Sara K. Schneider's Skin in the Game

Reflections on body, culture, and spiritual practice

A Practice on Cleaning Before Guests Come

What is the difference between maintaining privacy and harboring secrets? Often we think about this question with regard to our verbal behavior, but what if we consider it with respect to our physical behavior, in our “outer bodies,” our homes?

Consider, why do we clean our homes before we have even our closest friends over? With our cultural prohibitions about sharing our financial information, we put away checking account statements, with our protection of our personal searches we put away our self-help books, with reluctance to have to engage in conversation about our unfinished novels, we store their leaves in a desk drawer.

But why do we scour our kitchens and bathrooms, spray and wipe the bookshelves of the living room, beat our rugs when, un-companied, we may live with them unscoured, undusted, unbeaten?

Try this:

Observe your cleaning behaviors prior to having guests over to your home. Periodically cease your cleaning and consider what would happen if you stopped entirely, if you had your company over to see the house you actually live in, rather than the house you’d like them to believe you live in? What is the dominant thought, emotion, or gut-level sense that propels you to pick up the dust rag again?

What did you find out?

Comment from Mary Ann Murray:  Most of my life, I’ve been so into keeping things picked up and having the house I live in be fairly neat that it’s been hard to do much more when company came. This is probably where a trait of mine meshed well with being a minister’s wife. Over the years people in the congregations have been in and out of our house, and I got used to wanting to have our secrets hidden.

Still there have been times when this wasn’t so. When we were living in a farming community called Galatia, the people were so good to Charley and me. I still remember a visit from a member of the congregation when I was in the midst of getting a roll of toilet tissue from the commode where our young son Ed had deposited it and then gotten terribly upset when it wouldn’t flush. The kind soul who came for a visit, held Ed and comforted him and got me a plumber before she left.

I’m just not comfortable with mess, though. I honestly think my thoughts go this way, “If I can get some external order in my life perhaps internal calm and order will follow.”

Comment from Shana Steinberg: I don’t think I clean for guests to present them with a house I want them to think I live in, guests motivate me to get the cleaning done that is long overdue so that I can live in the house I want to live in.

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March 30, 2010 - Posted by | Body Culture in the U.S., Insight Practices

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