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Cleaning Out Clutter
by Astrid Fitzgerald
cling to so many things in life without which we believe we simply cannot be
happy or even survive. Often we resolve to clean out the closet to get rid of
unnecessary clutter and find ourselves stuffing most of it back -- just in case!
Some of us find it difficult to part with objects and mementos of the past, and
many of us are pack rats to one degree or another.
This may seem like an innocent habit, but when we consider that our outer
world is an accurate reflection of our inner world, we must think again. The
clutter in our minds and hearts caused by wrong thinking and feeling is not so
innocent, since it is the cause for much of our unhappiness. The accumulations
in the subconscious mind exert an even greater influence on our lives. The
impressions left in the subtle and causal bodies by past thoughts, feelings, and
actions determine the measure of love, happiness, and freedom we are able to
experience in this life.
It is easiest to begin the process of cleaning out with the exterior world.
There is no doubt that it is very helpful to clean out excessive material
clutter to simplify existence and to remove the things that invite us to
indulgence and emotional reactions. Moreover cleaning our living quarters and
closets may prove to be a wonderful exercise in preparation for the quest, since
learning to let go on this material level will help us later in the practice of
renunciation. It also shows that these objects have no true value and fail to
give lasting happiness.
Most often we want things in a given instant because we feel needy and
because we do not know how to understand this insistent need. As a result we end
up with many possessions when in fact what we truly desire is sustenance for our
minds, hearts, and souls, and ultimately everlasting happiness and love.
For the modern seeker, renunciation does not mean throwing out all our
belongings and living in abject poverty. Nor does it mean denying our intrinsic
delight in comfort, simplicity, and harmony. There is no need to renounce beauty
or the good in daily life, and there is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying
beautiful things. An appreciation for harmonious works of art, craft, and music
is one of our more refined human capacities. We are right to treasure these
noble expressions of human creativity. What causes trouble is not inherent in
the things themselves or even in the enjoyment of them, but in our attachment to
The Eesha Upanishad tells us to "enjoy" but warns, "Do not covet His
property." We are free to enjoy, but we must guard ourselves from mentally
grasping at any of it. If we were to realize but for a moment that we cannot
truly own anything permanently, we might let go of our attachments to material
things. If we truly realized that we in fact have nothing we can call our own,
we would run the risk of being enlightened in the twinkling of an eye!
In the meantime, even a little reflection will show that whatever we think we
own -- our homes and possessions even the body and our vital energies -- all
come from the earth and will eventually return to the earth. What we do not see
-- the spirit, the Self -- descends to us from above. Matter and spirit join to
imbue the individual soul with life energy and human capacities, so that it can
give expression to its particular soul nature in creation.
When we consider this truth -- which is the teaching of the great masters and
sages -- we realize that there is not very much we can call our own and that
there is not much of "me" and "mine" in this picture. When we speak of "I," we
usually mean by it "this entity" which has a form, name, and function. When we
examine our inner world more closely, we see that these attributes are actually
claimed by a specific central "figure" or feeling of self -- the ego -- which
says, "This is 'me' and 'mine."' This false self claims everything -- "my"
house, "my" clothes, "my" body, "my" perception, "my" talents -- despite the
fact that we cannot be that which we perceive.
The false self also lays claim to the roles we play and says, "I am a
mother," "I am a friend," "I am a doctor," "I am an artist," despite the fact
that we cannot be what we do. Unfortunately this identification with what we do
is reinforced by terms used by the media. Collectively we are said to be
consumers, smokers, drinkers, commuters, sports fans. We should protest this
degradation. It is not helpful, and is perhaps even harmful, for a human being
to think, "I am a consumer." Eventually we will think that it is our duty to
The ego claims all thoughts, feelings, and deeds. But it does not stop there.
