Confessions from the Office of Culture and Decorum

An article on Neutral Day written by Amanda Hester ~ February 10, 2013.  
From Shambhala Times


photo by Charles Blackhall

Observing the “Neutral Day”


Fact: Shambhala Day has always been my favourite day in the whole year, and not just the day itself but the entire, potentially weeklong, event. I love the address, especially the sign-in of all the centers and groups around the world. My heart begins to twitterpate as we all come together; a worldwide energetic convergence of rejoicing in basic goodness. Back when we all sang the anthem together I would choke up every single time, even as a teenager. I love it when there is a Windhorse Ball, or other various celebratory things. Even when they don’t happen, I feel like they do. I even love the delek brunch!

I first felt a real sense of connection, devotion and kinship, to the Sakyong Wangmo when I discovered how much she loves Losar. She loves it just as much as I do! It was in serving her that I began to recognize how much I also love the neutral day. The neutral day is the day just before Shambhala Day, for those who don’t know. The Don Season is over and it is a moment of gap before you begin anew. Traditionally, it is the day that you clean, particularly you clean your shrine, your tea offering, you clean your house. I love it!

So often in our study and practice, we talk about synchronizing body, speech, and mind. I feel like there is a nuance there that needs to be increasingly addressed as we take that outward and begin looking at social engagement and transformation. There is a synchronization of our awakened selves with our life that is implied. We synchronize so that we can engage, sanely and beneficially. As the Sakyong continues to emphasize the importance of Shambhala Household practice, I have begun to realize how this practice is a vital bridge between our practice, our realizations or experiences on the cushion, and our life out in the world. If enlightened society exists in a moment of interaction between two people, our household practice is as much a foundation for that moment as is our formal meditation.

Confession: cleaning gives me a sense of power and control over my life and my environment. Cleaning out the corners and places that get otherwise missed or ignored over the year, brings me an incredible amount of joy. Getting my life in order, clean and lungtafied, makes me feel like I can accomplish anything. My mother used to say (or maybe I just made this up) that on neutral day we needed to make sure our house was clean and beautiful in case the King and Queen stopped by on Shambhala Day. I have come to realize that I would like to feel like that every day. Not because I would actually like the Sakyong or Sakyong Wangmo to stop by (basic goodness forbid!) but because I want to meet everything that comes in through the entrance to my life, in such a manner.

Clean can be a subjective reality, and Shambhala Household practice isn’t just about being obsessively clean and tidy. It is about maintaining an uplifted and enriching delightful lifestyle. It is about how that awake lifestyle is expressed through the space where you live, and host others, and engage with your life as a practitioner. Cleaning is a Mahayana activity: clean makes others feel comfortable and inspired. But cleaning and maintaining an uplifted household and lifestyle should also be a discipline and practice that brings joy to the practitioner. The point is that Shambhala Household practice supports our meditation practice, as well as our engagement with the world. Our household is where we live, where we are coming from. It can be our greatest mirror as Shambhala warriors.

There is no real separation, our cushion is in our home. When we see Shambhala Household as a continuation of our practice we deepen our integrity and our honesty, there can no longer be any duplicity. However great and awake and aware we feel, no matter how much inspiration we have to go out into the world and start making a difference, if our household is a mess then where we are coming from, where we live, is a mess. We can look at that and realize that at the very least, our enthusiasm is unsupported, unsustainable. At some point we will come home after a hard day of trying to manifest enlightened society, and we will become depressed. The idea is that a Shambhala Household holds us and supports our practice, and it does so in many different ways, not just through being clean. Clean, however, is a necessary aspect.

Shambhala Household is a practice, not a perfect. There is a monotony to a sane and healthy lifestyle, you have to keep at it, it is unforgiving. You can’t exercise or eat salad just once. I have slowly come to realize that the act of putting on yoga pants does not in fact burn calories in and of itself. Alas. But there is something remarkable in cleaning; it is an incredibly futile act! 

Confession: I don’t love cleaning because I am an uptight control freak. I love it because it brings me a sense of synchronization with my reality, with impermanence.

Agatha Christie said that the best way to come up with a good story was to do the dishes. Relating to our household practice can be incredibly rewarding and inspiring. It can also be difficult, seeing the household as practice can some days be a very painful reflection of laziness and resistance, for all of us. But that is good. We don’t have to beat ourselves up about it, we can allow it to give us greater confidence. We can acknowledge how much better we feel, how much more we are able to accomplish, when our personal little kingdom is in order. We can recognize how much more difficult it is when it isn’t in order, what a landslide laziness and the setting sun can be. Know your enemy, and all that. Our household can give us a greater appreciation and understanding of practice, whether it is tidy or not.

My household is always a reflection of my mind: sometimes it sparkles, sometimes it’s chaotic, sometimes it is a mess! 

Confession: my shrine is not always clean by the time Shambhala Day rolls around. But what I have learned from the Sakyong Wangmo, and it is my favourite lesson of all, so I share it here with you, is that when I do clean on the Neutral Day, it is a total celebration!

I will leave you with that and also with this parting advice from the great Phyllis Diller: “If your house is really a mess and a stranger comes to the door greet him with, ‘Who could have done this? We have no enemies’.”