Cleaning at home
When you clear your space, you clear your mind.
Photo by victorialynne via Unsplash

The Hows of Jing: Why scrubbing the floor is good for the soul

BROAD CAST - Jing Castañeda (Philstar.com) - January 11, 2021 - 11:40am

When I’m stressed, I start cleaning. I find it very therapeutic to throw out the trash, organize files, and sort out items in carefully labelled boxes.

When I clear my space, I clear my head. I imagine crumpling up my frustration and negative thoughts like pieces of paper and throwing them into the waste basket. I channel the anxiety and nervous energy into scrubbing the floor. When I’m done, I actually feel energized and ready to work on whatever is worrying me.

I thought my Cleaning Therapy was just a quirky habit.  But when I interviewed Dr. Joan Mae Perez-Rifareal (a Philippine Psychiatric Association fellow) for my online show Pamilya Talk on How to Stay Positive and Hopeful in 2021, I learned that cleaning can be a powerful coping mechanism, and was even a good metaphor for dealing with a crisis.

Acknowledge the mess (and stress)

Being positive doesn’t mean suppressing your stress, or pretending to be okay when you’re not. We just went through a pandemic, and a lockdown that changed all of our lives overnight. Stress is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Acknowledging it is the first step to overcoming it.

It’s just like cleaning. If you hide garbage in your closet, you won’t see it but you’ll eventually smell it. Don’t leave your emotions to rot. Express what you feel, and find healthy ways to sweep them out of your system.

Take it one moment at a time

Dwelling on the past, worrying about the future, overthinking a problem—these can all drain our energy and zest for life.

But when you face a crisis, it’s more important to focus all your resources on what you can do, here and now. You have to center yourself. Shut down all those distracting and destructive thoughts, so your energy goes where it can have the most positive, most powerful impact.

Japanese Buddhist monks have the perfect way to do that: a meditation practice called soji, or mindful cleaning. Every morning, they sweep, wash, clear the garden paths. For them, these simple chores are just like prayer beads or mantras that help them calm their inner turmoil and focus on the here and now.

Shoukei Matsumoto, a monk who wrote the bestselling book "A Monk's Guide to a Clean House and Mind," says: “Clean your screens as if you are cleaning your soul, allowing the air to flow through freely.”

Your version of soji doesn’t have to cleaning. It can be gardening, cooking, washing dishes, baking bread. The most important thing is that you do it every day, early in the morning—so you start your day with a clear head and a light heart.

Make room for new things and experiences

Twice a year, I do a thorough spring cleaning. I go through closets, cabinets, the bodega and decide what items we need to throw or give away.

But there are moments I waver, and cling to something that I’ve obviously outgrown or have no use for. It doesn’t even have any real sentimental value. Nanghihinayang lang ako. “Sayang naman. Maybe I’ll need it one day.”

It’s human nature to cling to something that’s familiar—whether it’s objects, relationships, routines or even beliefs. They may not be bad for us, but they may not be good for us either. Since we’re so comfortable, we don’t take risks or consider new options. We become stagnant.

A bunch of old media IDs which I keep in my baul.

Change is a part of life, and essential to our growth. One of the possible gifts of the pandemic is that it forces us out of our comfort zones. It’s scary and stressful, but it can also be the most exciting time of our lives.

A lot of my friends who lost their jobs have started successful home businesses, or are going back to school to learn new skills. During the lockdown, we all had a chance to spend more time together as a family, and saw turning points in their relationship. One woman told me, “My teen son and I used to fight all the time. Now, we talk more and he’s starting to open up to me.”

2020 was a tough year, and we all experienced loss in one form or another. But we also gained things — whether it was more time with our loved ones, new opportunities, life lessons, or an appreciation for blessings.

Once we see that change isn’t always bad, we can be grateful and hopeful for what it can bring.

A fresh start

We will have bad days and bad moods, and no matter what people tell you “thinking positive” won’t guarantee that everything will go your way.

Change brings us out of our comfort zones and helps us grow.
Photo by Danielle MacInnes via Unsplash

But there is one thing that we know for certain. We always have a choice, and we always have a second chance. No matter what happens, we can pick ourselves up and move forward.

You clean up the mess. You can start afresh. That happens not just every New Year, but every new day.

I hope these tips on how to deal with stress in a positive and productive way were able to help.  While I envision this column as a conversation, just like what we would have if you went to my house for coffee and cake, I hope it gives you something you can use in your every day life. It’s like a pasalubong of insight, from the House (or Hows) of Jing.


I’d love to hear from you! Share your stories and tips or suggest topics at jingcastaneda21@gmail.com. You can also follow my social media accounts: Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

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