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How to clear out your stinking thinking
Becoming a recovering emotional hoarder
Hello, my name is Candace and I am a recovering hoarder. Don't get me wrong, though. I will own up to being a compulsive clutterer when it comes to things, but it's not actually things that I hoard. Instead, I am a recovering hoarder of emotions.
If we're all honest with ourselves, I think we could all join Emotional Hoarding Anonymous, because we all tend to hang on to what A Course in Miracles calls "dead thoughts" that don't serve us anymore. Those thoughts and emotions are often the bad memories we hold on to – the grievances from 10, 20, sometimes 30-years ago that always seem fresh whenever we recall them.
Those dead thoughts and emotions, though, may also be memories we call "good," that are equally fresh when we call them up. These may be thoughts of our past "glory days," and times and places we wish we could return to.
What makes us want to hoard these thoughts – whether we deem them "bad" or "good" – is that they are, in some way, precious to us. Just like those who hoard actual things, we invest ourselves in these emotions and thoughts and build our personality, our identities and our lives around them. "What's wrong with that?" you might ask. Well, just like a physical hoarder, old thoughts and emotions that aren't serving us anymore tend to get smelly.
If you've ever watched the TV shows about hoarders, many times those who come in to clean up wear respirators, because the smell of decomposing food, books, newspapers, and sometimes, dead animals who got lost in the mess, makes it unbearable for those who don't live there. We, however, as the original hoarder of those emotions, have gone nose-blind to the stench of our own dead thoughts and ideas.
The thoughts and emotions that I hoarded years ago were composed of anger, judgment, resentment, cynicism, distrust, victimization, fear of abandonment, jealousy and many more. Most of them came, of course, from my parent's divorce and the deep anger and feelings of injustice and abandonment that sprang from that. I loved these thoughts and feelings because I was convinced that they would keep me safe. They did for a while, but only as long as I could arrange the world outside of myself to not hit those thoughts and feelings and trigger me.
How well do you think that worked out? Honestly, I stayed angry and triggered almost all the time. I had no idea how stinky it was inside of me and how that stench hit those around me. I bemoaned the fact that I couldn't make any friends, and all the ones I had were so disagreeable. Of course, they were. They were used to the smell of anger and fear. Our odiferous emotions meshed well together.
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I got a whiff of my own dead thoughts the moment I realized that I didn't have to live this way. That discovery came through my "gateway guru," Wayne Dyer, who introduced me to many of the ideas within A Course that helped me, including the permission I needed to see the world differently. Most importantly, Dyer helped me find a way to forgive my father so I could release the dead thoughts and emotions around him that were keeping me trapped in a fetid emotional house.
That's when the real work began of removing what Buddhists and Hindus call "samskaras" – or mental impressions that had built up within me and were blocking the free flow of that divine energy – that shakti – I possessed.
"If you want to be free," author and teacher Michael Singer writes in his book The Untethered Soul, "you must first accept that there is pain in your heart. You have stored it there. And you've done everything you can think of to keep it there, deep inside, so that you never have to feel it."
This is step one in becoming a recovering emotional hoarder. We must be willing to accept that we have hoarded our painful memories, and we have done everything in our power to keep them there. The ego, of course, likes to keep us focused on hoarding even more and more dead thoughts and emotions. It wants us to stuff our inner world with not just all the stinky thoughts, but all of the thoughts we perceive as good or pleasant that convince us that all of our good times are behind us and nothing will be as great as the good old days.
But Singer reminds us: "There is also tremendous joy, beauty, love and peace within you. But they are on the other side of the pain. On the other side is freedom. Your true greatness hides on the other side of that layer of pain."
The only way to release those samskaras is to clean up your emotional house, to release those fetid painful thoughts and emotions – along with the perceived good ones – that are holding you back.
"This is the core of spiritual work," Singer writes. "When you are comfortable with pain passing through you, you will be free."
A recipe for infinite joy
"You carry all the ingredients to turn your life into a nightmare," writes that Muslim Sufi poet Hafiz. "Don't mix them!"
It sounds like such a simple thing, to just not mix up our dead thoughts and emotions such as fear, despair, anger, shame – or even those happy thoughts that keep us from seeing the infinite possibilities of new joys that exist in this moment. Being willing to recognize our emotional hoarding tendencies, then becoming aware of how those stinky thoughts are ruining our lives in this moment, gives us the ability to recognize that the opportunity to recover is all around us.
The key to stop all that mixing of our nightmarish ingredients of dead thoughts and emotions is, according to A Course, forgiveness.
