Last updated December, 2017.
note: we link to our free guide to mindfulness and meditation at the end of this article (no email required).
Look at your email Inbox - what's it like?
Are you the person who strives to keep it empty? When an email comes in, do you immediately decide what to do with it: take action, delegate, file, or delete?
Or, are you like the other 99.9% of us who have a cluttered Inbox?
I have an email dating back to February of last year in my Inbox. It's there because I was supposed to do something with it. Once a month I open it and remember what I was supposed to do. This has been going on for almost a year now, but there it sits...mocking me.
Can you relate?
Now, compare your mind to your email Inbox. And, thoughts to emails.
When a new thought pops up, what do you do with it? Does it just sit there, cluttering up your mind? Do you try to ignore it, but get annoyed when you catch a glimpse of it? Or, do you purposefully keep it around "just in case?"
Our minds tend to be much worse than our Inboxes. They are full of thoughts. Some of them you know about - maybe you like them, and work hard to keep them around (i.e., forced "positive thinking"). Others you don't like - maybe you try to suppress (or, repress) them. We all take part in this exercise of clinging and avoiding.
But, for all of the thoughts you know about, there are hundreds that you don't know about. Your mind doesn't have an "off-switch" - it's constantly producing thoughts, and you're probably not even aware of most of them (don't worry, this is true for all of us).
As Eckhart Tolle often points out:
"The human condition is lost in thought. "
Regardless of your level of awareness, all of these thoughts are there. They give rise to feelings and emotions, which lead to conditioned behavior (decisions, actions, reactions). Ultimately, everything culminates in your state of being.
Returning to the analogy: If your mind is like a cluttered Inbox, you are probably in a perpetual state of anxiety and stress. You find yourself easily overwhelmed. You might suffer from bouts of depression, as well as issues with sleep, focus, productivity, and so on.
If, on the other hand, your mind is not cluttered, you are probably in a more content state. You might find you are creative and focused, which results in greater productivity. And you probably don't lay awake at night, dwelling on thoughts of everything that has gone wrong (or, could go wrong) in your life.
The question is, how do you "un-clutter" your mind?
It's a bit of a trick question, because you don't actually un-clutter it. Instead, you learn to move your attention away from it and let it be as it is.
You do this by cultivating awareness of your compulsive mind and its non-stop activity. You develop the skill of noticing it all without getting caught up in it.
This is the essence of meditating.
If you develop a consistent practice and bring mindfulness to your daily life, you will distance yourself from the mental clutter of the 50,000+ thoughts you are exposed to every day. Instead of being caught up in it all, you use what you need and move your attention away from the rest.
As a result, your life - unlike your Inbox - will be less chaotic.
Now I need to figure out what to do with that email from last February.
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