It declares, "This is 'my' life, 'my' energy, 'my' breath, 'my' intelligence,"
despite the fact that our discrimination and intuition speak to us in no
uncertain terms of a higher order. We know that in truth we are the Atman -- the
Self -- that which is beyond memory, beyond mind, beyond the body and the
How do we rid our minds of this erroneous thinking? By changing our minds,
or, as St. Paul said, "by the renewal of your own mind." Manas -- the
moving mind, or organ of thought -- can cause trouble by wrong thinking, but it
can also become a faithful servant. Like any servant, we must treat manas
with love and patience and feed it regularly with right thinking, ideas, and
intentions. When manas is cleansed from false thinking, it becomes a
powerful tool in spiritual work.
It is in manas where we first "hear" false notions as they emerge
clothed in language and first "see" mental and emotional clutter as it surfaces
in the form of ideas we hold about ourselves. These, our most cherished ideas,
come into the conscious mind charged with attitudes from the unconscious. They
are invariably accompanied by some kind of qualification, positive or negative:
"I am a good person," "I am intelligent," "I can't do this," "I can't do
By diligently observing these movements in the mind -- the ideas we hold
about ourselves and our automatic responses -- we can see them for what they
are: useless clutter consisting of the stale remnants of the past. These harmful
notions have nothing whatever to do with the present moment, except in having a
negative effect on us. Only by seeing these notions can we stop them. Only when
we are awake, when we can remember ourselves in the here and now, are we in the
proper state for objective observation.
The next step in ridding ourselves from mental clutter is to shun language
that supports the claims of the ego and avoid words such as "my," "me," and
"mine." Instead of "my body," we can say "the body"; instead of "my life," we
can say "this life." Instead of "how good of me," we can say "excellent" or
nothing at all; instead of saying "how stupid of me," we can stop, face the
facts, and remedy the situation.
We cannot have a still mind and heart simply by willing it, but we can put a
stop to language that expresses criticism, regret, or blame. We can stop saying
"he is always... "; "I should have... "; "if I could only... "; "what if..." As
we begin to observe and investigate, we will find that this kind of inner
commenting and compulsive talking goes on all the time. The thing is to simply
see it and stop and not to comment on the commenting. We do not want to waste
the light of conscious observation on verbal self-analysis; the aim is stillness
of the mind.
Cleaning Out Brings Surprises
We must not be discouraged when in the course of cleaning out, we find ghosts
in the closet -- mental debris we did not know we had. Cleaning out is full of
surprises, and not always pleasant ones. When we look at ourselves in the light
of conscious self-inquiry, we might become aware that we are not the kind,
nonjudgmental persons we thought we were. We may realize that we dwell in an
emotional atmosphere of discontent, regret, disappointment, and pessimism during
most of our waking hours. When we begin to wake up and look around us, we see
the same sentiments reflected in the eyes of others. We see many forms of
negative mental stances -- skepticism, sarcasm, nihilism, and fatalism. These
stances are not only inscribed on the faces and psyches of people we know, but
have taken their collective toll in mental and physical illness.
Negativity is the absence of the light of truth. It is one of the many
manifestations of the force of tamas, which accounts for the darkness,
inertia, and ignorance of the world. All this negativity and ill will are in
direct opposition to enthusiasm -- which is an indispensable element in our
quest. The word "enthusiasm" comes from a Greek word meaning "full of the god"
and, by extension, "inspired." Enthusiasm is a state that we can cultivate by
not engaging in its opposite. Along with right thinking, intention, and
aspiration, enthusiasm will help us over the hurdles on the path.
Cleaning out the causal body -- the antahkarana -- is more difficult
and can only be accomplished indirectly through such practices as observation,
reflection on sacred truths, and meditation. All thoughts, feelings, and actions
arise in the consciousness tinted with a certain color -- the color of our
particular antahkarana. This explains the instantaneous like or dislike,
approval or disapproval that arises in every activity. Manas has no
coloring of its own but is influenced by the coloring of the causal body; hence
it thinks accordingly. When the coloring is sattvic, it will reflect poise, when
it is rajasic it will result in action, when it is tamasic it causes inertia.
