“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.” -Albert Einstein
Each day between Dec 26 and Jan 1, fellow teacher, writer, and friend Patti Digh and I are hosting The Week of Inward Looking. Each day, a new question from a wonderful teacher. Today’s contemplation is from Andrew Mellen, aka “VIrgoman” and it is about being organized.
This may not sound super spiritual, but believe me, it is. Once I had the great good fortune to spend several days with a senior coach who trained with the wonderful David Allen, author of the amazing book, “Getting Things Done.” Believe me, although it’s ostensibly about getting your work life organized, it is as much about getting your mind organized as anything else—which, not surprisingly, has tremendous spiritual value.
So this was a few years ago. This woman, Meg, came to my office and sat with me for two solid days. We touched every single thing in my office, every piece of paper, every book, every cord, every email, and assigned it a place or married it to an outcome. Now, I will never forget this. My email inbox was empty. All the broken stuff in my office had been tossed or sent out for repair. I knew what everything in my file cabinets was and why it was there. There were no piles of anything, nothing was buried, every single thing has been relegated to something: something to do, something to keep, something to give away, something to toss. At the end of day two, I was driving home and was suddenly overwhelmed by as great a feeling of joy and well-being as I’ve ever experienced. Seriously. It was a kind of ecstasy. Because my mind wasn’t occupied with bits and pieces, it could rest. It was heavenly. Love you, Meg!! Call me!!
All this goes to say that becoming “organized” is about much more than making beautiful lists or finally finding the perfect organizer (although if you know what it is, do tell…this is my secret obsession…). It is about uncovering whatever has been stashed into a messy pile, looking at it, and making a decision about it (even if the decision is that you don’t know what to do with it). As much as any gesture you can make, this, looking clearly at your material environment, is an act of fearlessness.
Often, we keep things in a state of messiness because we’re too afraid to look. This can occur metaphorically or literally. (I am ridiculously familiar with this approach.) One place to begin cleaning up our messes is not with the multitude of psychological issues we may have to deal with, but with the physical environment itself. Sure, clearing up inner issues changes your outer life, but it can also work the other way around.
Once, my teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, said that if you can’t pick your clothes up off the floor, it’s kind of unlikely you’ll become enlightened. This isn’t because you’ve been bad. I think what he meant was when we live in a mess, we lose our sense of grace. We lose confidence. Confidence in yourself is essential to progress along the path.
Here is Rinpoche’s formula for creating confidence, which dovetails so beautifully with Andrew’s very soulful approach to organizing.
1. Clean up your space. This imparts a sense of dignity. Andrew’s question very much falls into this first category.
2. Wear nice clothes. Ditto—imparts dignity. “Nice” does not mean expensive, btw. It means clean. Well-fitting. Pleasing to you.
3. Eat good food. Doesn’t necessarily mean gourmet or even good-for-you cuisine. Means fresh, high quality, well-prepared.
4. Spend time with people who increase your energy. Self-explanatory.
5. Spend time in the natural world. Ditto. Reminds you of the inner, timeless meaning of confidence, grace, and elegance.
So, without further ado, here is Question #3 from The Week of Inward Looking. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s question (on serving) from the joyful and beautiful Jennifer Louden. If you like, you can post your answer in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
When I look back over 2011 and think about how time, choices and objects have been organized, do I see harmony and ease? Did I seek out the natural place for things to land and rest? Where did I struggle to force things into literal or figurative containers? Do I recognize the order in the universe and see my life reflected in that order?
Organization is about recognizing what ‘enough’ looks like and feels like; about holding things loosely while learning deep appreciation for the comfort, convenience, beauty and functionality that objects offer. When I clutch, grab, or hold something too closely or tightly, instead of creating a feeling of safety and security, what grows is a sense of anxiety and fear—that the object will break, be lost or
assert its impermanence in some other way.
Possession often hastens the outcome I hoped to prevent.
The things I intended/expected to increase the quality of my life begin distracting me from that quality.
What can I do in 2012 to move through time and space more harmoniously, recognizing that everything I need is within easy reach? How best can I release those things that no longer serve me (on any plane) to find new homes more suited to their purpose? How might I increase joy in equal or greater measure to my worldly accumulation? —Andrew Mellen
Of course, a meditation practice is the direct route to establishing order, inside and out. Please sign up for The Open Heart Project to receive meditation instruction.