Every time I open a drawer in my son's nursery, I feel a little burst of joy. All the sleepers neatly rolled, the bibs folded and lined up next to each other so I can see the fun pattern on each one. It looks entirely different than it did three months ago when the contents were all stacked (or piled) on top of each other. Dressing my ten-month-old is more efficient and more fun. Thank you, Marie Kondo.
Some of the biggest messes in my life have not been in drawers or closets though. The truly ugly and dysfunctional messes have been the ones on the inside — the ones in my head.
I lost my 16-month-old son in May of 2017, and as you can imagine, the experience took its toll. My head was full of terrifying, debilitating thoughts as can often be the case after loss or trauma. I was certain it was my fault. I was certain I'd live in fear for the rest of my life. I thought sadness would follow me everywhere I went. The guilt and shame and worry were overwhelming and I needed a way to let them go.
We all have deeply held beliefs about ourselves and the world that shape how we live.
You have hopefully never experienced such a loss, but we are all bombarded with countless thoughts every day. While we make coffee, eat lunch, read to our children, we have an ongoing 'mental chatter' that plays in the background. We waste a lot of energy on useless thoughts.
Spiritual teacher Eckart Tolle writes, "about 80 to 90 per cent of most people's thinking is not only repetitive and useless,... much of it is also harmful. Observe your mind and you will find this to be true. It causes a serious leakage of vital energy."
We all have deeply held beliefs about ourselves and the world that shape how we live. Sometimes we hold on to grudges, live with regrets, are repeatedly paralyzed by the same fear — the list of thoughts and beliefs that we can identify with is long and not pretty, and many times we aren't even aware of how much power we are giving these thoughts.
Marie Kondo teaches that when you want to sort through your clothing, you need to get it all out of every closet and storage bin and create one pile on the bed. You need to be able to see it all for what it really is.
We can do this with our thoughts as well, and it's powerful.
After I lost Brody, I started blogging about many of the thoughts and fears I was struggling with. I didn't know why at first, but over time, I began to see how crucial it was to my healing. It was my way of pulling thoughts out from dark corners and piling them all on the bed.
Of course, we don't all need to start blogging, but there are other powerful ways to "Marie Kondo" your mind. We can write our deepest thoughts and beliefs down or speak them all into an audio recorder, or share them with a therapist. The key is to acknowledge those insidious voices in your head, to shine a light on them, to describe them with tangible words and to keep them from growing in the shadows.
To heal myself, I wrote out all my terrifying, debilitating thoughts — lie after lie, fear after fear. For months, I consistently took the time to sit at my laptop and put physical words to the voices in my head. Not only was I combating shame, but I was cultivating the incredibly powerful practice of choosing one thought over another.
I could look at what I'd written and I could ask myself (in a way that was not possible when everything was just in my head): are these thoughts serving me well? Are these ideas true, lovely, helpful or worthy of my time? As Marie Kondo puts it, is this bringing me joy?
If the answer was no (and it was so often no) then I had a choice. I could believe that the thought was part of me, that I needed it, or I could let it go.
If, like me, you have some long-held beliefs or new-found fears you need to purge, here are some of the ways I let go of the heavy clutter in my head.
Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself because, as Nelson Mandela reminds us "Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies." This is truly the most important step to peace with yourself and others. Let go of bitterness, anger and resentment. Recognize that they are not bringing you joy and practice forgiveness.
Live in the moment
I think we all want to enjoy what's right in front of us, but how can we do that fully when we're worried about the future or regretting the past? It changed my life when I realized that there was nothing that has happened in my past that can keep from being fully present. This is not to say that I will ever forget Brody, not at all, but I believe I can celebrate his memory instead of letting it hang over me like a cloud.
Share your story
In Brene Brown's book, Daring Greatly, she writes "the act of not discussing a traumatic event ... could be more damaging than the actual event. Conversely, when people shared their stories and experiences, their physical health improved."
When you share your story and communicate your ugly thoughts, it can have the incredible effect of stripping their power in your life. Remember, this is not you asking others to feel sorry for you or to change for you. This is the powerful exercise of confessing that you do not want lies to run your life anymore and you do not want to hide in fear that others won't love you if they know the truth about your thoughts and experiences.
Practicing gratitude helps us purge useless or damaging thoughts by replacing them with helpful ones. I've come to believe that joy is impossible without gratitude. And I've found that acknowledging what I am grateful for is a practice I have to repeat every day. There's a lot of scary stuff to fill my mind with, but grateful thoughts bring me joy, so that is where I want to focus my attention.
I hope this empowers you to pay attention to what's going on in your mind; put all those thoughts on the bed and see them for what they are. Recognize that you are not your thoughts and that you can choose one thought over the other. Ask yourself, are these beliefs bringing me joy? If no, then say thank you for the lessons you have learned, and let the thoughts go.
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