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The Order of Trashmonks

Coca Cola Man, by Julia Janssen

I have a perennial (and quite possibly crazy) vision for an Order of Trashmonks.

Let me explain what I mean...

I often pick up trash around my neighborhood.  This has developed into a kind of meditation.  I'm fond of calling it the way of the "trashmonk."  It has nothing technically to do with monasteries, but it's an image of meditative spiritual awareness.  Oh, and of course there is no gender bias intended either - both men and women could join and call themselves whatever they want: trashmonk, trashnun, trashmonastic... that can be worked out later.  On to the main idea...

One in matter

I have this idea that for all our differences, we are all one in matter.  We are all one in the material earth.  And this earth is like a commune.  Like it or not, we are all living here together in this place of boundaries and limitation.  Living produces trash.  Trash is matter out of place.  Matter out of place leads to disorder.  And an inordinately high level of disorder leads to anxiety.

Putting things in order is putting things right.  Putting things in their appropriate place is putting things right.  Putting things right leads to order.  And an appropriate level of order leads to calm and happiness.  The commune becomes a monastery.

A formal order

An Order of Trashmonks would be a society of fellows who join together in a practice.  That practice is a formal exercise, wherein a person resolves to pick up trash from a certain place, of a certain kind, to a certain amount, and/or for a certain period of time, then proceeds to fulfill that intention, puts the collected trash in an appropriate place, and finally bathes.  Undertaken formally, this is not unlike a ritual or a meditation. 

Depending on the person, appropriate prayers and hymns may be added.  The collected trash may be dedicated in some way, perhaps as an offering to a deity or to the earth.  The act of collection may be a devotion, a prayer, a spiritual practice, a cultivation of virtue.

There need be no uniformity on these points of interpretation.  It is enough that we are one in matter, and one in the formal practice.  The practice is a symbolic expression of our oneness in matter.  It is the recognition of a common living space, hence a common society, hence common duties and obligations, and common respect for this place.

Body and mind

There is unity in the physical act of the formal practice.  But the physical is not the only aspect.  For each body that picks up trash, there is a mind that experiences picking up trash.  For each body that puts things in their right place, there is a mind that experiences putting things in their right place.  And this affects the mind in fortuitous ways.

What we do with our bodies affects our minds.  It affects our mood-states.  It affects our values.  Matter matters.  How precisely this works is a subject for psychologists and philosophers.  But the simplest of folk can see the effects on them of an appropriate level of order in their environment.  As without, so within.  The simplest of folk can see how physical work strengthens their bodies and lightens their minds.  And the simplest of folk can observe how their mental state brightens when they play an active role in settings things right.

Of course, there is a limit to the appropriateness of order.  Unity is not uniformity.  Diversity is not disorder.  These things are not to be overlooked either.

Toward organization

I can see a web site where trashmonks can associate.  They can maintain their own private pages, and the system will allow them to record and keep track of their goals.  They may have the option to make parts of their information public.  A system of honors might recognize those who consistently fulfill their goals.  There might also be contests for most kilograms collected, largest volume collected, largest space cleared of trash, longest trash collection at one go, longest distance covered while collecting trash, and so on and so forth.  There could be a space to share photos of mounds of trash collected, or areas cleared. There could be trash art.  Trash music. 

Trash, when it becomes a value in itself, is no longer trash, but is in its appropriate place and time.

A crazy vision?

So, these are my thoughts on trashmonking for the moment.  Idealistic, I know.  But everyone needs to dream once in a while.  Is it really so crazy?

Heck, if people sharing photos of cute cats can catch on, why not this?

Maxims for Trashmonks

Trash is matter out of place.
Respect all matter.
All forms of matter have their appropriate place and time.
Diversity, not disorder.
As without, so within.
Clean without, clean within.
Take care for your health
Respect others' territory
Respect others' possessions
Cultivate patience
Cultivate perseverence
Cultivate fortitude
Set goals and achieve them
What is clean one moment is dirty the next; what is dirty one moment can be clean the next
Don't be a burden on others
Don't preach
Set an example for others
Don't be troubled by those who mistreat you; just go on your way
Weather your hardships
Enjoy your rewards
Carry nothing that can't get dirty
Reduce, recycle, reuse
Educate others
Don't condescend
Take care to avoid righteousness
Keep your mind on what you are doing
Take things one step at a time
Step carefully
Prepare adequately
To be dirt is to be out of place
All things have their place
Whatever cleans tends to get dirty
Whatever can become dirty can also become clean
Mind your own habits before minding others'
Clean your own home first
Study waste: its materials, its effects
Rome was not built in a day

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B. T. Newberg is the editor of Humanistic Paganism, a community blog for naturalistic spirituality.  For eleven years and counting, he has been practicing meditation and ritual from a naturalistic perspective.  He is a member of ADF, and frequent contributor to Patheos, Witchvox, and GoodReads.  Professionally, he teaches English as a Second Language.  After living in Minnesota, England, Malaysia, and Japan, B. T. Newberg currently resides in South Korea with his wife and cat.


  • Editor B
    Editor B Sunday, 09 June 2013

    Brilliant! There is actually a group of people here in New Orleans who started getting together once a week to pick up trash. They call themselves a "trash mob." I will have to pass this onto them.

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