"Forgiveness," Lesson 122 in the Workbook says, "lets the veil be lifted up that hides the face of Christ from those who look with unforgiving eyes upon the world. It lets you recognize the Son of God, and clears your memory of all dead thoughts so that remembrance of your Father can arise across the threshold of your mind."
Forgiveness is the respirator-wearing cleanup crew who graciously come to sweep away all the stinky, dead thoughts we have been hoarding. That crew cleaned up my inner world when I followed Wayne Dyer's example of how he forgave his father. In several of his books and talks he tells the story about his father, who had abandoned the family when he was very young. Dyer harbored a lot of dead, stinky thoughts of unforgiveness toward his father, so he decided to find his dad and tell him that he forgave him. During the search, he discovered that his father had died a fear years earlier, so he journeyed to his father's grave to forgive him.
I replicated this journey with my own father, who had already passed when I began recovering from all the stinky feelings that I had hoarded about him. Just like Dyer, my journey was cathartic and like Singer asserts, once I released those samskaras I began to walk through "this world more vibrant and alive than ever before." Eventually, I also found Singer's other promise to be true, that when you clean up your emotional house, "you will understand that there is an ocean of love behind all this fear and pain."
This is what I invite you to discover today – that ocean of love behind all the stinky fear and pain you've been hoarding inside of yourself for too long. "You are the light of the world," as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5:14, but you've been hiding that light under a bushel of hoarded dead thoughts for too long.
A Course says our task is not to find love, but to remove all the barriers we have built up against it. These bushels of dead thoughts are those barriers. The key to removing them is forgiveness – which starts with yourself. I might have made a ritual out of going to my dad's grave to tell him that I forgave him but it was only through forgiving myself for hoarding all those stinky dead thoughts about him and mixing them together to turn my life into a nightmare in the first place that I discovered the ocean of love on the other side of all that pain.
I invite you to take inventory of your interior emotional house. Is it filled with fetid and decaying dead thoughts – be they of the bad or the good times of life? Are you spending a lot of time trying to arrange the world outside of yourself to not awaken those zombie thoughts and emotions?
How would it change the way you lived if you were willing to recognize the stench of your own emotional house and become aware of how it's dimming the light of love you want to bring into the world? How would it change the way you live if you were to recognize all the ways you have purposely obscured your own holy light for fear of triggering a difficult or painful emotion? How would it change the way you live if you were to forgive yourself for all the feelings, thoughts and emotions you've stuffed down, locked away and forgotten about – until something triggers you?
How would it change the way you live if you gave yourself permission to clean out your inner emotional house – parting with the dead thoughts and emotions that your ego has convinced you are so precious that you wouldn't know who you would be without them? Because, I'll tell you who you would be without them – you would be who you truly are – the light of the world. Without your dead thoughts and emotions, you could shine a bright light of love and forgiveness in the world that would help heal others of their own emotional hoarding tendencies.
Who you are without those dead thoughts is a "genius," as Hafiz says, who can "build a swing in your backyard for God." That, he says, "sounds like a hell of a lot more fun."
So, I invite you to begin releasing those dead thoughts, forgiving yourself for keeping them, and follow Hafiz's advice: "Let's start laughing, drawing blueprints, gathering our talented friends. You carry all the ingredients to turn your existence into joy. Mix them, mix Them!"
Because that is a recipe for infinite joy.
Music for the Journey:
“Too Much” - Dave Matthews Band
From the Muslim mystic poet Hafiz:
You carry all the ingredients,
To turn your life into a nightmare.
Don’t mix them!
You have all the genius
To build a swing in your backyard
That sounds Like a hell of a lot more fun.
Let’s start laughing, drawing blueprints,
Gathering our talented friends.
You carry all the ingredients
To turn your existence into joy,
Mix them, mix Them!
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About the Motley Mystic:
The Motley Mystic is an online community for people who have realized that the truth speaks with many voices. There is no one religion, philosophy, institution or dogma that captures the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth. No one needs to swear allegiance to one line of thought or belief to discern Truth, because Love is the only thing that’s real. That’s what we explore at the Motley Mystic - all the tools and strategies we need to remove our barriers to Love and live fully as our true, Divine Self.
Candace Chellew is the founder of Motley Mystic as well Jubilee! Circle, an interfaith spiritual community in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians published in 2008 by Jossey-Bass. She is the founder and senior editor emeritus of Whosoever, and online magazine for LGBTQI people of faith. She is also a musician and avid beer drinker.