I spoke with two clients this week about the importance of keeping a clear head. They both faced the same challenge: how to manage the busy-ness of their demanding lives while seeing clearly what matters to them most.
One is an artist with a farming estate and the other a psychotherapist. While both are successful professionally, they are at a point in their lives where they are questioning how to live more authentically, how to pay closer attention to what really counts. They both enjoy their work but feel that the pace of life, the demands of others and all the moving parts of their lives distract them from regularly connecting with their inner life – with what you might call their souls. The need to reconnect with our authentic self is felt by many of us. You don’t have to be an artist or therapist to feel the need to connect with something meaningful within you.
Both clients talked about making sense of things, of seeing the forest for the trees, of feeling stressed by modern real-world overload and the nagging sense of a loss of deep connection. In both cases I used an analogy to suggest a pathway to clarity and reconnection – which is to take a mental bath.
I pointed out that (as long as I am not one of the 2.5 billion people who have no access to adequate sanitation) I take a bath once or twice a day, I wash my hair (what little is left of it) and brush my teeth. In doing so I maintain good bodily hygiene. I asked them, “so then, what do you do to maintain your mental hygiene?”
The importance of maintaining a clarity of mind, a clear conscience, or some mental peace is understood by everyone. For thousands of years sages have taught us to meditate, reflect and connect with the deeper truths within ourselves – on a daily basis. I think of this as a kind of mental bath, a shower of the mind, a washing of our consciousness.
Taking the time for a mind-wash is usually the first thing that is sacrificed when daily demands come knocking on our door. Whether it be aging parents, teenage kids, stressed spouses or “deadline-bosses”, they are all understandably more urgent and more obvious in their claim on our mental real-estate. They are the loud voices shouting to get in and it’s hard to keep them out.
No wonder then, that at the end of long day or week, our inner self can feel left out, neglected and unheard or undervalued. Does this contribute to a sense of isolation, or disconnect, even though we live busy lives that are linked in relationship to others? I wonder.
The demands of our digital “interconnected world” also contributes to a sense of being unheard or left out. Our social media “friends” far exceed in number anything we could practically manage in the analogue world. While studies suggest that larger social networks are good for increasing white-matter brain functions, there is also plenty of evidence that so many digital outside distractions make us feel lonely, “useless and joyless”, and isolated, especially those who were born after 1995 in what is now called the iGen generation.
The digital genie is out of the bottle. But we can do something to protect and preserve one of our most precious assets – a healthy mind and a clear head. The yoga tradition puts great importance on pure consciousness, called cit in Sanskrit. Those who follow the yoga tradition take pains to keep a clear mind in two ways. The first is by not immersing it in unnecessary distractions or letting it associate with disturbing influences. The second recognises that the world is a demanding and sometimes disturbing place and so yogis make the time every day to centre themselves within themselves, in a deep place from where they cannot be disturbed. This centring begins in morning meditation and continues throughout the day with periodic mantra and reflection.
Carl Jung said that “your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens” Like the Vedic yogis know, Jung is suggesting that a deeper reality exists within us, and is waiting to be discovered. The closer we get to it, the stronger and more peaceful we become. The more we pay attention to it, the more clearly we see ourselves.
I made two suggestions to my clients that day. The first was to make time and pay themselves deep attention. This is something very different than taking time to relax or be entertained. I advised that they get to a quiet place and pay attention, listen to what their hearts would say, and that by regularly meditating in that way they would feed their souls which would help them connect to what was really mattered to them. The second suggestion was that as they get closer to their inner self, that they listen carefully on how they can simplify their lives wherever possible.
I hear many people say that they can’t meditate. But meditation is natural to us, it is what we do when we smell a flower, see a sunset or even day dream away from the busy world around us. Meditation is simply listening carefully and stopping to see our authentic selves.
“Being well. Doing well.”
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