I am amazed sometimes when I go quiet and meditate at the thoughts and mental chatter that run through my head. It reminds me that while I aim to clear physical clutter in my life to help me with less external distractions, the mental clutter is also worth sweeping out.
We all have thoughts and beliefs that run though our minds like old tapes, playing the stories we learned over time. They are a product of what we learned as young people, explicitly or implicitly by what we observed around us. Many of us do not question these thoughts and beliefs. They become part of us, and influence how we live our lives.
But I have been questioning my thoughts and beliefs much more regularly these days. Why is it we believe “there is never enough time” to do the things we love to do? Is that really true? What if that is a convenient excuse for not taking the risks in our lives that would allow us to live more fully in our joy?
What if we turned those thoughts around or tried on different thoughts than the worn-out ideas that make us feel tired and defeated? One of the amazing things about meditation practice is to realize that we have much more choice over our thoughts than I had realized was possible.
Our thoughts drive our feelings, and our feelings influence our actions and therefore determine our results. When we realize we are not our thoughts, but can decide consciously whether to think certain thoughts, we take back control of our lives. We realize our circumstances do not determine our reality. It is our thoughts about those circumstances that have substantially more power.
Human beings are wired for story, as Brene Brown tells us. We strive to make sense of the world so our minds develop stories to explain and interpret circumstances. We all do this, and it is an adaptive phenomenon for human evolution. But sometimes these stories do not give us a complete picture, and need revision. The challenge is that we have told ourselves these stories for so long, they seem like truth.
It is worthwhile to examine personal narratives and long-held beliefs that no longer serve us. I write a daily journal in which I often do a “thought download” when I feel agitated about something, since I realize that is usually an indicator that I am “spinning” thoughts that do not serve me. That is often enough for me to become conscious of some thought causing pain and to question that thought.
Byron Katie teaches a practice of inquiry, in which you question a thought or belief and ask yourself 4 questions:
Is it true?
Can I absolutely know that it is true?
How do I react, what happens, when I believe this thought?
Who would I be without the thought?
Then she encourages one to try some “turnarounds” of the thought if we realize we cannot absolutely know that thought it true, or we realize it causes us suffering. This is worth practicing if you suspect some of your thoughts may need sweeping out or cleaning up.
What is beautiful about this practice and these realizations is that we begin to understand that changing our thoughts is easier than changing our circumstances. We do not have to find happiness and contentment “out there” somewhere. It is within our grasp, and can be realized inside of ourselves.
Also, when we change our thoughts, and therefore our feelings, we act and behave differently. We act with more love and generosity, and we begin to attract these qualities around us as well. We begin to see that grasping onto things makes us close down, while opening and sharing allow us to tap a well of resilience within us.
As you consider sweeping out the clutter of your physical life, take some time also to sweep the clutter that may be residing in your mind. See how much benefit this can have in your relationships and in living a more joyful life. I know you will not be disappointed.