August 28, 2012

Cleaning Closets: Physical & Mental, Everything In Between. ~ Rose Tantraphol

Clearing Clutter in Heart and Mind

The New York Times yesterday posted an article titled, You Probably Have Too Much Stuff, written by a certified financial planner. (I probably wouldn’t have seen it except Bristo Yoga School posted it on their Facebook page and it showed up in my newsfeed.) Readers of my blog know I’ve been working on unpacking my patterns of excess during my recent move, so I was interested in reading this column.

What impressed me the most, other than the very clean and striking graphic that I reposted here, was that this financial planner acknowledged the emotional price you pay for having too much stuff.

When we hold on to stuff we no longer want or use, it does indeed cost us something, if only in the time spent organizing and contemplating it. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought about getting rid of that tie, for instance, and every time I went to choose a shirt for the day I would think about the few ties that no longer fit.

It can help to think in terms of, “Do I have room—physically, emotionally, mentally—to bring one more thing into my life?”

It has taken me a long time to realize that my opinions and judgments—of myself and of others—count as “stuff” that needs to be constantly cleared out. (Better yet, not brought in to begin with.) What makes this kind of excess worse than the piles of unnecessary whatevers  that may be lying around the house is that this travels with you—it’s not something you can avoid when you’re not at home.

I think most of us know people so chained by anger, resentment and grudges—so addicted to personal drama—that they can’t even see how much friendship, good will and respect from others they have lost. These packets of anger, resentment and grudges get stockpiled and can color every conversation you have and affect every relationship you enter. They can cause you to push people away and can keep people from wanting to be closer to you. They sap a tremendous amount of energy and are toxic. Is there a higher personal cost than this?

Two sides of the same coin

In many cases, anger and the like are byproducts of too intensely liking someone and being disappointed, right? In The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, T.K.V. Desikachar offers up a simple little drawing of a tree (p. 11) that I always think of when there’s yogic talk of ignorance.

The caption underneath the tree reads, “Avidya is the root cause of the obstacles that prevent us from recognizing things as they really are. The obstacles [branches of the tree are asmita (ego), raga (attachment), dvesa (refusal), abhinivesia (fear).”

At a recent Ashtanga Yoga Ann Arbor retreat, Angela Jamison talked about Yoga Sutra 1.33, which I’m referring to here using this translation:

Maitri karuna mudita upekshanam sukha duhka punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanam. In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.”

I don’t remember the retreat dwelling on it, but I scribbled in my notebook that the last of the four relationships discussed was equanimity, which Angela noted included, “not getting attached to preferences in people.”

That’s so interesting to me—and I realized that recently I was confronted with this. During the months of my wedding planning and after the wedding, which was held in May, I had been quietly holding on to my hurt feelings. I had a few friends who meant a lot to me and who, as a result, I expected to somehow demonstrate their reciprocity by at best being excited by the wedding and, at worse, by at least acknowledging the event.

But as with any wedding, there were people who didn’t so much as reach out with a post-wedding, “hey, congrats” or, “sorry I blew off your invite, I was x, y or z” or whatever. Their silence was deafening to me. The fault was entirely my own, though: I should have not have expected anything, because expectations create baggage. And did it matter what the reasons were? Everyone who was invited to the wedding was someone whom my husband and I felt had given us a gift of friendship at some point; that was enough.

As a post-script, I have to say that I somehow shed a lot of these feelings—along with other holds I’ve been carrying for a long time—during my honeymoon in Maui. Part of the reasons were the magic of the island, and much of it had to do with the fact that my wedding showed me just how much I had to be grateful for–I have so many good people in my life, and can you ask for much more than that? I felt so light as my wedding weekend came to a close, and that feeling has stayed with me.

The geometry of closets

Like much of the population, I tend to stash stuff I don’t need into closets. This forces me to cram stuff I don’t need or even really like into spaces that contain stuff I do need and do like. The result? The stuff I don’t need pushes the good stuff out of view and everything ends up crumpled.

In my emotional closet, I’ve started taking inventory of tchotchkes built on resentments, articles fabricated of anger, and boxes storing grudges, and I’ve been pitching as many of them as I can. (I’m also trying to catch myself before I drag in new junk.) It’s less that I have reached that level of Zen, and more a reflection of how much I value all the good people and things in my life — I don’t want those dynamics wrinkled by emotional detritus I should have tossed years ago.

Don’t get me wrong—I am human, and I still have way more baggage than I need. But I have begun the spring-cleaning, and I suspect it will be, as is everything worth taking on, a constant and lifelong process.


Rose Tantraphol is a journalist-turned-social-media-junkie now based in Michigan and working in the communications field. She practices Ashtanga yoga, teaches yoga and writes the YogaRose.net blog, which is ultimately about passion and the search for balance and inspiration–whether it’s found in a yoga studio, a Detroit Tigers game or a Radiohead song.



Editor: Edith Lazenby

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