Ever since I discovered window cleaning, I have been fascinated by it partly because of the difference it makes within and without and partly due to its value as a metaphor. Window cleaning is about changing what we see by transforming what we are looking through, not what we are looking at.
What happens when we clean dirty windows is that light is finally allowed to come in unfiltered and we get to truly see the view beyond the window, the colours, the beauty, the reality rather than the filtered view of reality that the dirtiness of our windows have conditioned us to see. The goal of window cleaning is to not see the window but to return the window to transparency. That transformation from fuzziness to clarity can be deeply rewarding for the Cleaner.
Now I see windows as a metaphor for our way of seeing the world, a metaphor for our lenses of perception. In the process of cleaning, clarity of vision makes all the difference. For effective cleaning, we need eyes that see reality and not just what we are conditioned to see. If physical windows need periodic cleaning, our inner lenses need a lot more cleaning, because they are responsible for what we see – including opportunities, possibilities, challenges, dangers, what we consider real and how we act. We have internal lenses and since most of us are not familiar with our inner worlds not to talk of engaging in periodic cleansing of our lenses, they often get clouded to the point where we think fuzziness is clarity. The lack of familiarity with our inner worlds also condition us to mistake darkness for illumination. Imagine cleaning in the dark.
We mostly engage not with ourselves as we truly are, with others as they truly are or with the world as it truly is, but with our thoughts and ideas about them, built up over time and rarely refreshed. And that is a recipe for accidents in a dynamic and fast-paced world such as ours where most people live with lenses that are effectively filters. In such a world, you need to periodically clean your own lenses or refresh your view – set aside stale ideas and obtain clarity even if for a moment. To avoid collisions when driving in wet conditions on a busy dirt road, you will need to wipe your windshield often.
In order to see beauty and possibilities within your view, never stop cleaning your lenses – they do not stay clean for long. When we truly see, we see wholly, including the dirtiness on our windows and the ugliness “outside” but the promise of cleaning is that no matter the dirtiness or ugliness, we can unveil beauty, potential, truth and sacredness.
How do we clean our lenses of perception? This is an exploration each person has to make. But one easy thing to do is periodically stop and change your view. There is a high likelihood that when you come back to your regular view, you will see what you never saw. By looking away briefly, we are forced to refresh our views. True Cleaners have a practice of stepping outside the spot they are working in and observing it from a different angle. This makes them appreciate any spots they may have missed as well as the transformation in which they are participating.
To truly clean our lenses we need practices that help us to periodically pause and set aside biases and filters. In my view, an indispensable element of such practices is periodic stillness within and where possible, also without. In order to think clearly and see clearly, we need practices that help us to periodically suspend thought and truly see. I experience cleaning as one of such practices that can help to silence inner chatter, in addition to other benefits. Such moments of clarity are like wiping dirty windows, suspending thought and suddenly seeing what was always there. Cleaning after all, is revealing, not creating. This sudden clarity of perception can be called insight or epiphany. I used to be puzzled by the Yoruba phrase, “má ronú mó” which means stop worrying or stop thinking, until I recently saw that insight, change of thought requires momentary suspension of thought. We are in desperate need of insights today in every area of human endeavour since in many ways, we have either become lost or effectively driven ourselves to dead-ends and it will take cleaner views to find our way out.
Cleaner lenses help us to momentarily become aware of reality on multiple levels at once. They help us to see the extent of the challenges and the vastness of the resources and possibilities within us and without. Some cleaners are excited to go into dirty spaces not because they are blind to the dirtiness of the space but because they are aware of the tools and possibilities for transformation.
When our instruments of perception are clearer, we become more alive, more humble, more present to what is, to pain, to beauty, truth, potential and sacredness in the world, at work and at play. By cleaning our lenses, we expand our view, we expand our field of play, our field of awareness and our intelligence. Dirty lenses limit our intelligence and possibilities because they limit our view. A counter-intuitive effect of limited view is to prevent us from being aware of the immediate, making us blind to possibilities and opportunities in the here and now. And if we are blind to what is possible in thismoment and in this place, we will not suddenly start to see better at a latter time and a different place. One of the beautiful truths about cleaning is its immediacy. The clearer yo see, the more you will see that it cannot be shifted out of the present, away from you.
None of us ever becomes exempt from the need for cleaner lenses. It is one of the outcomes I hope for when I speak or write about cleaning, starting with my own lenses, not to “reduce” people to floor cleaners. Although I think cleaning a floor or cleaning anything, is a pure and truly beautiful act, no less beautiful and sacred than any other act that makes the world better, inside and outside. A workshop or an article about cleaning that is true to the spirit of cleaning ought to contribute to cleansing our instruments of perception, thereby expanding our awareness, not just about cleaning.
When you hear about cleaning for example, what are you seeing? When you hear of “liberals”, “conservatives”, “immigrants” what do you see? In your various roles, your job, your organization, your industry, what challenges, possibilities and opportunities do you see? Who defined your job or your industry for you? If you see your job or industry as threatened by any development such as artificial intelligence, you may need cleaner lenses that let you see an expansive field beyond artificial boundaries. If you see profit for example as an evil idea to be done away with or as purely financial, you need to clean your lenses and expand your view. If you only see what you have always seen or what everyone else is seeing, it may be time to clean your lenses and that realization is itself significant. Cleaning your lenses helps you to at least momentarily see what is and what is emerging, not just what is in your memory, not just your thoughts and not just what you have been fed. Clarity of perception is an experience which when tasted, you will always long for, because it changes everything.
Originally published on LinkedIn on February 28, 2017.