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Father Paul Keenan Spiritual Spring Cleaning
by Father Paul Keenan

Good News for Bad Days: Living a Soulful Life by Father Paul Keenan
Good News
for Bad Days


Itís that time of year when we start thinking about cleaning up and cleaning out. Here come the work duds, the sneakers and the heavy gloves. Itís time to do spring-cleaning.

But wait! Didnít we do this last year? How in the world did we ever manage to accumulate so much clutter? Didnít we promise ourselves last spring that we would never do this again? What happened?

What happened, for most of us, was that we did all of our spring-cleaning on the outside. Donít get me wrong, we needed to do that; and we must admit, the place looked spic and span when we were through. But it didnít last. What we often forget is that before spring-cleaning can take on the outside, it has to be done on the inside, where our attitudes and beliefs find their home. So put down that broom and that dustpan for a second. Grab a chair, and letís do some spring cleaning for the soul.

Our Christian friends who are observing the season of Lent and our Jewish friends who will soon celebrate Passover know, from their religious observances at this time of year, the religious meaning of inner housecleaning and the impact it can have on our lives. Lent prepares us to celebrate Easter. The Jewish custom is to take a month to prepare for Passover. All the great religions emphasize the importance of purification in anticipation of a spiritual awakening.

Such purification is a natural part of the normal cycle of our lives. Night is intended to be a time when we empty ourselves of the cares of the day and draw ourselves into rest. (For many it doesnít work that way, of course; but the resulting stress and nervousness give evidence that something natural is being violated.) We exhale air that has circulated inside us and we inhale pure fresh air. We nourish ourselves and afterwards eliminate the waste. Purification is a normal, natural part of our lives.

Heart Storming by Father Paul Keenan

In trying to get a practical handle on the spiritual housecleaning process, we need to go back to a very general principle: thoughts are prior to things. If we are finding that our lives, as a whole or in part, contain a certain amount of clutter, we are generally tempted to rush into purging our exterior lives of relationships, things and conditions in order to, as we say, "come clean." As with last yearís resolution to let the results of our spring-cleaning endure, that course of action generally doesnít get us very far. How many of us have tried diets, made New Yearís resolutions, or entered into self-improvement programs only to find ourselves right back where we startedÖor worse.

No, itís thoughts and attitudes Ė the world inside us Ė that need purging before we start taking action on the outside. But how do we do that?

Oddly enough, the solution lies in the problem. The very first thing we need to do is to get very clear about what we no longer want. If weíre feeling discouraged because weíre, say, eating too much and we want to change that, we need to take time to be attentive to the thing we donít want. Dr. Wayne Dyer in his book Real Magic reminds us, "You never get enough of what you donít want." Pay attention to that; ponder every facet of it imaginable. We donít like feeling sluggish all the time. We canít move around the way we used to. We donít like the way we look. Our clothes donít fit properly, and so on. Getting a real handle on all of the things we donít like in our situation is very important. I was just reading a book by Dr. Joe Vitale called Spiritual Marketing, in which he points our the amazing fact that the more in touch we are with what we donít want, the more likely we are to change. Anthony Robbins and other self-development gurus point out, too, that itís allowing ourselves to really experience the pain of our situation that enables us to make lasting changes. Thatís not a new truth, by the way. In the history of Christian mysticism, the purgative way precedes the illuminative and the unitive way. The pain comes first, and then the insight and the joy.

In spiritual spring-cleaning, we start with the purgative by going to the feelings and ideas behind it, not by trying to fix it, the way we often do in ordinary life. As we get in touch with the feelings, itís important also to get in touch with the ideas and attitudes that lie behind them. Remember Ogden Nashís ditty, "Big fleas have little fleas/Upon their backs to bit Ďem/And little fleas have lesser fleas/And so ad infinitum?" Well, itís like that with our lives as well. Our external conditions lead back to feelings and attitudes and ideas that bring them about. The pain and distress we so bitterly deplore are actually, when you stop to think about them, an invitation to houseclean the feelings and thoughts that spawned them. Getting in touch with them doesnít have to be a very complicated thing. Iíd suggest taking a clean white piece of paper and drawing a line down the center of the page, making two columns. At the top of the first column, write, "What I hate about this situation." At the top of the second column, write, "Why do I hate it?" Itís the "Why do I hate it?" that will really be enlightening and will motivate change, as weíll see in a minute. Letís go back to the food example. Why do I hate it (being overweight)? It makes me feel unworthy. It makes me feel unloved. It makes me feel as though other people donít like or love me. I get depressed. I feel like I couldnít get a good job, and so on.

