Spring is my favorite of the four seasons because it is so rich with fresh starts, new beginnings, awakenings and growth. As a young girl, I loved the fact that my birthday (April Fool’s) coincided with spring. Bluebells and lilies of the valley bursting through the ground felt magical to me, like anything was possible. Being able to open the windows and let fresh air fill the nooks and crannies into each stuffy room felt so revitalizing. Warm sunshine and cool, crisp air became a “hot fudge sundae” moment to be savored.
Back in the day, April signified a time for a major refresh indoors — the annual spring cleaning tradition. It meant some serious deep cleaning and purging of toys and clothes we’d outgrown. The house was infused with sunlight, more space, a lighter energy and a clean, appealing scent. A soft spring breeze would make gauzy window curtains dance. A vase of pale purple lilacs was the finishing touch. I can still smell their delicate fragrance and be transported back to the “fresh start” feeling associated with spring cleaning.
Recently I listened to Michael Singer’s podcast “Taking Care of Your Inner Environment”. His message was chock full of relatable metaphors including one that reminded me of spring cleaning.
We tidy up our homes, declutter and deep clean them. When we step back and admire our work, we find a deep sense of satisfaction and a pride in our abode. It’s like we have waved a magic wand and transformed our home into a blissful place to entertain, recharge, unwind.
Michael Singer invites us to do the same with our internal self. Why not declutter inside and create an inner self that can move with greater ease through the realities of life?
“Very few people work with themselves on the inside. If we don’t do that inside work, then what is going on inside can be a real mess. People don’t even understand what a mess it is, because they aren’t aware that it doesn’t have to be that way. They are moody, sensitive, they don’t get what they want, they are afraid. It’s an uncomfortable commotion inside. Just as it is our responsibility to keep our house clean and make our bed it, it is also our responsibility to take care of our inner environment. It’s the exact same thing.” — Michael Singer, from his podcast
We live from the inside out. Whatever is going on inside of us, consciously or unconsciously, is going to be impacted by something that happens outside of us.
“Because people are not straightening up inside, they accumulate an entire collection of stored things from the past that bothered them. This is unfinished business. As a result, events that unfold outside come in and stir up discomfort, disturbances and fears. Anything that is stuck inside of you is going to drive you crazy.” — Michael Singer, from his podcast
Picture this – we might be hoarders! We just might be hoarding old memories, past experiences, unresolved conflicts and that beat up cardboard box of insecurities our inner critic likes to rummage through. This is the unfinished business Michael is talking about — the multitude of things we’ve stuffed in the basement and attics of our inner self.
The ironic thing is that many people spend a lot of time and effort trying to keep the outside world from getting any glimpses of all that accumulated junk. As Michael points out, this strategy is not the least bit effective.
We simply cannot control outside events. The reality of life is that things will change — and some of those changes will be uncomfortable, even painful. We cannot build a life that has only good things and none of the discomforting things.
Maybe this is why I find Spring to be so meaningful. After all, Spring is fearless when it comes to pushing through once frozen ground, stretching both fragile roots down and pushing delicate leaves and buds up. Spring does the hard work. She knows it is worth it. Spring welcomes paradox — the hot fudge sundae moments of warmth and cold. Spring can hold two opposing moments and value them both. Spring rushes head first into the fullness of her season, bursting with color, textures, scents. She goes softly when it is time to hand the baton to Summer with a wink and a promise. It is this ebb and flow of nature that Spring reminds us of…take the good and the bad together — it is life. We can do hard things and we can grow.
“If we had our way, we would never grow. We would build a little life that is in a box filled with all the things we are comfortable with, hop in and lock it up! Growth comes from things that are not comfortable.” — Michael Singer, from his podcast
Michael compares this inner housekeeping to physical training we might undertake. The motto at the gym is “no pain, no gain.” Yet we shy away from adopting that same motto for our emotional and mental well being. Brene Brown reminds us that people will do anything not to feel emotional pain — even causing pain to others. Offloading our pain onto others is a horrible strategy. Hoarding it is an equally bad option.
We can’t let our fear of feeling some emotional pain prevent us from doing the inner work. Taking care of our inner environment is doing the heavy lifting of accepting reality, fully experiencing what is happening and honoring the right to learn from it. No pain, no gain.
What we have been learning in recent years from Brene Brown’s research, neuroscience and psychology is that powering through big hard emotional experiences is NOT strength and it surely is not in our best interests long term. It is exactly why we end up with a basement and attic full of accumulated discomfort.
We need to fully experience and process the hardships and losses in our lives as they unfold. When we learn to do this, we grow. We only bring into our inner world the invaluable residue of what we have learned from the experience. That’s the rich compost for a grounded, meaningful, more peaceful life.
“Working on yourself means learning from the realities of life, learning from our discomfort. Honor what has happened, accept it, experience it and become a greater person because of what you learn and how you grow from the experience.” — Michael Singer, from his podcast
Michael Singer offers a powerful reframing that helps us approach emotional processing in a whole new light. Rather than thinking of how painful it is, think of it as a challenge — like training for a marathon or mountain climbing experience. Or you might approach it like a game of chess — what strategies can you employ to win?
People go out of their way to challenge themselves in other areas of their life. That’s why we love a good competition. What if we changed our mindset about life’s difficulties?
Right now I am feeling a bit like the mom that sneaks veggies into the Mac and Cheese. Is anyone shying away from a good old fashioned challenge? A chance to win? To move from victim to victor?
Michael’s reframing changes not only our mindset; it also changes our energy from resistance to receptivity. We get excited about a challenge, we get motivated. We get it and we own it. We say to ourselves, “I’ve made a mess inside and I am going to clean it up!”
Here’s another refreshing insight. Michael says we can ease into this new paradigm by dealing with the realities of life that are unfolding in the present moment. Set yourself up for success by working on the things that are causing you discomfort right now. In other words, don’t be putting more “stuff” in the basement. Step one is stop adding more clutter.
Lead with this new mantra when you are practicing genuine emotional processing as it is unfolding: “I want to be open and receptive, to be able to handle the reality that is in front of me — and finish it off.” (credit to Michael Singer)
Once you are more nimble with processing current experiences, you may want to get into that attic or basement and pull out the dusty older stuff. Learn what you can and then toss it. I have found Brene Brown’s Atlas of the Heart to be invaluable for this deep clean. With an expanded emotional vocabulary and a better viewing lens, I can go back and revisit old experiences in a healthier way. I keep the treasures and discard the cobwebs.
Imagine how much lighter you will feel emotionally, how much more expansive your inner world will be and how much more discerning you will be about what you keep inside.
Now…get to it! It’s time for some major spring cleaning!