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
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.
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
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.
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
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 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.