Clearing the Mind

If we want to make a riverbed dry, perhaps to investigate something of interest, it is no use drawing off the water in the particular place where we imagine the thing to be, since more water keeps flowing down. But if we cut off the flow from above, the riverbed becomes dry without any further effort on our part. … Likewise, as soon as the senses are no longer supplying material from outside, it becomes easy to empty our mind of the impressions that produce the passions.” ~The Philokalia

In recent years, there have been several cases in the news where ponds had to be drained to search for the bodies of missing people, or to search for stolen money. The first step in draining the pond must be to block the river or stream that feeds it, otherwise it will just keep filling up again. Likewise, if you have a leaky boat, it is somewhat pointless to bail it out if you are not going to block the hole that allowed it to fill with water.

When it comes to spiritual matters, we have to end our attachments to material things and to the material world if we are to make significant progress. Otherwise, the river of material concerns will continue to allow the pond to refill and we will never get to the bottom to find the lost treasure. If you are trying to engage in spiritual growth techniques, but you keep thinking about making car payments, or the roof that needs repairs, you are not going to achieve much with your spiritual time. You have to be able to block out all that other stuff in order to succeed. Taoists might say that you can’t fill a cup that is already full, you must drain it first. But how do you put all those material concerns out of your mind when you have to continue to live and function in the material world?

First, you have to learn that you can have material possessions, up to a point, without becoming attached to them. You may have to practice being unattached by telling your self you can’t take it with you, you don’t really need it, others can live without it and so can you, etc. You do not have to get rid of all your material possessions, just become unattached to them. Of course, if there is some particular object that you just cannot become unattached to, then you are probably better off getting rid of it so it doesn’t serve as an anchor on your spiritual journey. Also, you need to avoid things that tend to tempt you into desiring material possessions, especially those that you know you will never have—or shouldn’t have. For example, if you have an average income, but you subscribe to a magazine about yachts and spend hours drooling over pictures of these yachts you most likely will never be able to afford, you create a desire and that desire becomes an attachment to the object even though you don’t actually possess a yacht. So you also need to avoid not only attachments to material objects you have, but also to those you dream of having but probably never will. These thoughts lower your vibrations and prevent significant spiritual growth.