Skip to main content

Clear out the drain - unclog the mind

I was clearing out the drain again the other day. It’s not the most pleasant of tasks but it’s necessary and only gets blocked from time to time.

As I was scooping out the rotting leaves, vegetable matter and other smelly detritus, it struck me how very similar this task is to the task of developing our spiritual (or psychological, if you prefer a word with fewer religious connotations) potential as fully awake human beings.
Unclog the mind

One feature of the evolving human brain which seems to set it apart from other animals is that it has developed self-awareness: animals can think but humans can think about themselves thinking. In short, we can consciously examine our lives.
The Greek philosopher Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.”

It is perhaps when life goes unexamined that all the detritus of our day-to-day annoyances, disappointments, frustrations, past hurts, resentments, etc get backed up and block the natural flow of our minds. Left to build up, our anger and unhappiness can spill over into the lives of those around us, causing a stink.

The mind is, in essence, clear and perfect as it is; we are, at heart, loving and lovable; we are “spiritual beings having a human experience,” as Gary Zukav, author of Seat of the Soul, puts it. The problem comes when we forget our essential selves; when we fall prey to the delusion of a permanent, unchanging self; when we identify with who we think we are, or who we want the world to think we are, then cling to that image and behave, perhaps unskilfully, to reinforce the illusion. Each time, another layer of misperception smudges the lens of our lives.

While cleaning the drain, I recalled that author Deepak Chopra once said the “spiritual path” involves constant work “to clear away the obstacles that prevent love from coming through us. The work is much more like working on clogged plumbing than it is like imitating a saint”.

Years ago, a work colleague, who was feeling the weight of other people’s expectations of what a Christian should be like, explained that he was a “practising Christian”, in the sense of “learning how to be one”. By seeing his spiritual path in this way, he was giving himself a bit of slack. He was aware that it was a long road ahead and, a bit like Norfolk’s roads after a harsh winter, there would be plenty of pot holes to trip him up along the way.

Even the Dalai Lama – a beacon of love, laughter and calmness – has admitted feeling angry at times (particularly on hearing about the atrocities suffered by Tibetans at the hands of the Chinese government in the early days of the occupation). However, he has learned how not to allow small inconveniences to upset, and therefore take control of, his mind. He has also learned how to transform feelings such as anger – through years of developing antidotes such as patience, compassion and understanding – so that, if anger arises, it soon passes. None of this, as his autobiography attests, was learned overnight: it took practice... and patience.

That’s good news for the rest of us, because we are all capable of acquiring new skills through practice. After all, when we were born we couldn’t walk, talk, feed ourselves, ride a bike, etc. Now, for most of us, these skills, among many others, have become second nature – but only after years of trial and error, as well as bruised knees, messy bibs and grazed elbows.

It is no different with psychological (or spiritual) skills. We just have to keep working on the clogged plumbing, cleaning out the drain... and polishing the lens of our life until the clarity of our minds shines through. 


Popular posts from this blog

One man and his dog - and the healing power of nature

She’s staring intently at the ground, eyes fixed, body rigid, ears up, head slightly cocked to one side, the occasional swish of her tail brushing the dust.
I’m looking back towards our small white fluffy terrier-like dog from further up the farm track, having realised she is out of sight - she’s usually well ahead of me, jumping through hedges or grass, or nose hoovering up smells along the path or verges. But not this time. Something has grabbed her attention, and held it, so I wander back slowly to have a look. She doesn’t move. I peer at the spot that seems to have her transfixed. Nothing. What is she staring at? I peer closer and there, hidden beneath the early blades of grass is a tiny, wiggling, furry red bottom poking out of a hole in the earth. It’s our first bee of the year. We both stay watching, transfixed by this miracle of nature - tiny and magnificent.

And this experience sums up the nature (excuse the pun) of the following weeks and months as I use this sudden gift of re…

When the fields are brown

There is a sense of quiet settling across the once-busy fields, now shorn of their wheat, barley and rape. The flowers in the ditches are no longer as riotous or plentiful in colour and variety and the birdsong is somewhat muted.

The cereal harvest is gathered in and there is a sense in the air of that pause that comes after frenetic work to get a project completed by deadline, that moment of relief that it is now done and the opportunity to take a moment to breathe and enjoy the sense of completion. There is satisfaction in the air but also a kind of melancholy, knowing that spring has gone and summer is nearing its end, the days still have the upper hand but they are now perceptibly giving way to the nights.

But the year is not yet done with colour and fragrance and song. Still rosebay willowherb, knapweed and tufted vetch are abundant in the ditches, the set-aside is full of speedwell and scarlet pimpernel and butterflies still flit from flower to flower. But this not just a tale of…

Looking to the stars for answers at our feet

Another year has passed, another year older – yes, I recently celebrated my birthday and, like many people, looked to the stars to see how the winds of life will be blowing in the next 12 months: I read my horoscope.
Now, I have no wish here to make a case for or against astrology; my interest is in what the mind does with information presented to it. And how we can use that information skilfully to write the story of our lives – because each of us is a character (and co-author) in the human chapter of a cosmic story that has been unfolding since the beginning of time.
Last week, I wrote about how we naturally seek patterns in life, and I have long admired the way we – as individuals, societies and humanity as a whole – try to explain what we don’t understand, often using stories, mythologies or parables, until science catches up.
For example, I love basking in the starlight, watching the constellations wheel around us, weaving stories in the night sky of gods and goddesses, heroes and …