Spring Cleaning for the Soul

Spring – it certainly has sprung here in the UK!  The tulips and daffodils are out, the sun is shining (at least where I live on the east coast) and the earth is warm to the touch.  The birds have changed their song to ones of sunlight and warmth, of nesting and mating, of the months ahead and the lengthening days.  The foxes are creating an almighty ruckus at night, and the lizards are coming out to bask in the sun.

It’s time for spring-cleaning in my home – really cleaning the house from top to bottom, doing the floors and dusting the blinds, washing the windows and cleaning every nook, cranny and crevice. It’s amazing how great the house feels after a good cleaning. Every autumn and every spring I do a Big Clean, getting ready for the months ahead.  I feel I am overdue for my spring cleaning.

The chores of housework can seem daunting to some, boring or tedious to others.  To me they are a delight.  Really, I hear you say? Really?

Yeup.

I used to hate housework as a child – we had our daily chores of trying (and in my case failing) to keep our rooms and closets in order. We also had our chores every Saturday when my Mom got the house clean – I cleaned the bathroom, my sister dusted the living room and my parent’s room, my brother tidied the boot rack (to this day, I believe he got off too easily…) while my Mom did laundry and cleaned the kitchen. Dad was usually outside doing gardening in the summer or gone to work in the winter. Every Saturday morning, I dreaded the drudgery of chores when I’d rather be watching cartoons, reading or playing outside.

As such, my room and closet were always a mess, and I may not have done as good a job as I could have in the bathroom.  It’s funny how much a person can change though. I hate living in a messy place these days. I find that it depresses me, makes me sluggish and feeling just plain lazy.  When the house is clean, the dishes are done and the floors swept there is a different energy in the house. It smells clean. It feels clean. The energy seems to move easier, flowing with ease where it might otherwise become stuck on a stack on dirty plates, or picking up bits of cat fur from the “dustbunnies” on the floor (oh Spring, for anyone with a pet – you know what I mean in the shedding season!).

Doing the work is just as rewarding as having the clean house at the end. It can be enjoyable.  I can stop thinking about all my other jobs that are waiting – the essay due, the proofs of the next book, getting my dance class organised, arranging diary dates, thinking about upcoming workshops, retreats and speaking engagements.  I can simply focus on the task and let my mind rest while my body works. It’s marvellous.

Really taking time and care can also help you to get back in touch with your home.  Really picking up each item you dust, looking at it, feeling the surface that it sits on.  Feeling the dishes and warm water on your hands in the sink- washing dishes is lovely in the winter, when my hands are so often cold. It’s so nice to sink them into warm water and let them do their work.

I love housework. I love laundry. I love dishes. I love cleaning the toilet. I love dusting. I never, ever thought I would say that.

Now, I must turn that way of thinking towards all the chores – I mean delights, waiting in my garden!

Dreaming it all up again

The winter solstice is coming up – a time for many across the world to celebrate, whatever their spirituality, if they are religious or not.  For many pagans, and many Druids, the winter solstice is an especially important time of the year, marked in the public eye by the historic landmarks such as Newgrange or Stonehenge.

But it’s the more private celebrations that call to me at this time of year.  Tired after a long year of hard work (with over 30 performances from our dance company, as well as workshops, classes, and filming dvds, on top of writing the next book, Zen Druidry, and oh – yes, my marketing job for a music company…) I am really, really, really looking forward to a couple of week’s rest at the end of December.

This is a time of year when I really connect with my European ancestors and gods – Frigge, the lady of the hearth and home, stands by my shoulder as I spend the evenings baking for my friends and my husband.  I think of my mother’s beautiful hands, remembering them when she was cooking, or stroking the cat – how graceful they are, how unhurried and loving no matter what it was she was doing.  I think of my grandmothers, with their laughter and love, as I drink a toast to them with a little snort of advocaat.  Freya smiles as I snuggle into the warmth of the bed with my husband and cats.

The house is often bathed in the glow of candlelight, with pine scented loveliness drifting through, or the smell of woodsmoke as the fire crackles in the hearth.  Though it is often dark and cold out, the home takes on special importance at this time of year.  A big cleaning is undertaken in readiness for the months where more time is spent indoors, and everything is made just so, for comfort, ease and security.  That feeling of preparedness still hits me late November, early December – make sure everything is good for the next couple of months, for when we will be spiritually, if not physically, snowed in.