Although every desire arises first in manas (because of its
association with the senses and the sense objects that arouse desire), different
types of desires are supported by a particular emotional attitude, which is
stored in the causal body. It is difficult to see our own attitudes. We have
much less difficulty seeing the emotional packages of others. Their attitudes
are revealed in language, stance, traits, and mannerisms. We have covered our
own flaws and hidden our tendencies with a blanket of forgetfulness. We now need
the courage to clean out the secret and hidden acquisitions -- the ancient
impurities that color our whole being and becoming.
Before we can wipe out the past, we have to see our false ideas, attachments,
and attitudes. In order to see them we have to be conscious and aware in the
moment of action. We have to remember to use our power of self-reflection. And
we need to use reason and intelligence in the moment of self-reflection.
Now is the perfect time for conscious and honest observation; in fact it is
the only chance we have to clear away our impediments. In the light of
consciousness we will see the mental clutter we have accumulated since childhood
and how it colors our thinking, feeling, and doing. We will then realize that
this clutter no longer serves us or fits into our expanding vision of life. As
we recognize that these attachments have become too painful, we become eager to
give them up. Then we are ready to tackle our deep-seated impediments -- the
attitudes behind our passions and aversions.
The threefold method that leads to enlightenment includes observation,
discrimination, and renunciation.
By observing from the point of view of the Witness, the movements of the mind
are brought under control. In this state we bypass the ego. We do not act from a
subjective stance or lay instant claim to every action. Thus we are less
affected by the censorious voices in the mind, and actions become freer, more
appropriate, and more creative. We are not affected by passion or aversion, so
actions are neutral and do not engender consequences. But most importantly, in
such actions there is more joy, love, and happiness.
The two ancient practices of discrimination and renunciation are closely
connected to the practice of observation. One, we see; two, we discriminate;
three, we renounce.
As we have seen, when inner attachments and claims are truly seen in the
light of truth, they dissolve automatically. However, latent tendencies and
deep-seated beliefs in the psyche need to be dislodged with the sharp edge of
The practice of renunciation helps release the inner clutter of false ideas,
attachments, and claims. Unlike the yogis of ancient times, we do not renounce
the world and our belongings, but rather renounce the attachment to them. We let
go of the attachment on all three levels: causal, subtle, and physical. It is
useless to try to give up something simply on the physical level; the desire is
still there and simply looks around for something else to which to attach
itself. A person may give up an attachment to food only to develop an attachment
to starvation or excessive exercise. Renunciation is not giving up ice cream and
cookies. It is a spiritual practice and as such works on the subtle and causal
level of being, although these in turn are likely to produce effects that will
be evident on the physical level. True renunciation is giving up what we are
- Observe the claims and ideas -- both positive and negative -- you hold
about yourself, the roles you play, and the activity at hand in a given
moment. Watch manas -- the moving mind -- and put a stop to claims,
inner considering, and repetitive thoughts about yourself or anything else by
simply saying, "Neti! Neti!" -- "Not this! Not this!"
- Observe the thinking process. Avoid language that reinforces false claims
and beliefs, such as "I am this or that"; "I can't…"; "I never…"; "my" or
- Observe and let go of negative feelings, ill will, regret, guilt, and
- Observe attitudes marked by an emotional charge arising in the moment of
an event or activity. Let manas become still. Let go of the attitude
and return to the silent observer.
- Practice renunciation and discrimination. Let go of outworn beliefs and
notions about yourself and reality. You may want to write down the most
trouble some attitudes and burn the list while you consciously renounce them
and offer them up to the One Self.
article is excerpted from Being Consciousness Bliss, ©2001, by Astrid
Firtzgerald. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Lindisfarne Books.
Info/Order this book.
More books by this author.
About the Author
Fitzgerald is an artist, writer, and passionate student of the Perennial
Philosophy who has applied its principles to her life and art for over thirty
years. She is the author of
An Artist's Book of Inspiration: A collection of Thoughts on
Art, Artists, and Creativity (Lindisfarne Books,
1996), and is a member of the Society for the Study of the Human Being in New
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