Do you imagine the universe is agitated? Go into the desert at night and look at the stars. This practice should answer the question. – Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching)
Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all. – N. W. Morris
I want you to settle into your body for a moment as you read this. Before you decide to scroll down the page, skim through a few paragraphs, or click on something else, try this one thing first:
Sit silently, preferably turned away from your computer or phone, and tune into your body. How are you feeling? What muscles of yours are tense or fatigued? Do you have anything pressing inside, anything weighing you down? Are your thoughts rushing here and there? Do you feel flat and dull? Or perhaps you are feeling clear and vitalized?
The practice of listening to our bodies silently and attentively is something most of us rarely do in our everyday lives, and yet it is one of the most potent ways of connecting with the truth of who we are and the truth of our lives.
So, how are you feeling? Like most people, you might have felt oppressed in some way, loaded with tension or sluggishness here and there throughout your body. But don’t be dismayed – this is not necessarily a bad thing, and it is definitely not incurable.
The truth, most likely, is that you are emotionally cluttered inside. Through fear, bad habits or long-held attachments you have accumulated piles of stagnant beliefs, feelings and thoughts which have been left gathering cobwebs in the crevices of your mind.
If you feel weary, clumsy, irritable, sick or fatigued, it is time for you to do some spring cleaning!
How to Declutter Your Mind
It took me a long time to realize that failing to acknowledge and face my uncomfortable emotions and thoughts was creating chronic illness within my body, and never-ending unhappiness within my life.
I was (and sometimes still am), the kind of person who ruminates on angry thoughts about other people, who projects my own perceived flaws onto others and who fails to truly feel and experience my emotions. Sound familiar?
But years ago I made a decision to commit myself to the path of Involution, a path that has recently taken me into the “underworld” of who I am, and what I carry around within me. What I’ve discovered has left me in awe and has fueled me with motivation to clean out as much of the junk, gunk, cobwebs and clutter as I can. And you know what? Thanks to this Shadow Work I have managed to release myself from so many burdensome thoughts, memories, feelings and perceptions that I’m feeling more genuine peace, happiness and wholeness than ever before.
I want to show you how to do the same.
But first, emotional minimalism – the process of simplifying your inner world – requires 4 valuable elements that are essential for making deep and long-lasting changes in your life. These elements include:
You can never think yourself to a cleaner and clearer you; instead you must act yourself there. You must truly have commitment to bettering your life, dedication to exploring what is weighing you down, courage to face what you find when you get there and honesty to accept and take responsibility for who you are. And trust me – it won’t be friendly or sanitary! But remember: what makes ‘you’ goes much deeper than your thoughts, beliefs or emotions which are transient things that eventually fade and pass away.
So keeping this in mind, let’s explore a variety of things that may be weighing you down.
4 Types of Emotional Clutter
I am constantly in awe of our ability as humans to continue carrying around inner junk and clutter that doesn’t serve us – even in spite of all obvious signs that it is slowly eating us from the inside out!
The thing is: sometimes it is very difficult for us to be aware in the first place of the destructive patterns of habit, thought and emotional cycles that go on within us. For me it took a long time to develop awareness and the honesty to look at what I found within me with complete openness and acceptance. Denial is a big hindrance on this journey, so be conscious of this!
The following list is by no means exhaustive, just what I have learned on my own journey of Involution. Remember that paying attention to the sensations in your body is a good place to start on your voyage of emotional minimalism. Focus on where you are feeling heavy and try to trace the origin of the feeling. For example, if you are feeling heaviness in your chest, ask yourself “why?” When did the feeling start? When does the feeling get worse? Often times you will discover that cumbersome or painful feelings in your body arise after negative thoughts, confronting experiences, or excessive influxes of emotions. Sit quietly and meditate on each source of heaviness, stiffness or pain. With a few minutes of quiet contemplate it is often easy to find the original instigator or birthplace of the sensation.
Source of Emotional Clutter 1# – Unacknowledged or Repressed Emotions
This was one of the biggest sources of inner baggage I’ve found within myself, and observed in others as well. Essentially, avoiding or “putting off” dealing with our emotions is one of the main causes of mental, physical and soulful sickness. When we fail to acknowledge and/or experience our emotions we push them to the back of our minds, leaving them unresolved and festering. The more we make this practice into a habit, the worse our lives are. Often times our relationships suffer greatly, our connection with ourselves withers, and our physical health wanes.
