SO MUCH HAS BEEN SAID in recent years about
the importance of creating a clutter-free outer environment
and the positive energetic benefits of living and working in
clean and organized surroundings.
In my work as a Classical Feng Shui consultant, I have found
this is often the most challenging task I present to my clients,
as there usually is a psychological component connected to their
clutter and their resistance to dealing with it. However, my
excellent Feng Shui teachers did not cover taking a deep look
at the inner dynamics involved, since clutter is one of many
areas of energetic balancing to address during a consultation.
Fortunately I have my Clinical Hypnotherapy training to help
in that regard, as I have been both a student and teacher of
how the mind works for a couple decades. From my professional
experiences, the degree of outer clutter is a direct reflection
of the amount of inner clutter a person holds onto. Getting
a client to tidy up their home and office and throw away or
recycle the massive amount of unnecessary and unused "stuff"
they have accumulated and have a hard time releasing is only
one part of the work to be done; if their inner issues aren't
addressed, and I walk away with payment for Feng Shui services
alone, the clutter is highly likely to build up again.
The same goes with how we use our minds, and whether we have
lots of mental clutter that compulsively directs our choices
and behaviors in a spiritually unproductive and self-absorbed
manner. All the meditation we do is like a feather dusting if
we don't bring in the heavy equipment of eyes wide-open radically
honest self-inquiry and applied mindfulness in order to replace
energy depleting thought patterns with energy enhancing ones.
But as you can easily guess, the resistance to doing that degree
of inner clutter excavation and disposal is even more difficult
than the outer type. If you are human, you know what I am talking
about, as it is a universal experience!
In my studies of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) I learned
the value of framing ideas and concepts in a particular
manner so as to avoid setting off potential triggers and stepping
into egoic landmines that create automatic defensive reactions.
This is truly an art in which I do not claim to be a master
of, but it is very clear to me that because the mind and ego
are so clever, it is of utmost importance to attempt to bypass
resistance to doing personal inner shadow transcendence work
and reframe it in a positive manner - i.e. as a form of selfless
service to collective humanity. This is yet another in a long
list of reasons why I believe
with my entire heart and soul that the Way of the Bodhisattva
- the compassionate Spiritual Warrior/Activist - is such a beautiful
model for anyone living in contemporary society to embrace in
order to hold internally the spirit of something much greater
than the small self and all its quirks and neuroses, and instead
see the journey as a treasure map for changing how we can approach
our deep inner work as a joyful adventure ... instead of an
The thing is, humans by nature would rather travel the path
of ease and comfort, and are therefore drawn to practices where
they can sit back and let someone else do the work - for example,
have someone do energy massage on them, thinking by doing so
all their rough edges will magically go away without even having
to look at them. Or, as many have been told recently, convincing
themselves all they have to do is "intend" their dark
shadows to vanish without even acknowledging each one and taking
responsibility for their own energy field and the impact it
has, and instead expecting to become awakened souls without
lifting a finger. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way; there
is no "instant, effortless enlightenment," no skipping
steps, and the notion we are at the center of all existence
and can control all that comes our way is delusional elitism
at its most extreme.
As Pema Chödrön wrote in her book, The Places
that Scare You - A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times:
A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen
to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking
for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable
and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty.
This not knowing is part of the adventure, and it's also what
makes us afraid.
We can all do the dance of resistance as long as we choose to
do so, but it actually takes more energy to resist than it does
to surrender and just do the work. But because we fear the unknown,
the tendency to use every tool in our bag of tricks (defensiveness,
lying to ourselves, laziness, denial, justification, blame,
procrastination, ignoring, "good excuses", etc.) appears
to be easier and more desirable, when what we are actually doing
is building a deeper and deeper pile of mental clutter to eventually
sort through and be done with, whether it is this lifetime or
But in this time of great need, wasting an incarnation by indulging
in the needs and neuroses of the one (a.k.a. "me me me"
cravings and obsessions) instead of fearlessly transcending
our own mental mishigosh for the benefit of others is, to put
it bluntly, selfish.
One of my favorite teachers, the late Tibetan Buddhist master
Chogyam Trungpa, said this:
We have a fear of facing ourselves. That is the obstacle.
Experiencing the innermost core of our existence is very embarrassing
to a lot of people. A lot of people turn to something that they
hope will liberate them without their having to face themselves.
That is impossible. We can't do that. We have to be honest with
ourselves. We have to see our gut, our excrement, our most undesirable
parts. We have to see them. That is the foundation of warriorship,
basically speaking. Whatever is there, we have to face it; we
have to look at it, study it, work with it and practice meditation
Facing our minds with honesty, humility and fearlessness in
order to acknowledge and transcend our cluttered, inefficient
mental operating system for the positive impact and benefit
it has on all we encounter is called the practice of Bodhichitta
- giving birth to The Awakened Mind. Bodhichitta can only be
actualized by disciplined, attentive, purposeful and passionate
devotion to cultivating unsullied mindfulness along with heart-broken-open
compassion toward all sentient beings, bar none, with no sense
or projection of superiority or desire for personal gain. The
Dalai Lama said. "True compassion is not just an emotional
response but a firm commitment founded on reason. Therefore,
a truly compassionate attitude towards others does not change
even if they behave negatively." However, it is important
to not confuse enablement with compassion, as one of the kindest
and most loving things you can do for another is not enable
their darker tendencies and delusions. The key is employing
"tough love" with calm, assertive softness and great
Living with consciously-chosen, transparent Bodhichitta 24/7
is about paying close attention to our thoughts, choices, actions,
and behaviors with every breath we take, and totally dedicating
ourselves to achieving full spiritual awakening in order to
benefit all sentient beings as impeccably (e.g. the cleanest
use of our energy) as possible. Bodhichitta is sometimes referred
to as the "Wish Fulfilling Jewel," because like a
magic jewel it brings true happiness and spiritual abundance,
beyond the "manifestation" of any self-absorbed transitory
and superficial material desires.
