Reprinted with permission of Red Wheel/Weiser LLC.
Clearing Physical Space
A lot of the clearing we need to do has to do with the literal spaces, structures, and circumstances in our lives, the personal geography of our existence. In these arenas, the focus is on clearing the material clutter. Sometimes it's as simple as clearing off your desk, weeding old clothes out of your closet, tidying up the cluttered garage. These are all forms of clearing out in the material world, and, as the Feng Shui artists tell us, this is a very important form of clearing. If your world is cluttered, your consciousness is cluttered also. Clearing out the spaces and structure of your life is a good place to begin. Like that opening in the forest, a clearing in the material structure of your world will create space for objects and events to come in. It will also create a new sense of yourself. When you look at a world in tranquility, you yourself will feel more tranquil. When you look at a well-arranged closet, you will feel less chaotic. When there's space to breathe in, you will feel happier about being alive.
[A client of mine,] Barb had a penchant for getting bogged down with stuff. Her parents had been very poor and as a child she was constantly told that she needed to hold on to things because "you never know when you might need it" or, "don't throw that away; you might never be able to get another one:' Her parents saved paper bags and string, screws, nails, hinges, rubber bands, plastic bags, plastic food containers, and old clothes and shoes which they saved in bags in the attic. They taught Barb that she, too, should save everything; in fact, they punished her if they ever caught her trying to throw something away.
By the time she was an adult, Barb couldn't get rid of anything. Her apartment was cluttered with all the things she haphazardly acquired-old clothes, radios, and TV sets that people had given her, gifts and trinkets and cards people sent her, circulars that came in the mail, free samples of products she felt obligated to pick up at the health food store. Whatever anyone gave her, Barb kept, whether she needed it or not. As time went on, she felt that these things were more important than she, that taking care of them was her job. She was a prisoner of her stuff; she couldn't keep up with it all.
Not long after she showed up in therapy to talk about her problem, Barb decided to change jobs. A few weeks later, her colleagues at work threw a party for her. In appreciation for her time with them, they gave her a lot of cards and a whole lot of gifts and trinkets she didn't need and had nowhere to put in her apartment.
Barb learned that her over-involvement with things was the way she had compensated for the way her parents hadn't loved her. This time, instead of trying to find a place for all the stuff she'd been given at the party, Barb put it all in a bag, and without looking at it a second time, she dropped it off at the Salvation Army. She told me that this was one of the scariest things she'd ever done; in fact, she almost went back and asked them to give the bag back to her. By the time she got home, she felt scared and guilty because she'd "wasted so many things," but shortly thereafter she started feeling "free:" For the first time in her life she felt as if she was more important than all her stuff.
From this initial step, she hired a helper to assist her in cleaning out her entire apartment. She threw sixty more bags of stuff away. From the things she decided to keep she noticed that she had a real interest in art, in her own creativity. A few months later she started taking painting classes, and now she has exhibited her work in several shows.
Clearing Your Consciousness
Even more important than clearing out your material world is the clearing of your consciousness, your personal awareness, the way you think about yourself and your life. These are subtle levels of clearing that provide room for internal growth and change. When you do this kind of clearing, you clean up the ideas and attitudes that clutter your unconscious, that have the capacity to torment you and keep you steeped in feelings of unworthiness. You also clear your conscious mind, the way you think and talk about yourself.
The first step to clearing your consciousness is to develop awareness. Maybe you haven't noticed how much you beat up on yourself, how you always seem to approach life from the position that nothing good will happen to you, that you're a loser. Perhaps you've never paid attention to the nasty words that play over and over in your mind. Until you notice what you're doing, you can't change it. Noticing is the beginning of change. What has your mind been saying to you, and how have you been responding? Do you agree with the self-damning voice, the one that says you're no good, you'll never make it, so why try anyway-or do you put up a fight and argue with that voice?
Regrooving your mental attitudes...
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Mara had a million ways of verbally beating up on herself. When she got up in the morning she'd look in the mirror and say, "O, my God," as if she'd just encountered a witch. When she looked in her closet to dress, she'd bawl herself out for not having anything decent to wear. When she got to work, she'd beat herself up because her desk was a mess, she wasn't accomplishing enough. She wondered why her boss had hired her anyway-she wasn't smart enough for the job. The litany continued when she got home. She didn't know what to fix for dinner and she criticized herself for not planning meals better. This went on until she went to bed-when she condemned herself for staying up so late.
The nagging self-loathing voices were always the harshest when Mara would lie awake in the middle of the night. Then she would really go at it-recounting all her stupidities and limitations, until she was beaten to shreds emotionally.
When she told me about her relentless voices, and we talked about her past, it was apparent that her inner voices were the reruns of her parents' non-stop stream of brutalizing commentary, judgment, and criticism: "Why are you so stupid; why can't you ever do anything right? Who'd ever pick you for anything? Where on earth did you get that outfit? Who'd want you for a friend? You look like a corpse, wearing all that makeup." As Mara repeated this ream of emotionally devastating remarks, she fell apart in my office. These vicious comments were so deeply embedded in her psyche that for her entire life she'd done nothing but repeat them to herself.
I suggested that since she already knew how to talk to herself, she could change the content of what she was saving-keep talking, but say something different. The first thing I suggested was that when she woke up in the night and the voices started taking her apart she should quietly and firmly say: "I'm not going to listen to that anymore." It was simple, and she did it. She reported that it worked immediately. The negative, self-loathing voices went away. Then I encouraged her to make a list of what she needed to say to herself to displace the violent voices. Here's what she wrote:
Living by these two rules has been a challenging Journey for Mara; but the more she repeats them to herself, the more she values herself, and the more she is able to receive the praise that others express.
To support herself in this process, Mara also used a simple behavior modification tool-buying a circlet of wooden prayer beads she wore on her wrist. She would touch the beads and say a sentence of self-praise after she made an unkind comment about herself. This method may seem simplistic, but it is a very powerful way of regrooving mental attitudes. It worked for Mara. It could work for you.