I know how to declutter my physical space, but how do I declutter my mind?
That is the question on my mind this morning. Clutter in my physical space distracts me, and because of that I am constantly getting rid of things and limiting what I bring into my space. That is easy – for me. I learned at a young age about the fleeting attachment to “things” when all our possessions were stolen out of a storage unit when my mom was in the process of moving from Denver, Colorado, back to Mesa, Arizona. I was just out of high school, already living in Mesa, Arizona, where I had been since the beginning of my senior year. I left Colorado and moved back to finish my senior year in an area where I had grown up. My mom stayed in Colorado with my stepfather. When their relationship ended, my mom packed up all her belongings, which included most of mine and my brother’s childhood belongings and loaded them into a storage unit. The items disappeared between the time they were loaded, and the time she went to retrieve everything for her return trip home. She called me and told me she had “bad news.” I remember standing in the living room of my apartment, learning that the “bad news” was that everything was stolen out of her storage unit. Understandably, she was upset. As for me, not so much. My reaction was, “It is OK. I am doing fine without all of those things.”
It was true, I was. But as the years have ticked by, I will occasionally think of a childhood item, like a picture, or one of my scrapbooks, an article of clothing, or the dozens of diaries I had filled, that I long to hold again. As quickly as my mind revisits that object, I am reminded that it is gone. The image of an old object is replaced with a feeling of loss, a flood of sadness, for a moment, then I think of the countless people who have lost things, whether it be to a fire, a flood, or where people have been displaced for a variety of reasons, usually traumatic, and my sadness dissipates. It doesn’t disappear completely, but it is broken into fragments. It is just stuff, I tell myself. The memories are what matter most, and those are what I cling to, and have endless room to store.
Maybe that is why it is more difficult to declutter my mind. The attachment to memories that cannot be rationalized away, can remain in storage, forever. But, are some memories, habits of the mind, distracting me? Are they keeping me from moving forward on this journey of change? That has been the question on my mind this week. I have found myself thinking about my “old life” a lot this week. When I say “old life” I am referring to the rigid work schedule I have followed for many years, as a high school teacher. I can’t stop my mind from contemplating what I might be doing at any given moment of the day. When the clock reads 6:30 in the morning, I am reminded that that is the time I would be leaving for work. When the clock reads 8:50 in the morning, that is the time that my first hour would be wrapping up. When the clock reads 2:20, that is the time the last bell will ring. And on, and on, the clock speaks to me. It is a dependable loyal friend, but it is also distracting. I would like to sever that time bound attachment to the clock of my past. I trust it will just take time, because when we have been conditioned to follow a certain schedule for many years, it takes time and intentional effort to decondition our time-driven selves and move past what was to what will be. Hopefully, over time, my reminders of the ticking school bell will be less noticeable. Maybe a flicker of a memory, here and there, like the transient memories of my childhood items. Maybe that rigid schedule will float through my mind and then quickly flutter away, replaced with new habits and schedules.
The passing of time will inevitably take care of this attachment to old internal clocks, but maybe there is something I can do to speed up the process. Maybe it is not necessary to do so, but I do feel as though my attachment to certain things slows my growth, my movement forward into a less rigid and more creative and open space. I do experience these timeless moments when I write, especially when I work on one of my 50 Life Stories. In these moments, even if I am writing about an event from the past, I am caught up in creation and not focused on the clock and what I should be doing, or what I was doing a few months ago. These moments can be described as flow, as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book, Finding Flow-The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. He describes flow as being in a state of complete absorption in an activity and this is when we experience true happiness. As the distance between my “old life” and current reality expands I hope to experience more “flow” moments. Letting life evolve organically is a wonderful and desirable space to be, but I am also interested in stepping into my new reality sooner than later. Running rather than stepping is the action I would rather take at this time in my life. Breaking free from the constraints of my prior schedule has unleashed inner desires that are pushing for release and expression. There are times in life where caution should be the course, but I am in a space where I do not want to step cautiously – I want to run, evolve, and expand – fast, like a growing sunflower, quickly expanding every time the sun changes position in the sky.
