essential and healthy for us vs. realizing and discarding what is not (whether emotionally, spiritually, academically, or physically). Some of the best advice I have gotten is to “remember the basics.” How one defines the basics can vary from person to person, from age to age (individually or collectively), from community to community. It is our vocation to continually strive to determine “the basics” for ourselves as we journey with others who strive to do the same.
I like your focus here on “remembering the basics,” that is definitely a big part of what I told myself in my dream. What is primary? That is another good question. Its funny, right before I was planning this post, the friend who prompted me to set the “house cleaning” intention asked me if I had ever actually written a list of what I have, or blessings that I have. She is a big proponent of “feeding the wolf,” who is helping you, not the one waiting to bite you. ;) Starting this list of my “basics,” or my ‘framing,’ has definitely been helpful for me.
Thank you for your response!
Very good! (And thanks for thanking me for “superhera.”) I’m with you on both kinds of housecleaning. I cleaned a literal closet this weekend and gave away a bunch of clothes I don’t wear anymore. This cleaning made me feel lighter. Mental-emotional housecleaning is always important. Let’s all do it all year, not just at the old-fashioned spring housecleaning, which happened in the olden days when the days were long enough and the sun bright enough for women to see winter’s dust and dirt and grime.
Definitely! I definitely like to clean my physical house all year— I sometimes clean my mental emotional house. Physical cleaning also often helps me to mentally detox/ relax. It feels like a very concrete way to “make things better.” Sometimes it is– sometime I clean my physical house instead of doing the other “house work” I need to do.
This post was a great one for me today, since yesterday I did a BIG housecleaning. I worked with a shamanic healer to rid myself of my alcoholic grandfather (a person I’d never met in real life — he died before I was born), who had taken up residence in my body. I had been wondering for about 3 years why red wine seemed so appealing to me. I hadn’t yet become an alcoholic, but was often drinking 2 rather than 1 glass of wine at dinner (knowing from my reading that women should only drink 1 a day at most). Today I’m feeling much lighter, and last night I had a glass of wine and never even thought about a second.
That’s very powerful Nancy! I think it is really amazing what we find in our spaces that really doesn’t belong to us. In my post I mention that during one “house,” meditation I had done previously, I found literal things that didn’t belong to me and sent them back to those people they did belong to. My dear friend helped me with this: she actually dreamed about my house previous to my meditation and told me that I had filled my entire basement with my sister’s couch of all things. I then went into my basement during the meditation, found the couch which became a white cat, and trusted that I didn’t need to hold onto this cat for her any longer. It was liberating. And in my view, gave my sister back something that she needed. My sister actually, later, had a dream where a white cat came and spoke to her at some length.
I’m still not sure what that cat is for my sister, but it felt very good to let go of it and give it back to her.
I’m glad that you could reclaim your experience of alcohol and let go of your grandfather’s!
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Thank you for the tips for cleaning own house. Specially it is my dream to have a complete clean and nice home. and its our responsibility to keep our home clean and beautiful because it shows the clarity of our mind.