“It is the daily little negligence in thoughts, words and deeds going on for many years of our life (and as the Buddha teaches, for many existences), that is chiefly responsible for the untidiness and confusion we find in our minds. This negligence creates the trouble and allows it to continue. Thus the old Buddhist teachers have said: ‘Negligence produces a lot of dirt. As in a house, so in the mind, only a very little dirt collects in a day or two, but if it goes on for many years, it will grow into a vast heap of refuse.’ The dark, untidy corners of the mind are the hideouts of our most dangerous enemies. From there they attack us unawares, and much too often succeed in defeating us. That twilight world peopled by frustrated desires and suppressed resentments, by vacillations, whims, and many other shadowy figures, forms a background from which upsurging passions — greed and lust, hatred and anger — may derive powerful support. Besides, the obscure and obscuring nature of that twilight region is the very element and mother-soil of the third and strongest of the three roots of evil (akusala mula), ignorance or delusion.”
The Power of Mindfulness: An Inquiry into the Scope of Bare Attention and the Principal Sources of its Strength by Nyanaponika Thera
I can attest to the truth of this. When I was going to school, working, and taking care of Barry, there were many things that I simply could not handle or deal with all at once with everything else. Then school ended, along with the accompanying work/studies, and now I am left only with Barry. The stress level declined and suddenly all sorts of unresolved issues rose to the surface.
One thing this article does not address is how the “vast heap of refuse” is like a beach ball in a swimming pool: remove the obstacles floating at the surface of the pool and it will surface, demanding to be dealt with now. When I started having physical symptoms, it didn’t totally “attack me unawares.” I was more like, “Oh crap. I guess I have to deal with this stuff now. Ugh.” To some degree, at least for me, it was predictable.
Another aspect the article does not address (probably due to monastic discipline) is how this mental lack of discipline manifests physically as outer disorder. Being a monk or nun does not allow for the squalor of emotional overwhelm that can envelop me at times.
My only real strategy has been to have less stuff to begin with. I see it as pointless to organize things I am unsure I want to keep. When I “organize,” mostly I purge. I can put things in their place, but why bother if I don’t see myself ever needing it again? When I want a fresh start, that will mean making space for something new, not containerizing things I won’t be taking with me to Virginia. What this means in practical terms is that I can see visually very clearly what needs to be dealt with. As my house empties out gradually, every unkempt corner screams out at me for attention. I’m glad I have the time and energy to deal with things now. I never realized before what a luxury that is.