Order and Magic
by Siofra McSherry
I think a lot about what it means to live a well-ordered life. How can I organize things—simple, weighty, material things—so they will support me in what I want to do, and not take my energy? How do I surround myself with items that don’t waste space or bring down my mood, because they remind me of everything I haven’t gotten around to yet?
We all know people who are so deeply engaged in their work or practice that they neglect the mundane matters of life. Their beds are unmade, their fridge is empty, and their desks are cluttered. Their distraction is often elevated as a symbol of their absorption in higher things, more worthy than mundane concerns like doing the dishes.
For many years I lived in this kind of suspended chaos of unpaid bills and misplaced passports and torn skirts I never got round to mending. I told myself it was because I was busy writing and doing my spiritual work, all much more important than clearing piles of stuff from college. If you recognize yourself in this, you may also recognize the truth that I wasn’t really finding time to write, nor meditate either.
Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that doing the dishes can be as mindful as meditating in a Tibetan monastery if it is carried out with attention. Any mindful activity can connect us to the moment. In my own magical practice this idea goes deeper. Getting the dishes done is a prerequisite for practice. Cleaning and clearing are part of ritual, and prepare a space for sacred work. It can become an everyday practice, too.
Imagine the flow of energy in a cluttered room. You aren’t even sure what’s in the room, where it came from or what energy it holds. I once suffered from repeated nightmares over several months, waking feeling like I was trapped underwater and short of breath. I discovered boxes beneath my bed full of old photographs and CDs from a negative friendship I thought I was done with. Clean out your nooks and crannies. Don’t hide darkness away; you will create a talisman that draws the darkness to itself and holds it.
Instead, make the things you own into talismans of joy, focus, and clarity. Touch and clean them. Mend and sew. Polish and rub and clean. Wipe them down. Feel the heft of the brush and polish on leather boots. That shine is like a smile. Lift and place. Arrange.
I try to possess only what I can clean and maintain by myself. The ritual of cleaning my home and clothes means I caress every item, even just to lift and dust it. Over weeks and months a patina of clear and joyful energy builds up on all these things. In magic, what’s without is within. I think my stuff is a good place to start.
(Image by Daniel Colvin with permission)
Siofra is a writer and researcher. She is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. She has published her poetry widely and works as an art critic for thisistomorrow.info.