I am a firm believer in decluttering my physical space. Every six months, I wander from room to room, closet to closet, with one goal in mind: purge what I do not need. Piles of stuff start to grow like anthills in the middle of the room. Each little mountain is assigned a purpose. One pile is to keep, the other is to discard and the last mound moves to a donation bin. This process is simple, but effective. Within a two week time frame, several garbage bags form a single file line in our garage. I am reminded again how much I do not need and for the next month, before I add another "must-have" in my cart, the image of white garbage bags flicker in my head and I decide not to make certain purchases.
The physical emptying of my space offers comfort and clarity. It is a ritual that does not require any extra effort, but it is a natural extension of my self. For the last few years, I've tried to adopt this same emptying technique with my mind, but I am not certain how successful I am in paralleling the clarity that I've achieved in my physical space. There are so many errant thoughts darting back and forth every minute of the day. Considerations that focus on the everyday, like whether I will make it in time to summer school drop off to reminding my daughter that she needs to fill her water bottle. Making to-do lists, running errands and setting the tone for my work day occupy another peripheral space in my head. While I actively participate in those tasks that need my attention, other more serious intrusions enter my realm. I think about the sharp edges of time and feel the stabs in my heart. I remember summers in my childhood home and skipping rocks in the creek. Ice-cream, lazy days and family dinners at the dining table occupied many of my seasons as a young girl living in Texas. Now, these reflections collide with my daughter's summer experiences and time seems to evaporate as quickly as a drop of water lands on the hot pavement.
All of sudden, here, then, gone. Other thoughts poke in, peeping in like they are guests dropping by for a quick visit.
I see the anthills forming in my head, but as much as I try, there is no discard or donate option. I keep all my thoughts.
There is a danger in doing this kind of keeping. I don't need all my thoughts. Especially the ones that hover around the past and things I cannot control. I don't need the "I am not good enough" voice interfering with the task at hand. Not emptying the mind causes a tension between what I am doing and thinking and this interferes with my personal progress. How do I ever move forward if I keep staying on the same ferris wheel? Do I set myself up for continual disappointment when there is a constant gulf between my thinking and what actually happens?
When committed to the same thoughts, the mind becomes lulled into the same set of actions. I become attached to the ideas that create expectations and then grow further attached to my personal paradigm. It then becomes harder to embrace an alternate outcome, idea or advice.
Creating an empty mind enlarges possibilities. I am still working on getting there. I repeat Shunryu Suzuki words when I default to the same thoughts, "If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few."
This post originally appeared on Being Rudri.