Tips for Taking Out Your Mental Trash
My relationship with my own mind has never been an easy one.
Conditions can get toxic in there in no time flat.
As I wrestle with my mind moment by moment, I lose precious time and energy….time and energy I need to be doing other things.
I am aware of this loss, of course. It feels sort of the same way I imagine it might feel if I only had 10 minutes of oxygen left to breathe. Every moment is precious, missed. Every breath is both cherished and regretted, because that is one more breath I can never get back.
The same holds true with my mental battles. As I sit down to work on one writing project, for example, I might notice my mind has designated certain brain cells to move on ahead to the next writing project.
The cells that are assigned to the current moment’s writing project are trying their best to focus, but it isn’t easy given that the cells assigned to the next-in-line writing project are issuing a never-ending series of “hurry ups.”
So the two groups of brain cells inevitably get into it. While they are wrangling, no writing projects – current or future – are getting anyone’s attention. Any writing that does get done is sub-par and has to be re-done (or abandoned, depending on where we are in procrastination versus deadlines on any given day).
It is very frustrating.
At the end of the day, I have lots of what I call “mental garbage” to sift through. If I am too tired to do it that night, it will wait…patiently…for the following morning when I have planned to do my usual morning meditation.
The moment I settle myself to meditate, all that mental garbage queues up, each jostling for position based on how important it thinks it is.
And another destroyed day begins to unfold.
It is like this until a showdown is inevitable. I have to take my mind to task, and my mind knows it, and unlike me, it is always willing to get into it for what it thinks is a good cause.
Meditation on these mornings is never easy. There is the baggage from yesterday’s mental garbage, of course, and then there is the baggage already building up in the present moment as the day’s opportunities and obstacles are lining up for their own turn to be considered.
My challenge is to sink into a sufficiently deep (as in open, non-judgmental, receptive, impersonal) space to sort it all out.
When I can do this – and believe me it is not every day – I have the opportunity to do something I call “taking out my mental trash.”
When I can descend (ascend?) into a state with some degree of detachment present, I find it is surprisingly easy to determine what needs or deserves my attention and what does not. I also find it much easier to tell the difference between authentic concerns and the kind of time-wasting worries that only get indulged when there is time to waste.
In the space of 20 or 30 minutes, days or weeks (or sometimes months) of mental trash get sorted and taken out to their respective destinations.
There is compost – this is the kind of mental trash that was useful to take a second look at.
There is recyclables – this type of mental trash may even have a second life in its ability to make shorter work of future worries and obstacles.
And then there is waste – the stuff that goes straight to the great landfill in the sky (which hopefully is better equipped to dispose of it than our landfills are here on earth).
For me (just in case you like examples like I do), an example of compost might be stewing over a memory that arose about a friendship that dissolved a few years ago. The decision was mine, it was a very hard one, it still causes pain sometimes, especially when I am reminded of that person by something.
So here, I go back to the decision I made one more time, check in with myself, reaffirm I still agree with the decision for reasons A through Z, grieve a little bit more, and then take out the trash.
An example of recyclables might be my worries about my neighbor’s loud television. He likes to open his screen door when the weather is nice, but he also likes to leave his television on all day, every day. I’ve spoken to him twice about it, and the volume has gone down. But it hasn’t gone off (nor has the screen door stayed closed, even when – which is common – he isn’t even in the same room with the television).
So when I start feeling overwhelmed by life, it is easy to notice the low-grade noise coming from just across the lawn. This noise interferes with my ability to hear nature, which is a significant benefit I reap by working from home, and working outside on nice days.
I can let this noise ruin even the prettiest days if I let it. Why is he so insensitive? Why won’t he just turn it OFF? Why do some people have to have “people noise” going 24/7? Why do I keep running into this in every place I live? And so on and so forth.
This provides me with a valuable opportunity to revisit the past awfulness of noise and how I’ve handled it, and how each new place where I live presents the same challenge that clearly I haven’t dealt with in a sufficiently effective way yet, or it wouldn’t keep coming up again and again.
Here, I still don’t have any real answers. I still have to decide whether to speak with my neighbor (who is also my landlord) a third time about the matter, risking an argument or flat-out refusal, or to keep quiet and make my peace with not having the peace and quiet I want and need.
This mental trash goes in the recyclables bin, because I’m not done with it yet but I’m clearly stuck, and I’ve run out of time to worry about it any more for the moment (or the noise has temporarily abated because my neighbor has left the house or finally shut the door, so I am off the hook for a bit).
Finally, there is landfill waste. This trash is typically so obvious – like I am mad about something some celebrity did which I think is dumb or tasteless, or somebody I don’t know well made an ambiguous remark I don’t know how to interpret, or I remember something mean someone said to me 20 years ago and start getting worked up about it all over again.
This stuff may not feel low grade when it pops up, but upon deeper examination, it clearly isn’t worth the mental space and energy it is asking me to pony up. So I ditch it, bag it, tie it and lug it out to the great landfill in the mental cosmos. And I hope it stays there (although I have discovered that with mental landfill waste at least, there are never any guarantees).
My mental trash sorted and appropriately disposed of, I can proceed to more peaceful meditation matters or, if time demands, get up and start my day feeling like I’m really beginning a brand new day rather than just re-living all of yesterday’s worries and angst.
Today’s Takeaway: Do you have a process for sorting through and resolving the things that can clutter up your mind? What helps you to calm your mind down when it has gotten itself all worked up over whatever oh-so-compelling matters have captured its attention yet again?
Cutts, S. (2018). Tips for Taking Out Your Mental Trash. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 26, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/2018/03/taking-out-your-mental-trash/