Fumbling to find the key to the Master lock protecting the treasures in my storage cage, I wondered why it took so long to find it. I have a ridiculous number of keys on this ring, ridiculous because I don’t know what half of them fit.
This got me thinking about two things; one, I need to throw away a bunch of these keys and, two, is my key-ring a metaphor? How many psychic “keys” do we carry around in life to locks we’ll never encounter, or have long abandoned? Once useful tools that now weigh us down for no reason.
Ideas are pretty much all we are, so it’s important to stay aware of the inventory of ideas we’ve got floating around our cognitive ecosystem. Things just get stuck up there, usually negative ones, but sometimes positive ones that no longer apply. If you were a great athlete in high school, and are now inactive and flabby, the memory of your former glory can blind you to what needs to be done now. The same’s true for haunting echos of teenage inadequacy or rejection, or any number of negative feelings you’ve lived your way out of but still cling to your psyche like a particularly static-y sock.
So how do you “throw away” these extra keys?
- Do an inventory – look at all the mental keys you’ve allowed to accumulate. Meditate on all of the things you think about yourself; what positive things do you think that have no basis in reality (narcissism), and more importantly how many negative thoughts (masochism) do you have on a repeat loop? This step might be called “cleaning out the trash”.
- Make value judgments – Just because you’ve got a “key” on your mental ring, doesn’t mean you need or want it. Sometimes they’ve been put there by other people who didn’t even ask if you wanted it (you’re dumb, you’re fat, your nose is too big, your thighs are too thin, you’re the wrong color). At some point, all adults need to step back and decide who they are, and who they want to be. A big part of this is assigning value, high or low, to all the junk we accumulate along the way. This could be very easy for some people, or could take years of intensive therapy to address – doesn’t matter, the responsibility lies with you to clean your own key ring.
- Don’t get lazy – keeping your mind clear of useless junk takes continuous effort, make a habit of periodically checking your “ring” for extra thoughts that can be discarded. Big events, be they positive or negative, can knock us off our game – deaths, illnesses, births, marriages, moves, new jobs – be particularly mindful during and after these times to make sure you haven’t picked up and new junk ideas in the process.
Maybe the key metaphor is dumb, but I don’t think so. We collect keys for such a wide variety of reasons, new houses, new cars, new locks – we don’t set out to collect them, they just pile up. And the same is true for our thoughts, and ways of thinking. From birth to death we’re collecting ideas without noticing them, and these ideas can imprison us or free us – but it’s a good bet that if there are too many you’ll have a hard time finding the one you need when you need it.