Now, each of those "whyís" contains an idea that has been affecting our life, most likely from behind the scenes. I am unworthy (of the blessings of life). I am not lovable. I look and feel awful. I am unemployable. Itís amazing to think that weíve been running those ideas on our "inner CD player" and that they have been the background music of our lives. Before we ever open a diet book or glue shut a box of chocolates, we need to give ourselves some new background music. This is exciting. Weíre going to write a new playlist.

So take another blank piece of paper. Weíre going to write a series of positive beliefs that counter the negative ones we have discovered. God loves me as I am. I am worthy of the blessings of life. The blessings that are truly mine are in my life. I look great and feel wonderful. People are attracted to me. I dress well and my clothes fit perfectly. I have many gifts and am easily employable. The good I am seeking is seeking me. And so on. Write them down.

Now, probably our first reaction to this new set of beliefs will be, "This is sheer nonsense. None of these things is true." Thatís just because the old beliefs havenít been dislodged yet. The fact is, these new and positive beliefs are as true as you want them to be. If we hold them in thought, weíll see something interesting about the power they have. For example, the belief "I dress well and my clothes fit perfectly" may lead us to go out and buy some nice clothes that we like that fit us now. Yes, now. Not clothes that we hope to fit into in the future Ė clothes that fit us now, just as we are. Itís important, also, to buy clothes that we love and that look good on us. We donít need to follow the old stereotype "Overweight people should wear dark clothes" unless we particularly happen to like dark clothing. The point here is that each one of our new ideas has power that can translate into our present life in a way that enhances us.

Stages of the Soul by Father Paul Keenan

Notice what Iím saying here. The best way to get rid of old beliefs is to replace them with new ones and watch the new ones go to work. Spring-cleaning of the soul is different from our "outer" spring-cleaning. There, we get rid of the junk and the clutter and then we replace the old with the new. In spiritual spring-cleaning, we get rid of the old by bringing in the new and putting it to work.

So thereís our method: identify what we donít like, find the beliefs behind it and start letting the new beliefs go to work in our lives.

By the way, did you notice than when we wrote the new beliefs we wrote them in the present tense? Thatís important. If we write them in the future ("I will look great and feel wonderful"), we miss out on the present. The power behind our idea goes to the future (which is never here) and not to the present, where we want it. So we write our beliefs in the present tense, even though doing so sets our old beliefsí teeth on edge as we hear them screaming, "You idiot! Who are you trying to kid?"

The wisdom of allowing our new beliefs to establish their own power is seen in a parable that Jesus tells in the New Testament. A farmer plants seeds for a crop of wheat. The next morning, his workers observe that someone has planted weeds in among the wheat. As the crop grows, they advise the farmer to tear up the weeds. But the farmer refuses to do so, for fear of destroying the wheat along with the weeds. Similarly, if we focus on getting rid of old attitudes and beliefs, weíll never get anywhere. But if we focus on the new ideas and let them show what they can do, weíll experience lasting change.

An added benefit of our attention to spiritual spring-cleaning is that we render ourselves more appreciative of beauty and goodness, and hence are better able to appreciate the beauty we create when we clean our office or our home. Our cleaning, then, becomes an expression of ourselves, rather than an interruption, an annoyance or an interference with something weíd rather be doing.

So start your spring-cleaning in that chair. Get yourself a pen and two pieces of paper. Sit down, relax and begin. What donít you like? Why donít you like it? What do you want to believe instead? Your spiritual spring-cleaning has begun, and before you know it, your outer environs Ė as well as your inner Ė will be tidy and spotless.

© Copyright 2005 Father Paul Keenan. All Rights Reserved.


Father Paul Keenan
Father Paul A. Keenan: Popular speaker, author and radio co-host of WABC Radioís "Religion on the Line," Father Paul Keenan likes to talk and write about the issues that matter to people. Widely experienced as a national and local television and radio news commentator, he is the author of Good News for Bad Days, Stages of the Soul and Heartstorming. As Director of Radio Ministry of the Archdiocese of New York, he supervises, produces and writes for various radio and television programs. In addition, he serves as a parish priest in New York City.

Father Paul Keenan, came to his now-ten-year-old career in New York broadcasting after having been a college teacher and administrator and a parish priest for many years. He hails from Kansas City, where he graduated from Rockhurst University and completed an M.A. in Moral and Pastoral Theology at Saint Louis University. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1977, and went on to complete an M.A. in Philosophy at Fordham University.

Father Paul is also known for his work on the Web. He hosts his own website (www.fatherpaul.com) and contributes regular articles to various other sites. He is a regular columnist for the monthly newspaper, "Catholic New York." His other talents and interests include reading, cooking and being humble servant to his three cats, Teddy, Lionel and Midnight.

 

Visit:
www.FatherPaul.com

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