I have a very nice wool-knit sweater that I have had for years and become very fond of. It fits well and is warm but not too heavy. I don’t think about it much but I feel very familiar with it. A warning there, you’ll agree.
I was wearing it recently and a friend looked at it. I thought he was going to say ‘what a nice sweater’. But he said ‘that sweater is very dirty’. I was slightly offended, as who likes to be told they are wearing dirty clothes? But I looked at it differently and admitted he was right. I had worn it too often collecting wood for my stove on Bere Island.
Washing certain kinds of clothes is a mystery to me and I have had several disasters – favourite pieces emerging from too warm a wash now suited only for leprechauns. But I knew I needed to wash it and did so very cautiously. I let it dry not too close to a radiator. It didn’t shrink but the stains were still there.
As I dealt with this domestic crisis, I thought about meditation as a washing of the mind. Perhaps this is originally what the ritual of baptism by immersion symbolised.  It is different, as I said the other day, from brainwashing. Brain-washing is not washing, it is staining. Meditation is about washing out the stains left by propaganda or self-deception that we don’t see until someone or something makes us aware of them.
There is an art and a science in purifying the mind just as there is in laundry. Until we have learned the basics we should not be surprised if the stains don’t disappear at the first or even the fiftieth wash. But they get less and we feel cleaner in perception as a sweater also takes time to restore to its original state. To be aware of the existence of the stain is the necessary first step.
Discussing this profound subject with my friend he agreed and recommended a stain-remover to add to the wash, which I have not yet done. He told me that some years ago he had taken a favourite white blanket together with some ordinary clothes to be dry cleaned. When he picked it up it the blanket was now coloured and the clothes faded. The shop refused to take responsibility and so he embarked on a long patient path of frequent re-washings. This helped finally to restore the whiteness of the blanket, ‘dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them’ if you get the reference.
Who needs daily reflections with such lessons as these constantly coming from daily life?
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2022