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Clear Your Emotional Clutter and Open Up to Joy (Interview and Giveaway)

Woman Jumping

UPDATE – The winners for this giveaway are:

  • C
  • Lori Pacheco

When I was in my early twenties, I spent three months in a residential treatment center in a last-ditch effort to heal from depression and bulimia. Among many different treatment modalities, I participated in an experiential therapy that involved a ropes course and other adventure activities.

One day, along with a dozen other frail women, I strapped a backpack full of tennis balls on my back and climbed to the top of a rock wall. It was hard enough to walk on some days; getting to the top with what felt like ten cats clinging to my back took everything I had in me.

It was only when I completed the task, exhausted, that I understood the point of this draining exercise.

Our therapist then instructed us, one by one, to open our backpacks and toss each ball down to the ground, naming each an emotion that had caused us pain.

“This is my shame,” I yelled. “This is my anger. And this is my self-loathing.”

This metaphorical emotional unloading, combined with the energetic release that often follows extreme exertion, brought me a lightness of being that I’d never before experienced.

I had lived my life like the climb up that wall—weighed down by my emotions—and I had a glimpse of what it felt like to be free of them.

Still, while the exercise was liberating, I didn’t know how to recreate that feeling of emotional freedom in my everyday life.

Years later, I learned that mindfulness could provide the peace I desperately craved. I learned that I could fully embody the present moment, and see the people and things right in front of me without filtering them through my fickle emotions. I learned that I no longer had to live trapped inside a mind that constantly bombarded me with disempowering stories about my painful past.

No one has to live that way. And the good news is, clearing that “emotional clutter” doesn’t require a daily trip up a rock wall.

We can all overcome our toxic patterns and find freedom from the old pains and traumas that have weighed us down. Mindfulness is the key, and anyone, at any age, in any circumstances, can learn to practice it and reap the benefits.

In his new book Clearing Emotional Clutter: Mindfulness Practices for Letting Go of What’s Blocking Your Fulfillment and Transformation, author Donald Altman combines modern neuroscience with ancient practices to show how habits and patterns can be modified with only a few minutes of attention daily.

It’s a powerful book that can hep anyone release their emotional pain to find happiness, fulfillment, and peace.

I wish I’d found this book, and these practices, years ago, as they truly are life-changing.

I’m grateful that Donald took the time to answer some questions about his work and his book, and that he’s offered two free copies for Tiny Buddha readers.

Clearing Emotional ClutterTHE GIVEAWAY

To enter to win one of two free copies of Clearing Emotional Clutter:

  • Leave a comment below
  • For an extra entry, tweet: Enter the @tinybuddha giveaway to win a free copy of Clearing Emotional Clutter http://bit.ly/1SLXcyB

*US winners will receive a physical book in the mail; winners outside the US will receive an eBook.

THE INTERVIEW

 1. Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to write this book.

Mindfulness has helped me immensely in my life. I got on this path when I was going through a difficult life transition and found myself repeating an old, toxic pattern. It’s that idea that wherever you go, your problems always follow you. That is, unless you do something about it!

Around that time I met a Burmese Buddhist monk—the Venerable U. Silananda—who had been teaching mindfulness in the U.S. since the 1970s. He possessed a palpable sense of compassion and availability that made me ask the question: How does someone become like that?

When I had the opportunity to ordain with him as the head of the monastery, I jumped at it. Although I was in the monastery for a short period of time, it was an experience that changed my life direction because I was primed and ripe for the experience of looking inward.

I wrote my first spiritual book while at the monastery, and continued to train with one of the monks afterward. I’m very grateful for the transformative experience the monks provided for me, which helped me nurture greater compassion and connect with my purpose. Now, my writing is focused on helping others find joy and fulfillment.

Clearing Emotional Clutter is an important book for me because it integrates cutting edge brain science and research with the ancient practice of mindfulness. It shows that you don’t have to go into a monastery to transform your life, overcome past negative clutter, and rewire your brain.

2. How do we accumulate “emotional clutter,” and why do we need to clear it out?

No one can control what happens in life. There are losses, aging, and challenges throughout every stage of life, not to mention the daily wear and tear of stress. What we can do is to respond skillfully by not letting the emotional clutter pull us into states of dis-ease and unhappiness.

By clearing out clutter, we can transform even difficult moments and respond to life in a way that helps us find the inherent joy that is present.

3. You talk about getting off the emotional elevator. What do you mean by that?

You can think of your emotions like an elevator that takes you up and down. What moves the elevator? What old programs are running in your head that push the buttons on your elevator to that it moves you up and down? Something good happens in your life and the elevator goes up. Something bad—even a perception of something being bad—and the elevator shoots down. But what if you could control that yourself?

This book helps you decide who and what you are going to let push your emotional elevator buttons. Letting others push our mood elevator buttons can be exhausting. We’re not in control of our own elevator. Clearing away clutter means you get free from old emotional clutter programming and ways of thinking.

4. In Chapter Two, you introduced a tool called “Inner-Facebooking.” Can you elaborate a little on this and share an example of how it’s helped you personally?

Facebook is a wonderful way to post and put up for others what’s happening in our lives. In the same way, we are constantly putting up mental posts in our minds—through our thoughts and beliefs—that represent a kind of second Facebook: An Inner-Facebook, which shapes how we experience the world, ourselves, and others.

