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Delving into Distraction

January 5, 2012

During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, I started to clean out the clutter from my life. At least, I tried to. I feel the need to purge clutter at least twice a year. Often, it comes after intense periods of stress and long hours of work. While dealing with stress and work, I don’t have as much time to cull through the minutia that come into my life and it ends up piled around me. Eventually, these piles start to press in on me, making me feel even more out of control than I already am.

As I was quickly sorting through a stack of papers on how to improve my life (clearly printed during a particularly stressful time), I realized that even when I had time, I would never actually read the materials or fill out the worksheets that came with them. And even if I did, I wouldn’t internalize the real messages in these pieces. The pages were, at best, a distraction from what was really bothering me.

As I looked around, I realized that I surround myself with a lot of distractions. Articles and magazines that I’ll never find time to read, computer games that I don’t really have the time or patience to play, craft projects that I’ll never start, let alone complete. I’ve read enough to know that people tend to collect (hoard) things when they are avoiding something. People do the same thing with food (eat to avoid feelings). And work (toil away so that they don’t have time to examine something they don’t like in their lives). And shopping. And drugs. And alcohol. And …

Well, the list could go on and on.

The bottom line is that when you surround yourself with lots of stuff, it’s often little more than an ineffective balm to cover something deeper. The funny thing is that based on all of the books I’ve read on topics like decluttering your life, I knew this little tidbit, but I never really seemed to know it about myself. Essentially, I could intellectualize the information (“I clearly have too much stuff because I am trying to fill a void left by some unfulfilled need.”), but I only recently had the real awakening that genuinely connected the dots for me (“Damn! I’m really trying to avoid something here.”).

This shouldn’t surprise me. I understand the difference between knowing something intellectually and knowing it emotionally. You can read information in a book, but until you can connect with those facts on an emotional level, you’ll never change. Knowledge is an important component, but it really only represents about 10 percent of the equation. The rest is the ability to internalize the knowledge and the willingness to act on it.

This is the problem with so many of the self-help books: people often learn a lot about pop psychology by reading them, but rarely act on the information because they can’t equate it with their lives or their actions or their beliefs. A person can read all the books in the world and fill out numerous worksheets on problems, but they will never really make a change until they are ready — or they are so uncomfortable with their lives that they have to change. In other words, they have to come to it on their own.

But I digress (just call it my little distraction from the topic of distraction).

Interestingly, this flash of insight came just a couple of days before I read the Jan. 2 entry in “The Book of Awakening.” In it, author Mark Nepo relates a story about a friend who filled his arms with paint supplies and then tried to open a door without putting anything down. Just when he thought he had it, he lost his grip on the door, fell and ended up covered in red paint. Nepo’s lesson from this was:

“We do this with our love, with our sense of truth, even with our pain. It’s such a simple thing, but in a moment of ego we refuse to put down what we carry in order to open the door. Time and again, we are offered the chance to truly learn this: We cannot hold on to things and enter. We must put down what we carry, open the door, and then take up only what we need to bring inside.”

This clutter, this stuff, these projects keep me too burdened to open the next door in my life. They offer convenient excuses at times as to why I can’t do something.

So, the big question is: What’s behind the door that I’m holding myself back from?

From → Balance

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