For many, this is the time for spring cleaning, and many cultures have spring cleaning embedded into their traditions.
Iranians celebrate the New Year festival (Nowruz) on the day of the vernal equinox (March 21st). Two weeks prior to Nowruz, a ritual called khaneh takani (“shaking the house”) is undertaken in preparation for the new year and the welcoming of spring. Every corner of the home is dusted, scrubbed, and scoured. Jewish custom also has its own spring cleaning tradition before the holiday of Pesach (celebrated in March-April), which celebrates the Hebrew people’s emancipation from slavery in Egypt. Slaves in Egypt were fed unleavened bread, and so the Hebrew’s descendants kept this tradition as a reminder of the subjugation they had overcome. Keeping leavened bread in the house during Pesach is prohibited, and even leavened bread crumbs must not be left within the home. To ensure that no bread crumbs have been overlooked, Jews thoroughly clean their houses before Pesach every year.
This time of year is not only for a physical cleaning of the home, however, but also a time of spiritual cleaning (although a physically clean environment certainly helps to promote spiritual cleaning). By spiritual cleaning, I mean purifying the mind, racinating the image sphere, and living more in line with one’s true self. A fair assessment of one’s mind and soul is the first step in this process so that we know what our short-comings are and can take steps toward correcting them. I must emphasise here that making sudden, drastic changes are the quickest way to failure. It is one matter to form a solemn commitment to not back-track into old ways that no longer serve our souls, our families, our communities, or our world. It is another mater entirely to try to accomplish everything in a day. Set small goals for yourself, for even one step toward truth is one step out of the darkness. For example, one of my goals this spring is to start praying before meal time. A fairly simple goal one may think, but after going years of eating meals without praying beforehand, it can be a challenge to remember to thank Dea (I also thank the plants/animals that died in order to provide me with sustenance). Sometimes I remember, sometimes I remember only when I am already chewing on the first couple of bites, but I always try, and if I fail I keep trying.
In the Islamic tradition, this is known as the Greater Jihad (not to be confused with the Lesser Jihad, or Holy War, which is the more common understanding of the word’s meaning here in the West). The concept itself is not only limited to Islam, however, but is a universal call of action to people from all faith backgrounds. According to Mr. John Heit:
Jihad is the effort to purify oneself from within, to purify oneself of selfish appetites–the intention behind the action is important to the action itself…The greater jihad is further divided into three types of struggle:
1) Jihad of the Heart ( the struggle for moral reformation and faith)
2) Jihad of the Tongue (the struggle to proclaim God’s word abroad; right speech)
3) Jihad of the Hand (doing good works in accord with the will of God)
When I speak of image spheres, I speak of everything which we surround ourselves with: art, music, films, television shows, the decoration of our homes, the clothes we wear. Are we surrounded by profanities that encourage our lowest natures or are we surrounded by reflections of a higher spiritual Order that encourage an upliftment of the soul? I am a firm believer in the effect of our surroundings on our minds, and by extension, on our words and deeds.
Recent findings in psychology and the research into neuroplasticity support this notion. A research study conducted on the link between childhood and adolescent aggression with profanity exposure in media found a posititve coorelation between the two. As stated in the findings of this study in the research paper “Profanity in Media Associated With Attitudes and Behavior Regarding Profanity Use and Aggression”:
The use of profanity also is related to aggressive behavior. For example, profanity use has been associated with more-hostile personalities, as well as other forms of aggression. Profanity use often is included as an item on problem behavior scales for children and adolescents. Furthermore, other studies have found that exposure to profanity can induce a numbing effect on normal emotional responses. Researchers also have shown that, when profanity is used with the intent to harm or to belittle another, the offender subsequently is less disturbed by exposure to profanity in general.
Neuropsychiatrist Dr. Valerie Voon also discovered that the brain scans of people suffering from pornography addiction experience the same changes as the brain scans of drug addicts. As summarised by Mr. Norman Doidge:
Until recently, scientists believed our brains were fixed, their circuits formed and finalised in childhood, or “hardwired”. Now we know the brain is “neuroplastic”, and not only can it change, but that it works by changing its structure in response to repeated mental experience. One key driver of plastic change is the reward centre, which normally fires as we accomplish a goal. A brain chemical, dopamine, is released, giving us the thrill that goes with accomplishment. It also consolidates the connections between neurons in the brain that helped us accomplish that goal. As well, dopamine is secreted at moments of sexual excitement and novelty. Porn scenes, filled with novel sexual “partners”, fire the reward centre. The images get reinforced, altering the user’s sexual tastes. Many abused substances directly trigger dopamine secretion – without us having to work to accomplish a goal. This can damage the dopamine reward system. In porn, we get “sex” without the work of courtship. Now, scans show that porn can alter the reward centre too. Once the reward centre is altered, a person will compulsively seek out the activity or place that triggered the dopamine discharge. (Like addicts who get excited passing the alley where they first tried cocaine, the patients got excited thinking about their computers.) They crave despite negative consequences. (This is why those patients could crave porn without liking it.) Worse, over time, a damaged dopamine system makes one more “tolerant” to the activity and needing more stimulation, to get the rush and quiet the craving. “Tolerance” drives a search for ramped-up stimulation, and this can drive the change in sexual tastes towards the extreme.
In essence, we become what we surround ourselves with. Our surroundings can either uplift or debase us. I have personally experienced this in my own life, for as I have cut away the thorns of khear by reducing an eliminating my exposure to unwholesome media, I have become more at peace and more in tune with not only my true self, but also with Dea. I will not pretend that this path is easy. I have fallen back into old ways more times than I can count. It is difficult to break bad habits. I have also lost friends who I have outgrown because we simply no longer have the same interests and outlooks on life. But at the same time, I have opened a space up for better habits and better friends.
Our separation from Dea is like a wound. When caring for a wound, it is important to first remove the damaged and dead tissue before new tissue can grow. The process of debridement can be very painful (as I have learned from the procedure of wet-to-dry dressing changes in nursing school!) but it also promotes wound healing, which is what we are striving toward. The same process happens when we make a solemn decision to repair our spiritual wounds, the chasm that separates us from Our Mother. As Mother Iulya says:
I do not mean to pretend that the Gentle Way is easy. It is simple, but it is not easy. We shall be tempted often away from the path of gentleness and simplicity; we shall be tempted away from kindness and purity and assailed by anger, greed, idleness, pride, carnality and the spirit of joylessness and complaining; and sometimes we shall fall. But if we pick ourselves up with meekness and humility and ask Dea to set us back upon the path, all the work of the grumms and darklings in tripping us up will have been for nothing. The Gentle Way demands discipline and a strong will to overcome the lower self. But it is the way by which we may enjoy all the glories of the world; and the practice of moderation and a little asceticism will only make them the sweeter. As we live upon the world as our Lady’s little child-servants, we begin to learn that there is only one Enjoyer of the world, and that is our Lady Herself. She who is perfect has perfect enjoyment, and therefore to enjoy the world through Her is the best way, and in the end the only way, to enjoy it. That is why She wants us to follow this way — because She loves us even more than we love ourselves.