If your Inner-Facebook posts are unhappy and unflattering, no wonder you feel bad and depressed. I have a whole chapter about noticing your Inner-Facebook posts so you can be more aware. Inner-Facebooking is a skill that helps you to emotionally regulate. Then you can change your Inner-Facebook posts to be more positive and accurate.

Personally, I’ve gotten better at noticing my own inner-Facebooking posts. For example, my luggage was lost when traveling recently. But rather than respond to the highly reactive and anxious thoughts that my mind posted in that moment, I was able to step back and make a new, more realistic and helpful post that said, “My luggage is going to be found. Besides, in the big scope of things, losing my luggage isn’t that big a deal.”

5. In Chapter Four, you wrote, “Much of the clutter of discomfort, discontent, and conflict that we experience in life comes from our unwillingness to accept things as they are.” I think we often equate acceptance with giving up. How can we simultaneously reduce the clutter of resistance while working to make positive changes in our lives?

Acceptance is about realistically viewing your situation. It’s about surrendering to the truth that you may not have control over the situation. You recognize that it is what it is. That does not mean you are giving up. Submission, on the other hand, is about giving up.

Acceptance allows us to surrender to the truth of our situation. So, if you’re frustrated at being caught in a traffic jam on the freeway, for example, you can have acceptance of what you’re experiencing instead of fighting with it. This means that you can then move forward in a more realistic and effective way instead of getting all stressed out and carrying the experience with you throughout your day.

6. You devoted an entire chapter to “family emotional clutter.” How do we accumulate this type of clutter, and how does it negatively impact our lives?

In my workshops I always ask, “Does anyone here have a difficult person in your life?” Everyone raises their hands.

Family emotional clutter can negatively impact our future relationships and how safe we feel around others. If you’ve had negative relationship issues that have been a pattern in your life, that’s a sign you need to work on that clutter. Repairing this will lead to more loving, healthy, fulfilling, and secure relationships.

7. What’s one thing we can do to begin releasing “family emotional clutter” to avoid these negative consequences?

First, we can recognize that all people have suffered, even that person in your family who may have mistreated you. In fact, your family’s suffering may go back centuries. So, rather than feeling permanently victimized, it’s important not to pass on the wave of suffering in your family, and to know that you can heal.

I believe that we can get a new brain download by finding benefactors in our lives. We can learn how to attune and alter our brain’s social and emotional rewiring. It’s a helpful process that I describe in one of the Lifestyle Tools found in Clearing Emotional Clutter.

8. You talk about friendships as a tool to release emotional clutter. How and why can our relationships help with this, and how can we help other people release their emotional clutter as well?

Research shows that having friends is the key to a happier life. The three seeds that make friendship grow and mature are the seeds of trust, acceptance, and empathy.

Trust is essential, and that takes time to develop, so you need patience and real mutuality in a relationship.

Acceptance means not being so demanding. It means accepting that everyone has flaws. Sometimes you need to let things to as a foundation for friendship.

Lastly is empathy. Empathy is what lets you really feel connected to a friend. Develop these and you’ll develop friendship.

9. In the chapter devoted to listening, you shared an acronym, HEAR, that can help us keep our emotional clutter out of conversations and “enter a more spacious and less defensive awareness.” Can you tell us a little about that and how it helps?

Talking can be clutter that sometimes blocks understanding and deeper meaning. If we are to remove clutter in the moment, we need to be present with all our senses, especially listening. This acronym is designed to help us when we’ve stopped listening—like during an argument, or when we’re feeling defensive or caught up in our own opinion. It goes as follows:

H- Hold all assumptions. Empty your ego and get curious. Set your personal beliefs and assumptions aside for a few minutes and take a more objective perspective as you listen.

E- Empathy to engage, not enrage. With empathy, you can enter the emotional world of the other person so you can understand them better rather than try to deny or devalue what they are feeling.

A- Absorb and accept. Understanding, with openness. Let in the ideas of the other person. Acceptance doesn’t mean you have to agree, but that you can accept this is the other’s belief.

R- Reflect, then respect. Take time to pause before you respond. Take a step back so that you can think about what you’ve heard. Then, respond respectfully and with kindness.

10. In Part 3 of the book, you explore ways to prevent new emotional clutter. What’s one practical thing we can all do daily to de-clutter?

I especially like the idea of being faithful to this moment. You can be 100 percent committed to whatever you are doing. Uni-task, so you are fully present with this moment. This means fidelity to the breath, to walking, to eating, to working. Whatever you are doing, you can do so fully, without your mind being one place and your body being someplace else.

That means that when you walk, walk. When you eat, eat. When you drive your car, drive. Cut down on the distractions and do one thing fully. In this way you can appreciate and savor even the most ordinary moments and that “in-between” time that is an important part of our days and lives.

You can read more about Clearing Emotional Clutter on Amazon here.

FTC Disclosure: I receive complimentary books for reviews and interviews on tinybuddha.com, but I am not compensated for writing or obligated to write anything specific. I am an Amazon affiliate, meaning I earn a percentage of all books purchased through the links I provide on this site. 

Woman jumping image via Shutterstock

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and co-producer of the newly launched podcast Next Creator Up, which helps people overcome their blocks and create what they want to create. She’s also the author of Tiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal and other books and co-founder of Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. For daily wisdom, join the Tiny Buddha list here.

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