This is not going to be a sad story, I promise. But it does start out with the process of going through my parents’ condo after their passing. Oh my goodness, they had a lot of stuff -- functional stuff, beautiful stuff, valuable stuff, stuff filled with memories, stuff to give away, stuff to keep and cherish. What would we do with their sets of china, stacks of books, treasured antique Shabbos lamp, and mementos of their trips to Israel, Turkey, and Morocco?
It occurred to me at the end of one particularly long day of going through things that if I could pick only one keepsake to remember my parents by, it would be the ring my dad gave to my mom many years ago and that she wore every day since. Done. I too would wear that ring every day in their memory.
We carry a lot of other kinds of stuff around with us too. We carry good memories and sad memories, and memories that evolve and change over time. We may inadvisably carry resentments and grudges. We carry lots of good intentions to perform acts of kindness and other mitzvot. We carry joyful moments. We carry love and empathy towards others. And this past year we have been overloaded with worries of many kinds.
What we need now is to declutter our minds and our hearts. But how can we find calm and clarity when confronted with so much clutter in our lives?
One of the keys to decluttering is determining what is truly important. Too often our minds are filled with trivial thoughts, that in the larger scheme of things, don’t serve much purpose. These thoughts and worries can distract us from what is really important.
Now is a particularly good time for us to think about clearing our minds. As we approach Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, our tradition bids us to be introspective, to think about our actions of the past year so that we can go forward with a clear mind and good intentions. Through this process, perhaps we can learn to recognize thoughts we don’t really need and work towards letting them go.
I use a 5- point rating scale to measure “how important is this?” A 5 rating signifies “it’s critical” – think of a tornado coming and I need to let others know to take cover. A 1 rating indicates: “it’s really not worth another thought” – think about the restaurant we wanted to order from being closed tonight, so we need to pick somewhere else. In short, rating the importance of the issue is a way to let go of less important thoughts.
“Self-talk is another way to declutter. I often hold up my hands in a zen-like yoga pose and say out loud, “Let it Go.” Since the movie Frozen uses this as its theme song, I might sing a few lines from it together with my younger clients.
Often people tell me that they are holding on to a comment, in person or on email, which was slightly offensive to them. We all know that especially with email, it can be hard to read the tone, and words can be misconstrued. I might ask them, “Can you make a conscious choice to not over-interpret the words or the tone and let it go? Instead, choose to focus on all the positive interactions you have enjoyed in a given day.”
Being out in nature is another way to make space in one’s mind. I spend a lot of time walking in my neighborhood, and I’m always noticing the beautiful hydrangea, spirea, and the variety of flowers.The colors are vibrant and beautiful against the green of the plants, trees, and grass. Nature is kind of magical--it is peaceful and quiet, it happens without us, it is bigger than we are…and that is what makes it so special and grounding.
So pack up a few bags of your stuff to donate them to Good Will, and on your drive over, turn on your favorite station and sing along to a favorite song. Fill your mind and heart with easy thoughts and the good melodies of life. And don’t let the stuff get you down.