Cleansing is a word we hear quite often nowadays. It has a variety of meanings, both literal and figurative, however to me, cleansing ultimately means a detoxification of our bodies and minds.
We can never be completely clean, and yet we are constantly in search of the things in life that will purify our systems and clean up the gunk that has accumulated. This longing has existed for thousands of years, all over the world, and can be interpreted in so many different ways.
In religions, cleansing is done through prayer, confession, meditation, and baptism.
Exercise and activity encourage our bodies to sweat out its impurities and heighten our senses through increased endorphin release.
In a dietary sense, there is an endless amount of information on foods that remove toxins, aid digestion, and eradicate gunk— all for the purpose of reaching a certain level of cleanness.
Thanks to the brilliant minds of programmers and techies, nearly all aspects of our Western lives have been regimented in a way that we have everything we could possibly need at our finger tips, within a moment’s notice. And it’s all in the name of keeping things clean, neat, and un-messy.
Now, I don’t need to ask why we are constantly in need of cleansing, because the answer is obvious and hasn’t changed for the thousands of years that humans have been around:
Dirt, in it’s figurative and real form, unsettles us; it distracts us from living our lives simply and without clutter. Dirt comes in all different guises: stress, angst, back aches, fast food, depression, addiction, bags under our eyes, laundry piles, smoking, laziness…and countless other things that we spend so much energy trying to rid ourselves of.
I have come to learn a few things about the dirt we accumulate, and I believe that despite all the measures we take to pray, eat, sweat, and sweep away all the impurities…we aren’t actually aware of why those impurities exist in the first place.
No one likes the dirt they constantly carry around, and although we are constantly presented with ways to get rid of it all, it seems that actually freeing ourselves is easier said than done. It’s not that we don’t know how to go about doing it, and it’s not that we’re short on resources to help us. I have found, however, that we are much too focused on the when as opposed to the how in terms of cleansing our lives.
“When I do yoga regularly, I will be more stress-free.”
“When I organize my closet, I’ll donate things to Good Will.”
“When I lose 10 pounds, I’ll start dating.”
“When I make more money, have kids, pay off my debt, take up painting, and become a certified Pilates instructor, then I’ll be happy.”
Sound like anyone you know? Sound like you?
Personally, I am all-too-guilty of playing the “When this…then this” game with myself. It’s a slippery slope, and unfortunately it’s very easy to hide behind. When we get an idea of how our lives could be if we made these few, “simple” changes, we achieve a temporary comfort that —unfortunately—clouds the part of our brain that actually decides to act. Procrastination is an all too powerful being, and when we simply taste the thought of better things to come, we often settle. We have the option of making things better, therefore ultimately it will all be okay.
But what happens to the whole doing process? How often do we tell ourselves that we will do this, this, and this in order to clean up our lives—and then a year later we are still stuck in our piles of dirt?
I promise I have a point, and I’m getting to it.
There are two things I believe we, as humans, tend to miss when we imagine the clean lives we want to live.
1) What are we actually doing to achieve our cleansing goals?
2) Why is the dirt there in the first place?
These two questions, I promise, are a lot more difficult to answer then, “What do you want to change about your life?”
When we are able to face these two questions head on, we have the ability to make our goals—and the means in which to make them real—much more tangible. When we realize, “Okay, I’ve wanted to start reading more for years now, except I spend every night after work glued to the television until bedtime,” we recognize the problem, and therefore the solution becomes much more transparent.
The same is true, I believe, for much more complicated issues. I realize it sounds idealistic and easier-said-than-done, which it definitely is, but I encourage you to at least try it out. Next time you’re thinking of a way your life would be better and cleaner, ask yourself the two questions above. I think you’ll find that when you’re honest about yourself about why the impurity is there, a much more feasible solution will present itself to you. And if you already know why the dirt exists, admit to yourself exactly what you’re doing to clean it up.
Holding ourselves accountable is perhaps the most important step in leading the lives we want to live.
These thoughts were inspired by a run yesterday (where all my clearest thinking is done), and it was a run that exemplified cleansing both externally and internally. The entire run was done through a decently heavy rainfall, which cleansed both the snow from the sidewalks and all the sweat from my face. It was refreshing (once I got over being totally wet) and ignited the fantastic primal feeling of running.
The run was also cleansing psychologically. I started the run in a very bad mood, and although I obviously prefer to run with a clear and happy head, I knew that running would shake out the bad feelings. I realized, as my anger and distress washed away with the rain, that running didn’t necessarily get rid of our bad, dirty thoughts (no…not that kind of dirty thoughts), but actually quite the opposite.
Running, for me at least, brings my negative thoughts to the surface of my brain and forces me to pick them apart. I become confrontational with them, as opposed to submissive.
We are hard-wired to push bad thoughts into the back of our brain, where they eat away at our subconscious until they completely exhaust us. By facing these thoughts head-on, as I do when I run, they lose their power and we can see them for what they simply are—dirt.
I do not always feel 100% better about the not-so-good things in my life after a run; honestly, nothing has the ability to completely wipe our palates clean. However, because I am able to analyze why the dirt is there, I can be more honest about the things I can do to clear it away. Honesty is something we are constantly told to give to others, but we must also remember the importance of internalizing it for ourselves.
The first step to cleansing—in any sense of the word—is to allow ourselves to confront the truth, no matter how grimy and unpleasant it might be. After we inspect the mess that’s been made, we can begin to understand the tools and steps necessary to clean it up.
Question of the Day: How do you picture a Clean life? What kind of mess are you are trying to get rid of?