What would happen if you never took out the garbage? Pretty soon, it would become intolerable. Yet it’s all too easy to let the inner detritus of negative thoughts and feelings accrue, building on each other until they create a malodorous mess. Actively cleansing your mind of unnecessary and unhelpful old material can give you a new lease on life and create cranium space for alternate ways of thinking and processing experiences.
Just the way too much clutter actually inhibits the flow of chi (energy) in your home, mental clutter can block the acquisition of new information. In yoga we often talk about the Monkey Mind. The mind’s tendency to jump around like a a little frenzied monkey. One of the major goals of a yoga practice is to quiet the mind and fully inhabit the moment. The more detritus in your brain, the more there is to soothe.
Paradoxically, one sure-fire way to create a more cluttered cranium is to obsess about how awful it is to have unwanted thoughts. There’s nothing horrible about it, it’s simply the way the mind works, taking in all sorts of material whether relevant or irrelevant.
You can start this emotional house cleaning by grabbing a piece of paper. Using the following categories as a starting point, ask yourself if you are harboring any:
Negative thoughts about your:
work, or lack of it
If you find some, and I can’t imagine a person who has none, write them down. Look at them. Thoughts create feelings. Are these thoughts helping you? If not, try the next exercise.
Ask yourself, “What am I feeling now?”
Is it anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, or something else?
When you think “I feel my life is out of control,” or “I feel like a failure,” those are actually thoughts, not feelings.
If you find yourself mistaking thoughts for feelings you can clarify between them by asking:
“When I tell myself my life is out of control or I am a failure, how do I feel?”
Another way to separate a thought from a feeling is to remember there are really only a handful of major negative feelings.
To make things even more complicated, some things that sound like feelings are really physical, not emotional.
When I talk about feelings I am speaking of emotions.
There are even certain words, like boredom, that masquerade as a feeling, and can fool you into thinking you are bored. In fact, boredom is almost always a code word for something else, like loneliness, grief, depression, or anger.
Clearly, it is not always so easy to identify a feeling. The negative ones like anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, and worthlessness make themselves felt fairly strongly.
Once you have identified your negative feeling, ask: “What would be its opposite?”
Allow yourself the opportunity to really think about the 180° opposite and explore what that might feel like. Sometimes, that’s all you need to do to create a major shift. On other days, you may not feel like making the effort to alter your mood. That’s ok. Letting yourself feel your feelings, while remembering they will change, can be just as freeing as actively working to shift them. (You may want to re-read that last line as it’s easy to forget.)
Luckily, once you become aware of the whirlwind of internal thoughts you can usually calm them by putting the focus on your body.
Body Check-in, or Notice and Name: (This technique is also mentioned in the next chapter: Self-Soothing.)
Do a slow body check starting at the crown of your head and working down towards the soles of your feet, or vice-versa. As you navigate your awareness to the various parts of your body ask:
“What am I noticing here? Is it tightness, tension, itchiness, heat, cold, shakiness, expansion, contraction, discomfort, twitchy, or obstructed? Is there pressure, pain, a particular shape, motion, texture, color, heaviness, lightness, buzzing, singing, humming, scents, emptiness, numbness, burning, etc.?”
Once you describe it, just sit with it.
Then, allow whatever is true for you now to be. Breathe into that space as you tell yourself it’s ok. Allow the breath to soften and soothe any tight areas. No agenda, just allowing and watching to see what happens.
If you are feeling particularly open minded, you may want to ask that part what it is trying to tell you. You might ask what it would like from you, or what it wants you to know. (I know this sounds a bit unusual, but it really helps take the focus away from intellectualizing to paying attention to the way your unconscious mind can communicate via your body.)
By taking the time to plumb your depths you can cleanse your inner abode of unhelpful thoughts and feelings. Of course, it’s impossible to do a clean sweep, as nagging thoughts and feelings like to camp out in the nooks and crannies of our body-mind. These exercises, if done regularly, create a dialogue between you and your various parts allowing them to feel increasingly comfortable with the vicissitudes of life.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang