There was a time when cleaning was an annual ritual in most well-run homes.
Each year, the coming of the spring equinox was greeted with a flurry of activity.
Beds were stripped, mattresses aired, winter linens cleaned and stored. Mops, brooms, dusters, scrub brushes – all were pressed into service.
The dust and grime of winter was swept away, and windows flung open to let the house breathe in the clean breezes of spring, to be freshened and renewed in a parody of the activity of the world of nature outside.
When proud-pied April dress’d in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing.
wrote Shakespeare, and we humans eagerly bustled about each spring to put that spirit of newness and purity into our homes.
Today, with the widespread use of year-round synthetic fabrics and modern, automatic cleaning devices, the practice of spring cleaning is becoming relegated more and more to the limbo of nostalgic reminiscences and quaint customs of a bygone era.
But spring cleaning served a psychological as well as practical need, and its disappearance marks the loss of another of those rituals, so satisfying to man’s inner needs, which are fast vanishing from our busy, practical, materially oriented society.
We are becoming hardened to doing without those symbols of the mythic element of man’s life which, in the past, connected him to that sense of truth and reality which is found beyond the prosaic.
Spring is not only an external phenomenon.
Each person experiences within themselves the great, orderly pulsations of the universal heartbeat- the ebb and flow of the tides, the symphonic movement of planets and stars, the regular progress of the seasons.
We are not individual units, standing alone, isolated in our cocoons of flesh.
We are living parts of the infinite cosmic adventure, and our inner rhythms are tuned to its beats just as the strings of a violin are tuned to the rest of the orchestra.
But violins sometimes go out of tune.
They become rusty and dusty, the strings stretched into discordance.
They must be retuned, brought back into harmony with all the other instruments. And that has been one of the services of rituals in the lives of men. They help bring our inner rhythms into harmony with the cosmic beat.
The rituals of spring have, from time immemorial, symbolised awakening and rebirth.
We stir from the long night of winter and get ready to emerge from our cocoons of sleep into the light of the risen sun of spring.
The scrubbing and cleaning of our homes gave us a sense of newness and freshness that coincided with the re generative budding and flowering of the season.
With one stroke of the broom, we could put our external home in order and, at the same time, satisfy the psychological need for inner identification with seasonal changes.
Now, with our cleaning units, high powered vacuums and efficient washing and drying machines, our homes seem to defy identification with the changing seasons, except perhaps for a few well paced forsythia branches to replace those of holly and pine.
There is still the inner need and yearning for participation in the miracle of spring, but no winter-encrusted house to let it loose upon.
Our spirits reach toward the eternal, but the tenuous connection has been broken along with the thread of ritual and myth. Our efficiency maroons us in the mundane.
But our homes are not the only things which accumulate debris and need periodic cleaning.
Our inner residence can also become smudged and muddied with dust and grime.
Innumerable hours of busy involvement with the things and details that make up our outer activities often leave rust and wastes that clog up the pipeline to our inner selves.
It is easy to lose clearness of vision and one’s unclouded sense of the infinite amid the clutter of the daily demands that are made on us by life and by society.
We can find ourselves so busy with the temporary, practical, albeit necessary activities of our days that the inner sphere becomes dusty with disuse.
Monks and mystics always have time for meditation and communion. The rest of us often forget, in the rush of pressing demands, how much we need a spiritual dimension.
What better time than this, the traditional period of spring cleaning, to get busy sweeping the cobwebs from our souls?
What more propitious moment is there than this time of universal flowering and rebirth to clean away the grime that separates us from our inner selves?
We eat, we play, we work, we plan, we accumulate possessions. We live in and are part of the world of men.
But when our minds become so muddied with attention to the physical that we forget to add other dimensions to our experience, then it is cleanup time.
It is time to put in use the scrub brush of meditation and spiritual involvement. Time to put ourselves in tune with the symphony of cosmic renewal. Time to brush the cinders from our eyes and to be part of the fresh new rhythms that surround us.
It is time to clean away the dust from that inner eye that perceives beyond the appearances of things to their inner realities.
The ritual of spring cleaning need not be lost with its attendant psychological benefits. There is more than one thread that connects us to the infinite, elusive though these may be.
When one strand breaks, then we must seek another.
Our inner selves yearn to beat with the pulsations of the seasons. With some spiritually satisfying inner dusting and sweeping, we can be reborn each spring together with the physical and cosmic forces around us.