There are people who, when they take off a sweater, instinctively foldit and put it on a closet shelf. These people change their oil wellbefore their engine starts to sputter; they file their taxes on April 7 to avoid the lines at the Post Office on the 15th; they throw outleft-over rice salad before it starts to grow fur and growl.
I am not one of these people.
Perhaps I'm rebelling against my upbringing on a series ofmilitary bases where it seemed like even the trees were required to pick up their dead leaves as soon as they shed them, but when I take off a sweater, I instinctively drop it on the floor where it will be handy if I need to put it on again. I have been known to scribble aphone message with an eyeliner pencil on a cardboard toilet paper rollbecause I couldn't find a pencil and paper. If you sit down in thepassenger seat of my car without inspecting it first, it is quitepossible that you will arise with hardboiled eggshells stuck to the seat of your pants.
But I've suddenly found myself irresistibly compelled to do things like install divided trays in a drawer of cooking utensils; purge my leather handbag of about a pound of loose change, pen caps, bank deposit slips,and uncapped contact lens cases; match up the socks in my sock drawer; and ruthlessly discard the ones with no mates.
I got a boost recently from a wonderful book that a friend recommended called "Organizing from the Inside Out," which presents as its supreme model of organization the kindergarten classroom. The author, an organizational consultant, sets up everything from a boudoirto an executive suite according to basic preschool principles: a placefor every activity and every item, all of it neatly labeled, so that ifyou want to make, say, a dinosaur collage, you'll know exactly where tofind the construction paper, scissors, old copies of NationalGeographic, and that white paste that tastes so good when you lick your fingers.
I read the book the day after I got back from a Buddhist meditationretreat, and it struck me that for adults, the next best thing to akindergarten classroom is a meditation center. Every Buddhist communityI've ever been to has that same feeling of tranquility and order--aplace for everything and everything in its place, whether it's shoes,meditation cushions, bathroom cleanser, incense, or hard-boiled eggs.The result is a feeling of unsurpassed serenity--which I suddenlyyearned for as I returned to my own cluttered life.
So one small zone at a time, I've been trying to bring that same feeling of peace and order to every aspect of my life: from going through my files and throwing out notes for articles I wrote 15 years ago to consolidating the contents of six almost-empty ketchup bottles.I'm understanding for the first time what many people seem to know byinstinct: that organization is not necessarily a military rigidityartificially imposed from the outside, as I had always unconsciouslyassumed. Instead, it can be a kind of mindfulness meditation practicethat asks me to honor with my loving attention the minute details thatcreate my life moment to moment. When I create order in one small partof my world, I can see the beauty and mystery of all of life shiningmore clearly there: in the bowl of Red Barlett pears on my kitchentable; in the purple bearded irises looking in my freshly washed window; in the soup ladles neatly grouped in their new compartment, like a little family.
According to a Zen saying, when the flower arranger arranges flowers, he arranges his own mind, as well as the mind of the people who look at the flowers. The spiritual teacher known as "the Mother," founder of the Auroville community in India, put it this way in a sign posted in my room at the ashram: "Not to take care of the material things that one uses is a sign of unconsciousness and ignorance. You must take care of them, not because you are attached to them, but because they manifest something of the divine consciousness."
Organization, I'm starting to see, follows the same basic principles asyoga practice. Each time we do a pose, we carefully arrange the bones,organs, and energy channels in a precise alignment--not an alignmentthat is artificially imposed from the outside, but one that naturallysprings from within, when we pay attention. In posture after posture,through our careful attention to detail, we allow the body to express adifferent aspect of its true nature--just as, in Hinduism, the formlessDivine expresses itself in the shape of tens of thousands of deities.
When we bring forth the natural order that lies in the midst of chaos, we can see our true Self shiningout.