“A collection of things lying about in an untidy mass.”Oxford Dictionary
I’m thinking about my relationship with things.
I’m thinking about my relationship with both material and psychological things. Material things are pretty straightforward. My wetsuit, for example, is a material thing. My electric tea kettle is a material thing. The toilet I still haven’t gotten around to fixing is a material thing. But what’s a psychological thing? For me, psychological things are a bit like ideas. The idea, for example, that you should contribute something to society, that’s a psychological “thing.” The idea that you should get married and get a job and have kids, that’s a psychological “thing.” The idea that owning a car is normal, that’s a psychological “thing.”
Basically, anytime something you’re doing (or not) isn’t in harmony with something you’re thinking, it becomes a psychological thing. All the things you “should” be doing, losing weight, exercising more, but you’re not because you’re a lazy scab on the otherwise healthy flesh of society, those are all psychological “things.”
And then, of course, we have material things. My aforementioned wetsuit was the first example. This is an important thing. It allows me to do the activity I love most and not freeze to death and have my body discovered in the Strait of Juan de Fuca by some confused deckhand from Guangzhou on a container ship. My boat is another thing. A big thing, as it also happens to be my home. It’s 27 foot long of pure laboratory grade ecstacy. Though right now it’s cold as scrotum because the weather has decided to turn cold and I haven’t yet bought a heater, yet another “thing.”
Your narrative about yourself and how you fit in in the world is another thing. Here’s a narrative I’ve tended to have about myself: I’m too good for the working world, too good for the rat race, and at the same time I’m a lazy sack of you know what because I haven’t worked in more than a year, I’m not fulfilling my potential, I’ve never had a long-term relationship, my diet could be better, everything could be better, etc etc etc.
These are all psychological “things.”
And not exactly the healthiest “things.”
They are also, ultimately, an illusion. They exist in my mind and possibly in the minds of others, but they exist nowhere else. They are not facts, they are simply ways of interpreting things that are facts. But there are always myriad ways to interpret things. The way you interpret them and tell them to yourself and others becomes your “narrative.” The narrative others have of you is dependent on the one you have of yourself, and not the other way around. The world sees you how you see yourself, as my semi-deranged (but also possibly brilliant) Peruvian former professor once said.
Keeping with pyschological things we also have the world of decisions. Decisions, I would argue, are psychological “things.” The decision of whether or not to have that afternoon cup of coffee you want so bad because you’re a gluttonous wretch but that you know will keep you up at night thinking about whether your daughter Penelope is in the right daycare, that’s a psychological thing. The decision of whether or not to go skiing this weekend when you so desperately want to shred the slopes but aren’t sure you can afford it on your administrative assistant (see: secretary) salary, that’s another thing. These things add up and clutter our brains, making it harder to think. Or better put, we spend our whole day thinking about these things, these illusions.
The antidote is to start seeing these things as things, as useless clutter, rather than giving them the importance we give them. You can do this through meditation, through playing sports or other activities that put you into the infamous state of “flow,” and through ketamine (kidding!!!). Your narrative about yourself doesn’t cease to exist when you identify it as a narrative, but it may begin to lose some of the credence you give to it. And when it loses some of the credence you give to it, it may lose some of the credence others give to it as well.
Here are some ways I cut down on my mental clutter:
1) I cut down on caffeine.
Caffeine makes me anxious. Anxiety is like stepping into a room full of clutter, and when you lift your arm to start cleaning you knock something over and suddenly have even more to clean, and even more, and even more.
2) I meditate.
Let me be real specific here: I observe my breath and observe my thoughts. I don’t go into some trance where the Buddha inhabits my sternum and rids me of dukkha.
3) I go on long walks.
I’m talking long. Screw your 10,000 steps.
4) I create.
Writing this blog or just writing in general helps me cut down on mental clutter because it takes some of the clutter and puts it on the page in all of its gory majesty. I also play the piano, which for me is also creating, albeit guided by the ghosts of Chopin and other composers.
This last one is huge. By creating you’re in a sense bringing more physical clutter into the world, but freeing yourself of mental clutter. There, these words are on the page now. You deal with them.
The thing I haven’t worked out yet is when these strategies to reduce clutter end up being clutter themselves. Where does spirituality end, for example, and psychological materialism begin? I don’t have the answer to that. At least not yet. But when you berate yourself for not meditating, for example, or not downward dogging 80 minutes a day, or not working out right after you get off work at Amazon, that’s mental clutter. There has to be acceptance on some level. You are not perfect, nor will you ever be. You are not objectively beautiful. You not a hotshot, or a loser. You are not a somebody or a nobody. All those things are just mental constructs.
All those things are just…