Thursday, June 9, 2016

Cleaning Out the Clutter

"Simply Beautiful"
- in my meditation garden -

Most homes out here in the desert where I live have very little storage space. They rarely have basements or attics and so, for the most part, the garage is about the only place to store away all your “stuff.”

When we first moved out here a few years ago we would walk through the neighborhood and I noticed how horribly cluttered most garages were. In some cases people couldn’t even park a car in their garage because it was so filled up with their accumulated possessions. At the time I vowed that I would never allow this to happen to me and so this is why I was so surprised yesterday when I went out to my garage and realized that I had also become a “clutter culprit.”

As I looked around my garage I was struck with the realization of how much clutter had gradually accumulated over the past months – empty boxes randomly scattered everywhere, piles of newspapers, jars and jugs of who knows what, all the many garden tools that we bought over the past few years, an old TV set stored out there after we bought the new one, many unmarked boxes containing unknown things.

It all reminded of a humorous little quip by the ecologist, Wendell Berry:

Don’t own so much clutter
that you would be relieved to see your house catch on fire.

More than being amazed at how much clutter we had accumulated in a relatively short period of time, yesterday I also realized that all the clutter created a sense of chaos for me, and all the chaos made it hard for me to focus - there were just too many distractions.

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 being aware in the present moment, awake to all my 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 come into your mind; instead you are able to be mindful and alert if you can recognize and acknowledge the thoughts and then let them go rather then 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
and 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.

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, and so we cling to them because they give us a false sense of security and stability. But the truth is that the thoughts any of us may have accumulated over the years are often little more than piles of clutter in the garage of our minds and if we really hope to grow spiritually we probably need to clear away all the baggage so that new life can spring up.

Jesus’ wisdom about how to walk a spiritual path is no surprise to me:

Take nothing for the journey
no staff, no bag, no money, no extra shirt.

I’m planning on cleaning out the clutter in the garage today. I’m not going to throw it all away, just keep the stuff that I may need to use, and even then I’ll try to be aware that I own my things and they don’t own me.

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