Dust Matters

Originally printed in the November - December 2004 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Bland, Betty. "Dust Matters." Quest  92.6 (NOVEMBER - DECEMBER 2004):202-203

By Betty Bland

One of the inexorable matters of life is dust. It creeps in under windows and doors. It manufactures itself in the air. It is basically invisible until it has already produced a fine covering over everything around. As soon as it has been removed, dust resumes its march of conquest, defying any efforts to have everything "just so" even for a moment.

My mother who, at 91 years of age, has earned the family nickname of the "Eveready Bunny," has been an energetic householder all her life. Busy with an array of creative and service activities, she always viewed dust as a major nemesis. Although it is one of the lighter of housekeeping chores, it is one of the most odious to her and many other housekeepers.

During my growing-up years, Mother was fortunate enough to be able to hire someone to take care of the dusting, so I grew up unaware that dust actually collects on exposed surfaces. I assumed that it only accumulated in hidden corners and behind the books on my shelves. What a shock it was to this inveterate neat nick to discover, in my early married years, that relentless blanket gently smothering everything.

Every one of us encounters this same plight, within and without. Just as physical dust collects on our belongings, psychic dust blocks our access to the realm of spiritual clarity. Life experiences are the important ingredient in our human existence, providing the lessons we are here to learn. These experiences, necessary as they are, catch us in a karmic web of spiritual blindness. Things happen. We react in ways that we think will make our lives more to our liking. We become ensnared in our own little worlds. In other words, we have followed the natural path toward maturity by first becoming self-centered individuals.

Like the particles of dust swirling in the air which make the sunbeam visible, these experiences bring into focus our dharma, our purpose, the calling of our soul's pilgrim journey. The human predicament is to become fully invested in matter (life on this physical plane) and then to begin to clear away the emotional debris in order to wend our way home again.

Our humanity must reach the level of development at which we can learn how to dust! Inner dust is the accumulation of all the particles of experience that color our personality—the desires and avoidances. These are often referred to as attachments or patterns of desire, and are the emotional levers whereby karma works its power on us. In Hindu philosophy they are called the skandas, or the bundles of characteristics and predispositions that we carry with us from lifetime to lifetime.

The skandas are the third element in the nature or nurture argument concerning why people develop as they do. Anyone who doubts that a child arrives in this world with its own set of predispositions has only to experience the parenting of two children. Two children from the same gene pool and living in the same environment will be affected quite differently by the same event. One may remember a ride on an elephant as a major event, while the other barely takes notice, and so on. Even identical twins can reveal marked contrasts in personalities from the very start. One might imagine that the mirror of each child's soul has its own areas of stickiness, so that the dust collects more heavily in one area or another.

Wherever the dust is thickest, however, the fact remains that everyone has plenty of housecleaning to do. In The Voice of the Silence, H. P. Blavatsky speaks of the necessity of life experiences, or dust, in order to develop soul wisdom. But she says that the wisdom gleaned from life's lessons is only accomplished through regular dusting:


The seeds of Wisdom cannot sprout and grow in airless space. To live and reap experience the mind needs breadth and depth and points to draw it towards the Diamond Soul. Seek not those points in Maya's realm; but soar beyond illusions, search the eternal and the changeless SAT [the one eternal absolute], mistrusting fancy's false suggestions.

For mind is like a mirror; it gathers dust while it reflects. It needs the gentle breezes of Soul-Wisdom to brush away the dust of our illusions. Seek O Beginner, to blend thy Mind and Soul.

Shun ignorance, and likewise shun illusion. Avert thy face from world deceptions; mistrust thy senses, they are false. But within thy body—the shrine of thy sensations—seek in the Impersonal for the "eternal man"; and having sought him out, look inward: thou art Buddha.

Although HPB uses the Buddhist idiom in this passage, in this instance the Buddha nature can equally be expressed as the Christ within, or the higher self. This nature is always within us just as a clean surface always resides beneath the dust, but it is beyond our awareness. In order to begin the cleansing process, we first have to be still, sitting quietly so that the gentle soul breezes can find their way into our hearts. Stillness is a beginning, but the sweeping requires the effort of objective self-observation and correction, and reliance on something higher or beyond the personal self—its foibles being the source of the dust. Separative and selfish attitudes cloud the mind-mirror and block our vision. In a little note at the end of letter 71 in the Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, Mahatma KH defines an enlightened being as one from whom:

No curtain hides the spheres Elysian,
Nor these poor shells of half transparent dust;
For all that blinds the spirit's vision
Is pride and hate and lust. . . .

And so dust we must. If we want to peer into our mirror mind, we have to clear the normal accumulation of personal attachments on a regular basis. Perhaps you can even use this metaphor when you have to clean dusty objects in your outer environment, to remind yourself of the need for removing self-serving matter from your inner world. This is the matter that really matters.

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