A common theme on this blog is simple living and minimalism. Those topics are all about letting go of stuff and clutter in our lives so that we can all better focus on what really matters. If you do a Google search you’ll see tons of books and blog posts around the idea, including a recent best seller called, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. And while all of that focus on cleaning up your space is important, most of it ignores how cleaning up your thinking and what goes on in your mind is even more vital. Call it magic or merely life changing, once we learn to empty and let go of the chatter and mind clutter, chances are good that the exterior space around us will be equally free of distraction.
A very useful way of looking at this idea came to me after reading the book The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. While the majority of the book features quieting the mind, one of the chapters offers a vivid and powerful way to consider how our constant limiting thoughts and beliefs can take over our lives. Those thoughts and beliefs build upon themselves until they clutter up our interior space and destroy our well-being and peace of mind.
Singer equates those limiting thoughts and beliefs to a thorn. Just like any thorn we might pick up on our journey through life, we actually have two ways of dealing with it. We can get tough and pluck it out when it shows up. Or, we can nurse it and protect it as we try to avoid the pain of dealing with it. Unfortunately, if we baby it and cater to it, that thorn can become all-consuming to the point that we start tripping over it everywhere we go. Then instead of living fully, the thorn gradually becomes, as Singer says, “the work of a lifetime.”
Singer goes on to say, “If you do not remove the thorn, you will end up responsible for both the thorn and everything you pulled around yourself in an attempt to avoid it.” And what are the things you pull in? Even more thoughts will show up that disturb you or make you anxious and fearful. Singer continues with, “The minute you allow the core problem to stay, it expands out into multiple problems. It wouldn’t dawn on you just to get rid of it. Instead the only solution you see is to try to avoid feeling it.” That avoidance includes trying to control it and everything around it, rather than deal with the issue at hand. And need I say that all those types of cluttering thoughts in our head often out-picture in piles of stuff and destructive activites in our exterior world we can’t seem to let go of because we are trying to avoid the pain of just dealing with the issue and pulling out the thorn?
Need an example? For several years Thom experienced painful sciatica and piriformis muscle problems. If you don’t know what that is—good. Just know that it was painful and chronic and nothing he did seemed to help. After two years of determining that there was nothing physically wrong with him, and trying nearly every single suggested “cure,” he came across the work of Dr. John Sarno. Sarno is a physician and professor of Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine and author of the book, The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing The Pain.
While I won’t go into all the steps involved in Thom’s healing, (I’ll probably write more about it in the future) the primary premise is that pain in and of itself originates in the mind. Of course it is often a response to something going on physically in the body, but frequently what happens is that the mind starts chattering about the pain, attempting to avoid it, attempting to protect it, attempting to fix it so much so that it grows and gradually takes over a person’s life. Sarno offers dozens of examples of how just knowing where and why the pain originates, can frequently dissolve most of the painful symptoms themselves.
Of course many of us have plenty of little examples that happen in our lives as well. Any time we worry about anything, anytime we are even just a little afraid of something happening (or not happening), anytime we think we can’t handle something or need to avoid it—we build up clutter in our mind around that issue. Slowly but surely that idea will keep repeating itself over and over and we’ll connect other thoughts to it as well. Worried about what other people think? That’s a limiting thought that can get huge if you let it. Concerned about how your kids are doing in school? Yep, that’s another thought that can build a rabbit’s nest. Fearful about your finances? The jail you’ll build with that one will keep you busy for a lifetime. Freaking out about getting older? Need I say more?
So what can you do? Obviously a first step is recognizing, as Thom did, that the clutter started in his mind. Michael Singer offers an equally simple answer by saying, “How do you free yourself? In the deepest sense you free yourself by finding yourself. You are not the pain you feel, nor are you the part that periodically stresses out. None of these disturbances have anything to do with you. You are the one who notices these things. Because your consciousness is separate and aware of these things, you can free yourself.” Author Byron Katie offers a similar suggestion when she says, “Who would you be without that thought?”
While it may not be quite as easy as it sounds, learning to realize that we are not those limiting thoughts allows us to let go of them as quickly as they came on. If we can be aware enough to remember that most of the thoughts floating through our minds are just part of the human experience, we can hopefully return to a centered state where we just observe them as they float into our minds—and flow out as easily. It is only when we get attached to them, make them welcome, build a house around them and then tiptoe around that dwelling day-in and day-out that they take on a life of their own. It’s time to clean out the clutter. It’s time to let it go.
Far too many of us have built enormous structures around the clutter in our minds and become absorbed by them. Could it be that the sign of homes and lives equally cluttered by too much stuff are examples of how we hang to the bits and pieces that distract us from what really matters and who we really are at a Soul level? Ultimately, let’s never forget that SMART Living is about remembering those truths every single day of our lives.
Here’s another way to look at it:
The ego is a monkey catapulting through the jungle:
Totally fascinated by the realm of the senses,
it swings from one desire to the next, one conflict to the next,
one self-centered idea to the next.
If you threaten it, it actually fears for its life.
Let this monkey go. Let the senses go.
Let desires go.
Let conflicts go.
Let ideas go.
Let the fiction of life and death go.
Just remain in the center, watching.
And then forget you are there.
(Attributed to Lao Tzu with controversy; Hua Hu Ching, Chapter 10: Interpreted by Brian Browne Walker)