February 9, 2020

Decluttering My Mind

Recently I read an article by well-known minimalism blogger Courtney Carver called Anti-Procrastination Decluttering Challenge: 10 Spaces, 10 Minutes, 100 Items. I already live a fairly minimalist lifestyle so there wasn’t a whole lot from the list that jumped out at me as “must do this now” except one thing: decluttering your head space.

Here’s what Courtney suggested (number 9 on her list): What’s swirling around up there? Write down 10 things that are on your mind, weighing you down, and preventing you from thinking clearly. The simple process of moving your worries from brain to paper will help you figure out the next step. That one leapt off the page and hit me smack between the eyes.

In the past months, I’ve had things swirling around in my head and weighing me down, so I’m grateful that Courtney extended the invitation to get them out of my head and into full view. Some of these things are personal to me while others are global in nature. Regardless, they’ve all been impacting the way I feel.

My Ten Things

Climate change – It’s real and it’s a threat. In fact, except for the possibility of nuclear war, climate change may be the gravest threat we face. However, we aren’t acting like it is, and I, along with most of the population, need a good swift kick in the ass. Seriously, how many of you are taking any real action? Are you doing any of the four things that most substantially decrease your carbon footprint: eating a plant-based diet, avoiding air travel, living car-free, and having smaller families? I’m guilty of doing next to nothing to tackle climate change. Instead, I wait for the rest of the general populace to rise up in a groundswell of action so that I don’t have to inconvenience myself. However, there are too many people like me, and that’s the problem.

Career – Last week my blog post tackled the topic of feeling unfulfilled and signs that we are. I work to make a living and pay the bills. Most of us do. I’m lucky to have a job that pays well and has great benefits attached. I’ll also have a nice pension when I retire. I don’t love my job but let me tell you, I could be doing a lot worse, and in fact, I have. Saying all that, however, I know I’ve settled for comfort and predictability. There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but when we settle, there’s always a nagging sense of dissatisfaction. In June of last year, I wrote two blog posts: Lessons from a Retreat and The Path Not Taken. Both posts addressed that very thing. As I re-read them, I realize I haven’t followed my own advice. Instead, I’ve turned to distractions to cope with existential angst. It’s time to smarten up.

Extreme ideologies – I dislike certain ideologies that have wormed their way into modern discourse. Ideologues align themselves with abstract principles and beliefs and fail to understand the complexity of human life. That’s why we hear things like poor people are lazy, men are sexist, conservative thinkers are idiots, social progressives are airheads, and immigrants are drains on society. Too much of today’s political thinking fails to address the complexity of our situations and instead leads to character assassinations and simplistic chatter.

Aging – I’m grateful I’ve lived this long, and I hope to live longer. After all, I have things to do. But I still haven’t completely come to terms with one of the side effects of making it to my fifties: the aging process. The gray hair making its appearance doesn’t bother me at all. However, I don’t like the facial lines, the crepey neck skin, and the body parts heading south. Part of me feels shallow admitting this because I know there are people who would gladly take on a face full of wrinkles in exchange for a few more years of living, and there are so many things that are much more important. That said, a lot of other people must feel the same way because billions of dollars are being spent on cosmetic procedures every year.

Large-scale conflict – There are a lot of us on the planet, and boy, we aren’t doing a great job of getting along. Sadly, that’s been the case for time immemorial. If you think about your own internal conflicts and conflicts within families, work environments, and institutions, it’s no wonder we’re dealing with the larger-scale issues. Nuclear war remains a threat. Climate change, cyber dependence, and income disparity are beginning to have a huge impact on a world that is already strained. In addition to what I already mentioned, there are other reasons for this level of conflict which are many and complex: personality differences, contrasting moral views, polarized thinking, ego and greed to name a few. I know it’s not this simple, but at what point are we going to start living the Golden Rule? We’re the only species whose deliberate actions will result in our own demise.

