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Sorting Through the Mental Clutter

Jaellayna Palmer | May 5, 2024

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Jaellayna Palmer | May 5, 2024

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

Yesterday, I happened to hear a real estate broker advising someone who was preparing to sell her home, and the advice made me think about life itself.

Beyond the usual items like fresh paint, clean carpets, and attractive window dressings were some recommendations that I hadn’t considered — most notably the advice to reduce clutter. When she mentioned it, I thought, yes, that makes sense, since visual clutter might make a prospective new owner fear that their own things wouldn’t fit or would look messy. In this situation, someone might be so discouraged and distracted that they would fail to see the beauty otherwise present in the home. 

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This got me thinking about other forms of clutter in life. What might occupy my time and attention as it distracts me? What keeps me from accomplishing, experiencing, and creating what matters the most to me? What keeps me from being immersed in beauty? 

Perhaps first on the list would be worrying about the past. While we have much to learn from the past, mental clutter will result from dwelling on it, indulging in regrets, or harboring grudges. None of this is helpful since no one can change the past, and this sort of thinking can even stand in the way of experiencing the moment and interacting with people as they presently are. 

Similarly, being fretful about the future is distracting. For example, a friend told me that she’s constantly making mental lists. While watching a movie, she’s planning her shopping; while at a concert, she’s rehearsing phone conversations; while walking her dog, she’s anticipating her next day. Though perhaps our brains can multitask, achieving balance requires presence of mind. 

Being angry with others is a source of emotional clutter, too. Related to this is dwelling on the shortcomings of other people, which is one of the biggest distractions. Improving my own character and managing my own life is my responsibility, but that’s where it ends. As Abdu’l-Baha said

… seek out our own shortcomings before we presume to condemn the faults of others … we must not consider ourselves superior to our neighbours! We must be careful not to exalt ourselves lest we be humiliated.

Worse yet would be allowing concern with the faults of others to lead to gossip and backbiting, as these acts are harmful to both the speaker and the listener. Baha’u’llah wrote: “… backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul.

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My spirit can be diminished and my time wasted in other ways, some of which seem normal in present Western culture. This includes being consumed in materialism, accumulating things and “living the good life,” as the saying goes. The problem arises when this is carried to extremes when attachment to the material life might overwhelm my attention to the more important work at hand — work that might even help with the advancement of society. As New Zealand adventurer and author Barry Crump wrote in his book “The Life and Times of a Good Keen Man”: “In the Kashmir they struggle with too little, here we struggle with too much. Half of what most of us have is twice as much as we need, and twice what they’ve got is half what they need.”

Now as I look at my schedule and my home, I am thinking more about what is essential. I want to reduce distractions, to see things more clearly, to live more simply. I want to reduce the clutter and stay on the path toward creating and living in beauty.  

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