For at this time of year, it is the best time to look inwards, to discover your self once again.  Taking the time during the long dark months is perfect – a little meditation instead of the television, for instance, in front of that altar glowing with candles and the smoke of incense drifting through the room.  The nights are so long – what will you do with them? Please, please please – do not watch more television.  Go out with friends. Meditate. Bake. Make love. Walk in the frosty night. But whatever you do, make sure that you take time for yourself.

For me this is the dreaming period, an incubation of sorts.  Time to dream it all up again.  Think on the coming year, and make some plans – holding to them lightly.  Protecting the seeds of your dreams in the darkness of winter, to slowly unfurl when the light returns in the spring.  I absolutely adore it.  There is nothing better than sitting indoors with a cup of hot chocolate, watching the snow fall, if you are so lucky, and simply being in the moment – or walking out with the snow and evening falling silently all around, the smell of winter thick in the cold, swirling air.  Taking inspiration from it all and dreaming, dreaming deep – so deep that when you awaken you are refreshed, and ready for anything.

Take a step back from the manic lights and piped music in restaurants, pubs and shops, and step into your home, touching the frame of the doorway with a soft prayer to the household spirits for their sanctuary.  Let yourself slip into the darkness, lit only by soft candlelight, and let the mind and soul rest for a while.  And may you truly enjoy the holiday season.

Spring cleaning for the soul

With the flowers all coming out at the same time, the birdsong increasing in quantity and volume, the warmer air and longer days settling in, it really does seem that spring is on the way.  It feels like it has been a long winter this year, even though we’ve had, overall, quite mild temperatures!  A brief week of snow was very welcome, if only to brighten the dullness of British winter days.  Though the long dark hours of night are quite nice to have, time to regroup, rethink and dream it all up again for the coming year, the return of the light is always welcome, even though that change may mean we have to rouse ourselves from our cozy winter’s slumber and face the world once again.

And what better way to shake off the winter’s drowsiness than a good dose of spring cleaning?  It’s good for your body, mind, soul and your house.  Every autumn and spring I give the whole house a good scrub down from top to bottom – preparing it for the season ahead.  This weekend I really went for it – clearing all clutter from workspaces and tables, removing all unnecessary decorations – items that weren’t loved – even the closets!  It’s quite difficult, especially when an item is a gift from someone – you don’t feel as though you can give it away as someone went to all the effort and expense to get it for you. But if you don’t need it, and don’t use it, it is clutter.

So, living with a husband who hoards, I was quite surprised when each item I presented to him was met with very little resistance – do you use this? Do you love this? If the answer was no, then away it went, with very little hassle.  One wrench was a set of glass candles (the kind where you pour oil into them and place the wick inside) – these had lost the wicks.  They were, essentially, useless. Yes, we could go out and buy wicks for them, but we knew we never would – we have plenty of other candles that we use.  It was the fact that he had had them for so long that made it difficult to let go, and yet, in the end, he decided that yes, they should be recycled. It just makes sense.

How much do we do this in our own lives? How much do we hang onto things simply because they’ve been a part of our lives for so long? If, as Druids and pagans, we try to live with honourable relationship to the world around us, then we know that life works in cycles – we see it in nature around us.  Things begin, and things end, and things begin again.  The trick is in the letting go when things have come to their natural ending.  We’re taught to hold on as long as we can, and sometimes that can be a good thing, or even an instinctual thing – survival.  But in other areas, it can cause quite a lot of pain – the euthanasia debate still rages on.  We are allowed to put our pets “to sleep” because they are in extreme pain and their quality of life is so diminished, but we are not allowed that same grace for our relatives.  However, that is an entirely other discussion!

It isn’t only material things we hang on to – emotions, memories, feelings are quite often riding our shoulders, weighing us down, not allowing us the freedom to move ahead.  We have to learn to not attach to these feelings – they have come and gone, the initial reaction realised.  We feel our sadness, our rage, our joy, our pride – we shouldn’t suppress our feelings. However, we should not cling to them – we find a space to express them honourably, to feel them – whether it’s creating sacred space and time to allow the feelings to be felt, through ritual, or art, poetry, storytelling, dance, etc.  Then we let them go.

Like painting, or sculpting, or playing music – the trick is to know when to stop.

This letting go isn’t a one-time deal, sadly.  We must learn to let go, again and again in our lives, for our human need and craving for safety and security challenges the idea of letting go.  But, like the candlesticks, if it no longer provides us with any nourishment, or happiness, then it is time to let it go. Space is made, either to remain as free and empty space where energy can roam, or space is made for something we really do care about and that we can nurture and sustain as it does for us.

So go on, give your house a good spring cleaning. Reflect that in your body, mind and soul as well.  You’ll feel so much better.