Pema Chödrön says this:
training offers no promise of happy endings. Rather, this "I"
who wants to find security - who wants something to hold on
to - can finally learn to grow up. The central question of a
warrior's training is not how we avoid uncertainty and fear,
but how we relate to discomfort. How do we practice with difficulty,
with our emotions, with the unpredictable encounters of an ordinary
As taught in the Buddhist traditions, there are two levels of
Bodhichitta, aspirational and engaged:
is the humble and pure wish to clear out the clutter of our
inner shadows and delusions for the sole purpose of helping
to lead our fellow human beings toward their own awakened state,
free from suffering. Aspirational Bodhichitta has two stages:
Authentic surrender to selfless service, with no desire for
personal gain or egoic glory.
commitment - never giving up working to be of humble, compassionate
and fearless service to humanity regardless of the degree
or types of challenges this vow may bring forth, including
any sense of helplessness or frustration over outer conditions.
means mindfully and attentively engaging in the practices and
behaviors that bring about Bodhichitta, by
taking the Bodhisattva vows that will move us away from the
spiritually self-destructive thoughts, choices, behaviors and
actions that keep it out of our reach. Our vows are renewed
upon awakening and before we go to sleep, as well as throughout
the day. We pay attention to where our mind goes and the results
it creates inside of our being (either experiencing mental and
emotional equanimity, or experiencing suffering in response
to any situation that crosses our path), and slowly dissolve
our fixation on incessantly spinning our minds over past events
or mentally projected future scenarios.
Teaching the art of developing Bodhichitta is not exclusive
to the Buddhist traditions; many great teachers frame the practice
and its value on the spiritual path with other terminology.
The essence of Bodhichitta is Christ-like love and concern for
anyone who is suffering, including ourselves. Additionally,
cultivating Bodhichitta is about training our minds to run more
efficiently from a spiritual perspective by removing all unnecessary
clutter, and again, many teachers and traditions discuss this
disciplinary practice in varying ways.
For example, A Course In Miracles states, "You
achieve so little because you have undisciplined minds."
A major portion of the book is devoted to showing us that we
do have control over our minds, and that our minds
don't have to be running wild and vulnerable to a myriad of
distractive influences, and we can instead choose to see it
is truly possible to change how we think by engaging in consistent
mindful practice to develop mastery over our habitual and non-productive
master Lao Tzu said, "To the mind that is still, the whole
universe surrenders." We decide what anything
means by our thoughts; once we have experienced the balanced
neutrality of mental stillness and clarity, we are at choice
to create and apply new and more positive meanings to virtually
everything in the Universe.
Don Juan Matus, spiritual mentor of the late Carlos Castaneda,
called the discipline of Bodhichitta as "stopping the world."
He taught that having a cluttered mind that is all over the
place causes you to lose spiritual power, and therefore, your
ability to attain a fully awakened mind. (There is debate as
to whether don Juan really existed or was constructed by Castaneda,
who later in life fell into the traps of fame and power that
many teachers who have not cleared their vulnerability to those
egoic shadows fall into - but regardless, many of the teachings
are extremely valid and useful to those choosing the path of
the Compassionate Spiritual Warrior.)
For anyone who wants to see the outer world change, his or her
inner world must concurrently be transformed, and be transformed
again and again. Playwright George Bernard Shaw said, "Progress
is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their
minds cannot change anything."
Pema Chödrön says this about the power of Bodhichitta:
will inspire and support us in good times and bad. It is like
discovering a wisdom and courage we do not even know we have.
Just as alchemy changes any metal into gold, Bodhichitta can,
if we let it, transform any activity, word, or thought into
a vehicle for awakening our compassion.
So how do we begin to train the mind and cultivate Bodhichitta?
The Dalai Lama says,
We should begin by removing the greatest hindrances to compassion:
anger and hatred. As we all know, these are extremely powerful
emotions and they can overwhelm our entire mind. Nevertheless,
they can be controlled. If, however, they are not, these negative
emotions will plague us - with no extra effort on their part
- and impede our quest for the happiness of a loving mind.
With that understanding in your awareness, let your Process
Journaling exercises this month be about where,
when, why and how you direct anger and hatred toward yourself.
Write down all the times you experience either emotion rise
up within you, what you tell yourself via your negative thoughts,
and what circumstances prompted such strong emotional responses.
Realize that indulging in either volatile emotion directed inwardly
is committing violence against Self, and know that if you want
peace in the outer world, you must create it first in the inner
world. Take some deep meditative breaths (called tonglen,
as described in depth in last month's column) to help you process
this energy away; with each outward breath releasing this Self-destructive
energy, and with each inward breath, bring in the energy of
compassion, forgiveness, patience, and loving kindness. By engaging
in this practice mindfully and consistently, you will begin
to clear out the old mental clutter that impedes your spiritual
growth, and from there, can apply the same technology to where,
when, why and how you direct anger and hatred toward anyone.
Next month, we will go deeper into the practice of cultivating
Suzanne Matthiessen, 2007