It’s Sunday morning at 7 a.m., and I’m up with unexpected energy. I lay out my yoga mat and sun salute to plank position. And this is when it happens. A tumbleweed of cat hair the size of a small muffin bounces past my face. My eyes come into focus, and, horrified, I realize that the floor is covered in mini-tumbleweeds of cat hair and other mysterious dust. I lunge back into a child’s pose of despair and debate interrupting my practice to vacuum.
But here’s the thing: I vacuumed last night. Literally about twelve hours before this moment, I went through the whole room with my “pet hair specific” vacuum, equipped with this crazy little filter that sucks the floating fur out of the air, you know, the pesky ones that get caught in the ceiling fan and circle you as you’re trying to sweep. And here I am, convinced that the coast is clear, that I can be proud of my morning floor! Instead, I lie here wondering what I did wrong. Tiber and Viola have already found a corner of my yoga mat to flatten themselves across, launching a puff of loose fur as they plop.
This isn’t a new problem. As soon as I moved into an apartment with my husband, we happily adopted a cat. Since then, our very loved fur balls have been haunting my yoga time. I realize the great irony. The purpose of yoga and meditation is to rejoin my body with my mind. It’s the way I set up my brain and intention for the day ahead. It’s what I do to avoid marching around like an anxiety-ridden grump-pants all day. So I’ve had to do a lot of work in order to find a way to tackle this cat fur distraction, a distraction which was clearly trying to teach me something.
Over the years, here were the three options I saw before me, and their results:
1. Ignore the dust, keep doing yoga
In other words, suppress! Suppress with all your might. I found that carrying on with yoga with the intention of ignoring the floor dust did not help me. It was the same as seeing an emotional issue, telling myself to “choose happiness,” and quashing those nagging little emotions back to whence they came. The remainder of my yoga was rushed, frustrated, disconnected. And it was always during these moments that Viola would get up in my face even more, usually finding some way to lovingly wrap her paws around my head while I try to hold a precarious position. It’s as if to say, “Hey, we’re still here, do you see me? Helloooo, do you like my fur? Are you gonna clean that up?”
2. Stop doing yoga, clean the house in a fit of rage
Also not awesome. For a period of time in my last apartment, I began a campaign against the dust. I decided that come springtime, I was going to eradicate dust and fur from our house forever. I mean, how hard could it be? I’ve been to so many people’s houses with cats that do not seem to struggle with this, so there must be something wrong with me. So I’d put away my mat and break out the Swiffer. I’d get in the corners, the top of the mantle, under the side tables. Nothing was going to escape me this time. And then by the time I look up, my yoga moment has passed, and I have to get my butt to work. And as I am packing my purse and saying goodbye, I see a rogue tumbleweed bouncing in the breeze, newly produced by Tiber, currently snuggling my foot. So I storm out of the house, completing nothing.
3. The Cat Fur Practice
I have some good news. Though it is still a work in progress, as a yoga and mediation practice will always be, I have finally made some peace with the cat hair.
One of the biggest challenges for me while studying Buddhism is discipline. I consider myself a caring and responsible person, but as far as discipline in my cleaning and organizing, I’m still a bit of a hot mess. And I didn’t expect de-cluttering, a simplistic home, and a discipline in cleaning to be a part of this tradition. Turns out, having a clean home has little to do with impressing your guests. It is your space to develop and care for, the same way you strive to keep your body healthy. It is a vehicle for your creativity and growth. So of course you want to take care of it.
Just the way I will never say, “Well, I did it! I have completed the yoga for all of time!” I will also never say, sadly, “Well, the house is clean forever, I did it!”
The difference to cleaning is in my approach (and again, this is a huge work in progress). Instead of seeing the cat hair that creeps up on my downward dog as something to be guilty of, I see it as the next step to my practice. Just the way I will never say, “Well, I did it! I have completed the yoga for all of time!” I will also never say, sadly, “Well, the house is clean forever, I did it!”
I think that is one of the misconceptions about cleaning anything that slowly drives us mad. If we do the dishes, there will never be anymore dishes. Or if we vacuum up the cat hair, that’s the end of that. We live here, and we love living here. So it is going to get dirty. And as the Buddhist idea of Impermanence has taught me, everything is always changing, no matter how much we think it’s going to stay the way we left it.
When I was little, my mother used to sing while she vacuumed. She often picked the song “If I Loved You” from Carousel. When I was in high school, I can’t tell you how excited I was when I found out that a callback song for a show was “If I Loved You” from Carousel. I jokingly asked my musical director if I could bring a vacuum to the auditions. But I learned a lot from my mother’s singing and vacuuming. Cleaning was a part of a practice. If I could remove the dust as part of my yogic goals, then I am simply continuing my morning growth, opposed to “fixing” something that I had somehow done wrong. It is just another step to focusing my day.
I do hope this helps you in your tidying, dish washing, and cat-fur wrangling as it has begun to help me. Because no matter what anyone tells you, no one has a perfectly clean home all of the time, and if they did, then I couldn’t imagine a whole lot of living was going on there. But there is also a way to not crash into a pit of cat-tumbleweed despair. Just as you eat a nice breakfast, go for a run, or write a blog post, cleaning can be a part of your daily nourishment and does not need to be saddled with guilt.