remove mental clutter

Spring Clean Your Mind & Remove Mental Clutter

I love springtime. Everything is bursting with life, possibility, and change. I spend time in my garden, cleaning things up. I notice what sprouted up over the winter and clear away the clutter of seasons past to make room for the things that I want to cultivate now.

This weekend, while pulling up some pesky dandelions, I found myself thinking about Thich Nhat Hanh, or Thây as his students affectionately call him. Thây is a Zen teacher and activist who I was fortunate to go on retreat with a few years ago.

While I was on retreat, Thây introduced to me the idea that you can tend to your mental space in the same way you tend to a garden. Both require weeding and the intentional allocation of resources. In your garden, you need to rid the space of weeds and properly cultivate soil, sun, air and water. In your mind, you need to clear your mental clutter, not wasting too much time with trains of thought that you’ve outgrown…those that no longer serve you. And once you are no longer wasting resources on them, you can start to cultivate the kinds of things you really want – more compassion, kindness, and productivity for example.

We all have an ongoing train of thoughts – a sort of personal narration running in the back of our awareness most of the time. It’s the part of you that runs over the past and thinks about the future. We tend to dive in this mental clutter when doing routine things like washing the dishes, taking a shower, and driving. It’s the constant chatter that runs in the back of our minds all of the time. All. Of. The. Time.

You only have so much room in your mind. Your attention is limited, just like the space in a garden. In a garden, you need to carefully select the seeds you nurture and which plants you will pull up to make room for the things you really want to cultivate.

If anything is to thrive, resources need to be allocated accordingly. There’s just not enough space to adequately feed every seed that tries to take root. If I was to water and feed everything that sprouted, there would be no water or food or space for the things I really want to thrive.

Thoughts enter the mind like seeds on the wind. Just because one happens to pop up, doesn’t mean you need to entertain it. But, it takes more than insight to prune your mental garden. It takes practice to be self-aware enough to notice those slippery little thoughts before reacting to them. It takes practice to not water them. They’re tricky little buggers.

We practice mindfulness meditation to keep up our focus and awareness sharp and present. The practice helps us to detect those ineffective thoughts earlier and earlier on, before they spin out of control and get strong emotions involved. Once we realize that we’re going down one of those dark mental alleys, we are able to step aside from that train of thought. Using mindful awareness as an anchor, we can bring ourselves back to the present moment, effectively uprooting that thought and removing it from our mental space.

This week, during my meditation practice, I am toying with the idea of weeding my mental space. I’m finding delight in noticing those little weeds as they pop up and gently pulling them, with compassion and patience. As much as I can muster…

That’s why I emphasize the word practice.