Complexity of Simplicity, part 4

This is the final reflection in my series on this topic.

Unstuffing the Mind

The last part of our unstuffing process may be one of the most difficult for many reading this, because it involves actions and results that are far less concrete, with results that are usually not as immediate (as opposed to clearing your house of unnecessary and/or unused stuff). It does, however, follow the same basic principles as the other two processes: becoming aware of the problem, figuring out the root of the problem, educating yourself on alternatives, and taking action to create a plan and put your plan into work.

The basic problem is this: our daily inward experience is overwhelmed by the barrage of outward, unnecessary stimuli and concern. In this case, I’m not talking about stimuli like the television or radio; rather, the stimuli of worry, of self-deprecation, of competition with others, of vanity…basically, of junk!

We clutter our minds with things that do us no long term good, and when we feel like our minds our full of these experiences, we shove things into shadowed corners where they can reside in the dark, forgotten until the most inconvenient moment. Imagine the phenomenon of the garage, attic, or basement that becomes “the clutter room,” and then apply the same principle to your daily consciousness. No wonder we feel so tired and battered by this world! We’re holding on to the wrong stuff.

For help with how to free ourselves of unnecessary mental clutter, I will first turn to a source that has far greater wisdom than I: the Bible. In Matthew, 6:25-34, Jesus tells us that we should not fixate ourselves on worldly concerns. The one that always strikes me is the line where he tells us not to worry about what we should wear. He’s right; the function of clothes is to protect and warm our bodies, but we’ve put such a different emphasis on their place in our lives. There’s a whole industry devoted to how clothes look! Jesus’ line, “[Is not] the body more than clothing?” reminds us that our worries about whether or not we are in fashion are, in fact, not where our attention should be focused.

Is this because fashion is evil or sinful? No, of course not–rather, the problem is that we end up wasting too much energy on what to wear and where to buy it and how much to spend on it and who will see us in it. It distracts us for the awareness that there are people, probably in the very same city that we live in, that only have one outfit, and their greatest concern is far from fashion. It makes our emphasis inward, not outward. It shifts our focus to ourselves, our own emotions, our own relevance and impression to the world, and in doing so creates judgment in our own minds on those who don’t live up to the same standards. It forces our energy to be directed toward ourselves instead of expanding out into the world — and when this happens, in the process of shutting out the world, we also inadvertently shut out God. So, in short, it’s not the fashion that’s sinful; it’s the mindset and the mental process that develops as a result of our emotional investment in it.

But how we appear to the outside world isn’t the only way we stuff our minds. We also stuff it with needless worry, even though Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow! I was recently talking to someone who told me that she stays up through the night, tossing and turning, because she can’t stop worrying about the economy and terrorism and the war and what’s going to happen next. Worry had taken over and become an obsession, demanding all of her mental attention and focus.

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be concerned about what is happening in the world around us; after all, it’s our responsibility to be well-informed so that we can work actively toward justice when necessary. But to worry to the point of distraction (or obsession) is to fool yourself into believing that you have more power than you actually do. Worrying doesn’t control or even affect an outcome. Rather, it drains our energy and forces us (once again) to be self-focused, and driven inward. Remember the serenity prayer? The one about accepting the things you cannot change, changing the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference? That’s a really good prayer to assist in unstuffing your worry…especially the last line.

There are so many other things we stuff our minds with unnecessarily, and I can’t go into each and every one of them here, but your conscience can help you understand which ones are really distracting you. Acknowledging the things you really struggle with is the best way to start the process of free yourself and opening yourself to the simple and marvelous freedom of God’s comfort and ever-loving care. Pray for the courage to see it and to simply be aware of it. The rest usually comes when you’re ready.

I think the most important things to remember in the process of unstuffing your mind are these:

(1) Reflect honestly about the various things that fill your consciousness throughout the day. How much of it is energy that is pointed inward instead of outward? How much of it leads to no good outcome? How much of it drains your energy, makes you sad, makes you feel resentful, or boosts your ego? This is the clutter we want to get rid of. This is where simplification can open up the space for God’s movement and an appreciation of your own Imago Dei.

(2) Once you have made yourself aware of what your particular unnecessary “stuff” is, ask yourself what you could do to redirect your energy when you find yourself fixating on it. Prayer? Volunteering? Meditation? Daily Mass? Playing with your children? A little hint here: a good redirecting process will always expand your energy outward, not keep you fixated inward. Therefore, calling a girlfriend and “venting” about all of the things you’re worried about is not a good redirecting activity; you’d still be fixating on it and keeping the energy self-focused.

These two questions are a good place to start when trying to rid your mind of unnecessary junk. In truth, it’s the same principle as unstuffing your house or unstuffing your schedule. You have to make room for some empty space–otherwise, God won’t have room to get in. Simplification is about so much more than making a budget, making room, making time, or creating calm. It’s about opening up a space for God. It’s about preparing yourself to host the most beautiful guest you could ever imagine. It’s about ridding ourselves of the unnecessary so we can recognize and honor the Most Necessary.

Quite simply (no pun intended), it’s about truly honoring our role as a temple, a holy dwelling place. It’s about honoring God with what God deserves….the beautiful creation of the authentic us, unadulterated, undistracted, unattached. Us.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by ProudHusband on September 19, 2008 at 10:03 am

    My darling,
    What a wonderful series of posts for this week! I have found them to be so compelling that I’ve been looking forward to reading them every day. I love to see the little seeds planted from our many discussions beginning to germinate in this lovely garden you’ve made. Keep praying, keep thinking, and never stop writing.
    Your loving husband


  2. Posted by ProudHusband on September 19, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Also thought you might like to include the following link to Just Living, 14-step process to guide one to a life lived more simply and in solidarity with the poor:


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