Step 5: Declutter the mind too!

It’s been awhile!  Sorry.  I have let work and self-indulgence get in the way.

One thing that has helped with me getting more centered (though, let’s be honest here…there’s more work to do) has been meditating.

GASP!  Meditation you say!  What does that have to do with minimalism?

On the most basic level, if you control your thoughts then you control  your life.  Trouble is, you can’t really control your thoughts.  In my experience that’s impossible.  The mind is a creature in and of itself.  A wild beast.  You can’t control it.  You can’t make it do what you want it to do all of the time.  You can, however, learn how to tame it.  You can also learn when to listen and when to let it go (just like objects – see!  There is a parallel).

Minimalism, being a means of living a simpler life, is not easy.  Nor is meditation.  It is simple…sit/stand/lay still, close your eyes (or not), and focus on the moment.  That’s it.  It is not about quieting the mind and thinking absolutely nothing because that is impossible.  The more you do this the easier it is to see these thoughts, acknowledge that they happen, and let them go, all without affecting your mood or perception of the world and yourself in it.

Meditation can help you realize that you have thoughts, constantly, but that is all they are.  Thoughts.  They are not truths.  They are not reflective of who you are.  They are not predictive of how you act.  The thoughts are not YOU.

Right now I’m not battling to figure out the whole answer to “well then, who am I?  What makes me, me?”.  I’m just working to keep things in perspective.

There are different types of meditation (LovingKindness, Mindfulness, Breath Work, Trancendental/TM, etc).  You can choose any number of them to pull from in your arsenal.  I have used mostly mindfulness meditation and have dipped my toes into LovingKindness (also known as Metta) meditation and admit I need to do this type more. If you are religious (especially Christian as that is the religion I have the most experience with), LovingKindness meditation will challenge you to love yourself as much as your neighbor and your enemy, core teachings in the New Testament.  If, like me, you watched/read Eat Pray Love, you’ll recognize it as “sending light and love” to others in the world.  It makes you exercise and strengthen your compassion abilities, also core teachings of Buddhism and the Dali Lama.  When I was having a really hard time dealing with my mother’s death, this particular type was recommended to me by a meditation mentor.

By learning to show love and kindness to yourself, you will be more able to let go of items that hold you back.

Mindfulness can do the same but from another approach.  It brings you sort of into your body, so you can notice things you haven’t before.  It aims at exercising your ability to focus.  You may only be able to sit and have 1 second go by before having a thought.  At that point you silently acknowledge that it happened and let it go before focusing on your breathing.  Each time a thought happens, you go back to focusing on breathing.  This may happen a dozen times or a seemingly infinite number of times, but each time you direct your attention back to where it needs to be: to the present moment.  It can be easy on some days and damn-near impossible on others.  It can feel like a fight, but it is one worth pursuing.

My mindfulness practice was daily and then I let it go, along with other things.  Occasionally I do try to work it into my day.  When I am driving on a long trip I will sit and do a type of meditation where I know that I am driving, that I am seeing, sitting, watching trees, sunbeams break through clouds.  I will try to do this instead of zoning out and it does make the task less monotonous.

Now, even though I have not had a strong meditation practice in several weeks (though I have signed up for an 8 week intensive course and will be diving back into it), I have noticed changes.  I can hear a negative thought: you can’t do that, you’re fat and worthless, etc, but not ruminate.  I see it for what it is now.  A moment of fleeting nothingness without any meaning, holding no sway over me, and let it go.

It can truly be life changing so if it seems remotely interesting, give it a try.  Here are some resources to help, all of which I have used and vouch for.

10% Happier app (free meditations of different types)

10% Happier book (not-so-free but worth the read or listen) and podcast (free), by Dan Harris

Headspace (free mindfulness meditation app)

Cory Muscara: he has a website and I believe a studio in NYC.  It is his 8 week intensive that I have signed up for and am starting now.

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