Substance abuse – We are a society that relies on all sorts of mood-altering drugs to get through the day. For alcohol alone, the statistics on consumption are startling. More and more people are engaging in high-risk drinking and are dealing with alcohol use disorder (whether they admit it or not). Globally, alcohol consumption causes 2.8 million premature deaths per year. Alcohol is considered a Group 1 carcinogen, so that drink or two that you’re knocking back every day is increasing your risk of cancer, and for women, breast cancer in particular. Why am I picking on alcohol? Because drinking is socially acceptable even if it’s ruining lives and killing people. Often the only reason people will accept your not drinking is if you say you’re an alcoholic or pregnant. I’ve had some bad experiences with alcohol, mostly in my younger days. After not drinking for 15+ years, a couple of years ago I started having a glass or two of wine every night. Recently, I stopped. I’ll talk about that in a future blog post.

Cruelty – The Holocaust, Rwandan genocides, rape, torture, misogyny, animal abuse…the list goes on. Human beings have a huge capacity for cruelness, and we see it play out all the time. We dehumanize certain segments of the population. We want to punish. We lose control. We desire sex, money, power, or any other myriad of things and go to extremes to get them. I’ve read some scary research that any of us, in the right circumstances, are capable of cruelty as much as we might argue to the contrary. And really, to what end? We’re all going to die so nothing we’ve gained through cruel actions is going to matter anyway. Paul Bloom, a psychology professor at Yale, says this: Ultimately, we need better ideas, better ideologies. We need a culture less obsessed with power and honour and more concerned with mindfulness and dignity. That’s the best we can do to quell our appetites for dominance and punishment.

Mistakes – Writing my memoir is proving to be a healing and disturbing experience. Having to go back and relive certain things in order to create a meaningful story has meant revisiting dark periods in my life that I’d just as soon forget. It’s also meant that I’ve had to think about the mistakes I’ve made and poor decisions I’ve taken. Granted, everything I’ve done has added up to who I am now, and thankfully, by shining a light on my past, I’ve been able to see it all as part of my story. Still, this work has re-opened old wounds and caused me discomfort to the point that I’ve taken a break so that I can get some distance and clarity. I’ll be back at it, though, and know I’ll be grateful for engaging in such a life-affirming process.

Poverty – There are so many reasons for poverty and laziness isn’t one of them. They include things like lack of education, unemployment, illiteracy, overpopulation, epidemics, environmental problems, inequality of opportunity, poor governance, corruption, and mental illness. I’m sure there are many more. Here are some sobering statistics for you:

  • Almost half the world – over 3 billion people – live on less than $2.50 a day.
  • The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world’s 7 richest people combined.
  • Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
  • Less than one percent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.
  • 1 billion children live in poverty (1 in 2 children in the world). 640 million live without adequate shelter, 400 million have no access to safe water, 270 million have no access to health services. 106 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (or roughly 29,000 children per day).

Is that messed up or what? I know as individuals, we can’t solve all these problems, but every one of us should be demanding better. And each and every one of us needs to look at how we might be contributing to the issue, because in the web of life, we are all connected, and what we do (or don’t do) impacts more than we can imagine.

Relationships – I’ve done a decent job of messing up a few relationships in my life: friendships, marriage, and working relationships. There are many reasons for this, and I’d like to think I wasn’t the only guilty party, because as the saying goes, “It takes two.” However, I’m taking responsibility for my part in relationship breakdowns. I’m also guilty of not fully investing myself in many of my relationships which is something I need to think about. Long-term relationships of any kind are difficult to maintain. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. Sometimes we need to break off certain relationships for the sake of our health, well-being, and dignity. Other times, we need to work harder on them. Either way, it’s not easy.

I’ve been writing about the downside of things lately. I guess that’s where my mind is right now. However, rather than distract myself with unhealthy behaviours, I’m taking someone’s advice and spending more time sitting, letting things come up, and simply being with them. This often means facing unsettling thoughts and difficult realities, but the positive is that being receptive and willing to tackle issues head-on can lead to a greater sense of awareness and inner peace.

Now that I’ve shared some of the things that have been cluttering my mind, I hope you might consider examining your own headspace. As Courtney Carver said, What’s swirling around up there? Think about it, talk about it, write about it. Bring what’s weighing you down into your awareness so that you can start doing something about it. That’s my plan moving forward.

NOTE: I’m taking a vacation. My next blog post will be March 1. See you then!