June 2012

Sorting through the Clutter


I recently overheard a real estate broker advising someone who was preparing to sell her home. Beyond the usual items like fresh paint, clean carpets, and attractive window dressings were some recommendations that I hadn’t considered — most notably the advice to reduce clutter. When she mentioned it, I thought yes, that makes sense, since visual clutter might make a prospective new owner fear that their own things wouldn’t fit or would look messy. In this situation, someone might be so discouraged and distracted that they would fail to see the beauty otherwise present in the home.

This got me thinking about other forms of clutter in life. What might occupy my time and attention and be similarly distracting? What keeps me from accomplishing, experiencing, and creating what really matters the most to me? What keeps me from being immersed in beauty?

Perhaps first on the list would be worrying about the past.  While there is surely much to learn from the past, I’m talking here about dwelling on it, indulging in regrets, harbouring grudges — none of this is helpful. In fact, it can stand in the way of experiencing the moment and interacting with people as they presently are.

Similarly, being fretful about the future is distracting. Yes, there is the future to plan for, but this needs to be balanced with being in the present. A friend told me that she’s constantly making mental lists. While watching a movie she’s planning her shopping; while at a concert she’s rehearsing phone conversations; while walking her dog she’s planning her next day. Our brains can multi-task, and sometimes it is efficient to divide our attention. However, presence of mind is needed to achieve balance.

Dwelling on the shortcomings of other people is one of the biggest distractions. Improving my own character and managing my own life is my responsibility. And while I am concerned with the welfare of others, being judgmental is not appropriate. Abdul-Baha has written, “. . . we should seek out our own shortcomings before we presume to condemn the faults of others . . . We must be careful not to exalt ourselves lest we be humiliated.”  Worse yet would be allowing concern with the faults of others to lead to gossip and backbiting, as these acts are harmful to both the speaker and the listener. Baha’u’llah wrote, “. . . backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul.”

My spirit can be diminished and my time wasted in other ways, and some even seem “normal” in our present society. This includes being consumed in materialism. It is indeed a conundrum, because accumulating things and “living the good life” are entrenched in our modern times. The problem arises when this is carried to extremes, where attachment to the material life might overwhelm attention to the more important work at hand, notably spiritual growth, service to others, and the advancement of society.

Now as I look at my schedule, my home and my to-do lists, I am thinking more about what is essential and what really is just clutter. I want to reduce the clutter and the noise; I want to see things more clearly, more simply. This would be a path toward creating and living in beauty.


© Jaellayna Palmer 2012