Monday, January 25, 2016

Clutter, Baggage and Distractions

"Elegant Simplicity"
 - At the Desert Retreat House -

With all the recent news about snowstorms and winter blizzards it may seem odd to imagine that out here in the desert where I live it’s almost springtime. In fact over this weekend we began making preparations to prepare the soil and figure out what we want to plant this year in our vegetable garden.

Yesterday as I looked around my garage trying to find the tools I will need for the spring planting I was struck with the realization of how much clutter had gradually accumulated in the garage over the past months. – empty boxes from the Christmas gifts randomly scattered everywhere, piles of newspapers, jars and jugs of who knows what, and since we don’t have much storage space, anything we can’t find a place for in the house gets stuck in the garage.

I realized that all the clutter made it difficult for me to find anything, but more than that all the chaos made it hard for me to focus- there were just too many distractions.

As I stood there in my garage yesterday I also realized that all that “stuff” scattered everywhere was a very helpful icon for me reminding me of all the baggage and clutter in my own life that distracts me from focusing on the present and being aware and awake of what life has to offer me every day.

I have read a number of Buddhist books, articles and essays about the practice of mindful meditation – sitting quietly, awake and alert in the present moment. They all say that in order to do this you have to unclutter your mind. This doesn’t mean that when you meditate you should not allow any thoughts or feelings to ever come into your mind; instead you are able to be mindful and alert when you recognize and acknowledge the thoughts and then let them go rather than allowing them to accumulate and become clutter that distracts you from focusing.  I actually think this advice about how to meditate mindfully is good advice about how to live  mindfully in your life every day.

I recently came across what Buddhist scholar, Paul Knitter, had to say about this:

Mindfulness is the ongoing effort
not to let our thoughts and feelings get the best of us.
Our problem is not that we have thoughts and feelings
but that we take them too seriously.
We think they are giving us the full and final word
about who we and others really are.
When this happens we don’t have thoughts and feelings,
they have us.

And so we can all observe what is going on – our thinking and judging and feeling
We let them be and then we let them go.
By not holding on to them they can’t hold on to us.

I find great wisdom in this observation and the older I get the more I believe that most of us just take ourselves way too seriously. We believe that our thoughts and ideas about ourselves, about others, about the world,  even our ideas about ‘God” are true and real and accurate;  but the thoughts we have accumulated over the years are often  little more than clutter in the garage of our minds and if we really hope to do any fresh planting we probably need to clear away all the baggage so that new life can spring up.

I’m going to tackle all the mess in my garage today.  

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