How to Heal: No matter how uncomfortable, how intense or how inconvenient our feeling are, facing our emotions, feeling them and accepting them for what they are is the best way to heal yourself and thus live a more balanced and peaceful life. Facing, feeling and accepting our emotions can be a very difficult thing to do at first, especially if we have got into the habit of pushing these emotions into the background. But any habit is hard to break at first, although with determination and persistence you will learn, like me, that feeling uncomfortable is just as valuable as feeling comfortable in life for it reveals to us places we can work on in our lives.
Source of Emotional Clutter 2# – Grudges
When we hold on to grudges, we hold on to hatred, bitterness and ill will towards others. Understandably, this not only impacts our relationship with the person we hold a grudge against, but it impacts our physiological and psychological health in the long term. Grudges weigh our minds and bodies down like lead – take it from me: serial grudge holder!
How to Heal: Take a moment to ask yourself: “Who do I feel bitterness, anger, or resentment towards?” You could have one person in mind or many – but each grudge will vary in its intensity. The truth about grudges is that they are held against people who we perceive have “wronged us” in some way. Grudges give us a self-righteous sense of satisfaction that we are “good”, “better” or “right” and the other person is “bad”, “worse” or “wrong” in comparison to us. When we hold grudges we do so out of weakness, not strength. Grudges are the inability to forgive others, and forgiveness, as we know, takes a lot of strength! Grudges also stem from our inability to develop understanding for others. They are a result of taking another person’s behavior or words personally, and not seeing into the deeper implications of a person’s actions, e.g. low self-esteem, depression, pent-up anger, bias, assumptions, mistaken beliefs, ignorance, immaturity. Looking beyond the superficial veneer of a person’s words or actions and into what motivated them is a good way of developing forgiveness and moving past grudge holding.
Source of Emotional Clutter 3# – Projection
Projection is basically our tendency to project our feelings, thoughts and beliefs onto other people. So for instance, if I was to get angry at another person for being narrow-minded, this can unconsciously reflect my belief that I am narrow-minded. Another example is disliking a person because you feel they have a personal vendetta against you, when in fact you have a personal vendetta against yourself in the form of self-hatred. Projection is another form of avoidance and denial that replaces our acknowledgment of our weaknesses and flaws, by blaming others who we perceive have these same negative attributes. Projection weighs us down because it fills us up with false beliefs and assumptions about others and contributes to the avoidance of our uncomfortable imperfections.
How to Heal: Asking the question: “Am I feeling insecure around that person/those people?” is a good way to reveal to yourself whether you are projecting or not. If you feel threatened, on guard or judged by another person, chances are you could be projecting. Also, honestly asking yourself: “Do I do the same thing?” in situations where you feel angry or critical of others helps a lot with your process of self-discovery and acceptance. We project onto other people to avoid thoughts and emotions within ourselves which we perceive as too indecent, embarrassing, risky or shameful, so a major part of healing from projection involves the practice of unconditional acceptance. When you work to accept that you are not perfect and this is completely normal, then projection becomes less of an issue for you.
Source of Emotional Clutter 4# – Paranoia/Fear of What Other People Think of You
This has caused more problems in my life than I would care to admit … but I have! However, the truth is that we all tend to care a little too much about what other people think of us. Sometimes, due to low self-esteem, we take this to the extreme and develop phobia-like fears that pervade our everyday lives. Common thoughts related to this style of thinking include: “Are they talking about me?” “Is he/she staring at me?” “He/she probably think I’m _____” “They will probably hate/reject/make fun of me if I ____”. Paranoid and fearful thoughts create emotional clutter because they constantly pollute us with negativity. When we are frequently scared of what other people are saying, thinking or feeling about us, we fail to find silence, stillness and peace within.
How to Heal: One of the most important things to remember about paranoid and fearful thoughts is that they are often unfounded and created out of projections and assumptions. When we work on cultivating self-acceptance that comes from the inside rather than outside, we find that we care less and less about what other people thinkof us, and more about what we think about us. At the end of the day it is also good to remember that no one really, truly knows the real you. Only you experience yourself 100% of the time every day, so what people think, feel or say about you is from their limited understanding of you. Besides, most people are too wound up in their own lives to really give you too much thought!
Emotional minimalism is about paying attention. It is about being conscious of how you feel inside and outside and how this contributes to the quality of your life. There are many more sources of inner clutter which I encourage you to identify in your own life, or share below in the comments. So when you are ready, start your own journey! Emotional minimalism is not pretty or comforting, but it is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself in the long term.