Dear Donagh,

 .…  My house is all clutter.  I get a fit of tidying every so often, but it’s as bad as ever in no time.  My husband doesn’t see it at all, but I'm worried that my kids are going to be worse than me.  I had just tidied my 6-year-old daughter’s room, when she went in and made a total mess of it in 5 minutes, like she couldn’t stand the tidiness.  Sometimes it’s things I'm working on but haven't finished.  I don’t know what I'm expecting you to say, but you often have practical advice and a different way of looking at things.  Thanks Donagh.  Maureen. 

Dear Maureen,

Here’s a different way of looking at disorder: it’s a higher kind of order.  You can fall back on that the day you give up the struggle!

A better suggestion might be: start at the other end of the process.  Look at the cause rather than the consequences; look at where the clutter comes from.  From my own experience I can say that postponement is the cause of much chaos – deferred decisions about what to do with things.  If you don’t decide what to do with something, it doesn’t go away; it lies there.  Soon it is layered under the next thing you made no decision about, and the next…. The same goes for tasks you haven't completed: they lie there waiting for you, half-finished.  Try this: get rid of something you don’t really need.  Take one job and finish it.  A lot of energy is released when you finish something.  To begin, it can be a small job, such as tidying a drawer or cleaning a sink.  Don’t forget to admire your work!  Don’t look at everything that still needs to be done – that will only discourage you and drain your energy.  That energy that you just saved can now go into tidying another drawer… but don’t go at it too fast: you need a long-term remedy, not just a remedy to this day’s particular mess.  Concentrate on what it feels like, and not only on what it looks like. 

When you look at the source of clutter, you are looking in the place where every meditator is looking.  If the clutter in your house reveals the clutter in your mind, and that in turn drives you to meditation, then thank God for clutter!  What does the normal human mind look like?  Not so sure, because we don’t really know what to call normal; but we can safely say it contains a lot of clutter; it looks like your house!  No, we have to do it justice: it looks much worse.  Everyone’s mind is like a hoarder’s house.  On YouTube you can find fascinating videos of hoarders and their houses.  Some people reach the point where there is no room for them any more in their own homes.  Isn't that exactly the mind of someone whose face is forever glued to a screen: TV, computer, cell phone…?  There is no room for them any more in their own life; they don’t process their own experience, because they never stop accumulating more data – more clutter – information that might come in handy, just like objects you keep in case they might come in handy someday.    

Someday…. the indefinite future; any time except now.  But meditation always comes down to now.  Here and now.  In a cluttered room, as in a cluttered mind, we hardly know where to begin.  Meditation says begin here – with the first thing that comes to hand, or the first thing that comes to mind.  “Do the bit in front of you.”  I photographed that piece of advice in a garden allotment area.  It seems good advice for gardeners, housekeepers, meditators… for anyone. 


Here is another piece of advice: this time from a hoarding specialist (yes, there are such people): “Everything should be visible.”  If something is hidden, it lies there forever.  You may even have bought a second one because you can't find the first, or you forgot you ever had one.  It strikes me that this is wonderful advice for meditators too.  Look at what clutters your mind; look at what bothers you; don’t push it out of sight, or pretend it isn't there.  It is remarkable how often it fades and eventually goes away for good.  That's how lots of problems are solved!

The result of this, if we have any degree of success, is a great sense of freedom.  We would all love to be free, but the word ‘emptiness’ can terrify us.  (That's probably why we get into clutter in the first place.)  But emptiness is essential; we can see things only when there is empty space around them.  We can even get to like the word ‘empty’.  We often use the words ‘empty’ and ‘free’ interchangeably.  When we spot an empty seat on a train, we say to the person nearby, “Is this seat free?” 

And lastly, there’s another sense in which all this is free: it doesn’t cost anything!  Enjoy!  Good luck with the mess!



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