Every time my mind revisits my old schedule, or when someone asks me, “What does it feel like to be out of the classroom?” I am jolted back to that space, and then I am left to linger somewhere in between. A gray space. A space of either endless possibilities or an endless void, depending on the day. I am ready to leave that space and fully embrace a new and ever-expanding space of creation. So, what should I do to move that transition along, quicker? How can I accomplish this without adding more mind clutter in the process?
One step at a time …
I will take the following five steps to fast-track my sun-infused sunflower growth. Are there five manageable steps you can take for your growth? If so, I would love to love to learn about your steps and your progress.
First step: Continue writing, daily. I am writing more, but not daily. I need to have notebook with me at all times, when a laptop is not practical. Every moment I spend writing ideas down, is a moment I am not allowing my mind to wonder down warn out paths and overdeveloped neural pathways.
Second step: Continue meditating, daily. I do meditate, but not daily and when I do it feels like a chore. I need to reframe my thinking and embrace that quiet prayer time as a gift. I am going to step outside each morning, rest on my yoga mat, close my eyes and begin my day with the rising sun and the many birds that visit our yard. I will resist the temptation to pour my morning coffee and pour into my soul first. I will begin my day with quiet prayer.
Third step: Schedule my “Artist Dates,” weekly (these “dates” are explained in the first paragraph of “Rediscovering my Tumbleweed Spirit“). I have earned an “F” on this assignment. I know I can do better and I have no excuses. Experiencing creative play, that removes me from the ticking clock and from familiar environments, will help to move me beyond my former gray shell and into a vibrant being of color.
Fourth step: Continue moving my body and whenever possible it needs to be high-energy movement. Dancing is a movement I gravitate toward and another activity that allows me to experience flow. I am dancing one night a week but adding one more weekly dance date with myself will help propel me into a free-flowing, flexible spirit. I have also been thinking a lot about running again. Sometimes I wonder if I am feeling this way because I want to run away from memories that keep grabbing my ankles and pulling me back. Perhaps, but maybe that is OK. Maybe the physical act of running again is needed to move fast enough to outrun certain thoughts. The wise Bob Marley told us, “ya can’t run away from yourself,” in his song, Running Away, but I believe my desire to run again is an attempt to run back to myself.
Fifth and Final step: Find a volunteer opportunity before the end of the month and commit to monthly participation. As a high school teacher, I did not have or make the time to volunteer consistently. My volunteer time, even during weekends, was spent grading papers and prepping for the next day, or so I would rationalize. This excuse is no longer OK. It is important to give and do, just for the sake of helping others who need help, and for no other reason or personal gain. I am truly inspired by organizations that embed volunteering into their culture and even grant time off for employees to do so. I feel drawn to working with and assisting elderly people, so I am going to investigate a few organizations I have come across recently and reach out to them next week.
Glancing over these steps makes me realize that in many ways I am not trying to recreate a “new life” – I am trying to return to a life lived long ago, as a child. In elementary and middle school, I was always writing, noodling stories and poems, and writing in my diaries and journals. I prayed regularly, without the nagging pull of my to-do list interrupting my quiet thoughts. As I wrote about in Rediscovering My Tumbleweed Spirit, I did not need to schedule playtime – I just played. As a child, I loved to dance and would spend hours dancing each week, either on my own, or with others, in classes or just because. I logged more volunteer hours as an elementary and middle-school student, then I do now. I remember regularly visiting a nursing home, not far from our house and visiting the patients, and assisting at Special Olympics as a “hugger.” Those experiences sometimes made me uncomfortable, because my role was not clearly defined, but they also brought me pure joy.
These five steps are not revolutionary and they are not requiring me to make radical changes to my day, or my thinking; they are manageable. They will require me to let go of some habits and attachments, to make room for new experiences and perspectives. They are also potentially life-changing and will propel me forward on my path of personal discovery and transformation. Or, as I have just realized, they may propel me back to a time that was youthful, innocent, and free.
Copyright © 2020 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.