Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Accumulating Clutter

"Clear Skies"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Most homes out here in the desert where we 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 for keeping all your extra “stuff.”

When we first moved here a few years ago, we would walk through the neighborhood and I would notice 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 so much of their accumulated possessions.  At the time I vowed that I would never allow this to happen to me. Unfortunately, this did happen to me.

The other day I realized that, over a relatively short period of time, we had accumulated so much “junk” that I could barely get my car into a space in the garage – piles of newspapers, jars and jugs and cans of paint, many garden tools, an old TV set stored out there after we bought the new one, boxes of clothing and all sorts of other unmarked boxes containing “who knows what.” I couldn’t believe that we had accumulated so much clutter in just a few short years.

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.

Yesterday as I stood in my garage full of so much stuff, I also realized that all that clutter was creating a sense of chaos in me, making it hard for me to focus, too many distractions.

As I reflected on it, all that “stuff” that had gradually crept into my garage was teaching me a helpful spiritual lesson, reminding me that the baggage accumulated in my life over the years creates chaos and distracts me from focusing on being aware in the present moment, blocking me from being awake to all 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 feeling to 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 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 came across what Buddhist scholar, Paul Knitter, has 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.

The older I get, the more I come to believe that we often 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 “stuff” in my garage today. I’m not going to throw it all away, just keep what I may need to use, and even then I’ll to be aware that I own my things and they don’t own me.

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