March 26, 2014

Is It Time for a Cerebral Spring Cleaning? ~ Sara Furay

sunny window

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” ~ William Morris

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a Sunday afternoon yoga class. Sun was filtering in through the window, and the room felt warm and lazy. Sunday classes always have a different feel, a bit more calm and reflective. The teacher entered, sat down on her mat, and opened a notebook. Then she read:

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

She paused.

Now this is a quote I have heard and appreciated before. I actually have considered it when it came to my own home. But sitting on my yoga mat, it felt a little disconnected, removed from this place, this yoga space.

She continued and began to share a story about her grandfather. She adored her grandfather and he was ill. He was likely coming to the end of his life, and lots of family had been in town recently to help out and spend time with him. She of course was sad. But with this influx of relatives, many other feelings and frustrations had also surfaced. She was angered by petty arguments among her family. She felt herself judging how people were handling the situation. And she felt guilt; guilt whether she was doing all she could, and guilt when she was carrying on with her life instead of spending time with her grandfather.

She shared that she soon realized her brain was full and spinning with these kinds of thoughts. They were weighing her down and consuming her. Then she told how she had recently found this quote and read the words again:

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

I began to understand where she was heading. She was suggesting that our minds are our “houses” and the only thoughts that we should let settle there are those that we believe to be either beautiful or useful.

Oooh…I liked this.

As the class continued, she made reference to this several times. She encouraged us to let go of comparing ourselves to others, or judging our own selves. Noting pain, or how our bodies felt, was useful. Judging those things, was not.

This was resonating. Yeah, I really liked this.

I decided there was real wisdom to be found in her words, in her comparison. I try to stay focused on the positive and happy in life, but sometimes this is harder than other times. I loved this simple way to support those efforts and wanted to give it a try.

A Cerebral Spring Cleaning:

I started to tackle this just like I might a good spring cleaning. I set out to identify my “junk drawers,” my “messy closets,” those thoughts I didn’t want. Then I planned to organize and pitch.

The first part, the identifying, was fairly easy. I’m familiar with my potential brain clutter. For starters, I can sometimes be prone to overly ruminate. I play conversations and events over, wondering how it was perceived. Should I have said or done something differently? Should I have not said anything at all? And, if I have landed in a spot where I don’t think I made the best choice, I can also sometimes regret—oh, the dark monster of regret.

Are these thoughts beautiful? Are these thoughts useful?

Beautiful? Definitely not. Useful? That’s where it’s tricky. I do think taking time to note these feelings is useful to grow, but to spin them around repeatedly….definitely not useful. Brain clutter, for sure! I found a few other “thought habits” that were currently cluttering up my brain. Then I was ready for the next part, getting rid of all this junk.

This was where things got a little tougher.

What was I going to do with these thoughts that didn’t fit into my new found motto? The ubiquitous wisdom on such matters is often: Let it go. But letting go often proves much easier in theory than in practice. I sat for a few weeks with this dilemma.

An Epiphany:

Then on another Sunday, I found myself, alone, driving home from the mountains after a fun weekend. There is something about solo car-time that gets the mind wandering and wondering.

My mind covered a lot of territory on that drive. Some wonderful thoughts arose as I reflected on the weekend spent with people I love, and on life in general…hoping, pondering, appreciating. Some sad thoughts also snuck in, and some annoying thoughts about the work week to come. Really, the whole gambit of thoughts swirled about.

As I got closer to the city, the weather warmed, the sun was shining brightly though my windows. I rolled them down. The air was perfect. It felt wonderful blowing in on my face. It was crisp, full of sunshine, and the smell of living things. Everything felt just right. It was all too good to muck it up by thinking about anything but the lovely thoughts. I turned up my music, and I was just right there…happy and peaceful…driving down a gorgeous mountain road.

It’s not that I stopped thinking. The thoughts were still coming, but they weren’t really landing. They seemed to just flow right on through me and around me; and the ones I didn’t want to think about, just seemed to fly right out the open window. My mind was open and in the moment. The thoughts had all just kind of taken care of themselves.

When I arrived home and got out of my car, I stood in my driveway for a bit. I wanted to feel the day a little longer. It felt fantastic. It felt like spring.

I walked into my house. It had been closed up for the long weekend and it felt stuffy. I walked over to my windows, pulled open the shade, opened them wide, and let in that beautiful feeling of spring. I sat down on my couch, and I finally had an epiphany.

I had been focusing on the wrong part of spring cleaning. I had been focused on the organizing and the pitching, trying to figure out what to do about the unwanted thoughts. But, I didn’t need to do anything with them. I realized, the best part of spring cleaning is when all the tidying up is finished, and you throw open the windows letting the sunlight and the fresh air of spring come pouring in, and the old stale air of winter blows right back out.

All sorts of thoughts come our way in life. Often, they are very useful, and some are truly beautiful. But sometimes they are not. Difficult feelings and thoughts such as worry, confusion, fear, embarrassment, judgment, guilt, or regret, come our way too. Sometimes they won’t visit for a while and sometimes they all can visit at once. But these thoughts aren’t bad, and hard does not always mean negative. They are just byproducts of living, and getting tangled up with others, of taking chances, and of trying. They are byproducts of being human.

So much gets stirred up when you are out there living. Sometimes the bigger and bolder we live, the more vulnerable we are, and the more risks we take, the more these kinds of thoughts can arise.

It’s useful to note them and learn where we can. But, we don’t need to make a place for them. I understand now, I don’t even need to gather them up and throw them away, even that gives them too much attention.

Letting go, really kind of means…letting be.

When these thoughts arise, we need to be compassionate with ourselves, feel them, but then just open up that window in our mind. Focus instead on all the good-living happening, and when it’s time, they will just blow out on the breeze. They really will, if we stop holding on, if we let them. When we finally do, that’s when we grow.

This will take some continued practice, especially in our harder times and for our stickiest of thought habits. But I like moving in this direction. Thank goodness we have a lifetime to work on it. The best part is, the better we get at opening those windows and letting go, the more space we will have for the beautiful and the useful.

We will have plenty of room to seek out the thoughts that help us connect, appreciate and learn. We can take in the thoughts that make us happy, inspire and motivate us, the ones that make us think, laugh, empathize, and love—and we can fill up on all that good stuff. What a worthy challenge.

Spring—feels like a pretty good time to begin.


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Editorial Assistant: Cami Krueger / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: elephant archives

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Sara Furay