awareness and mental clutter

Filtering flotsam and other debris

8:09 PM

Photo credit: Sara Browning

When I was in my thirties, I dreamt a lot. Maybe it was because I was parenting young children, and sleep was often interrupted, giving me an opportunity to catch a glimpse of those in-between twilight moments, the seconds that exist as a transition between the conscious and the unconscious mind. I love when that happens. 

In one of my favorite dream moments, I lay on a sun-drenched rock out in the ocean, maybe 50 yards from shore in a Caribbean style bay, with gulls flying overhead and ocean spray on my face. Perfect. 

I jump into the water, taking a deep dip downward, only to come up completely dry, my hair blowing in the soft breeze. A boat drifts slowly by as I climb back up on my flat rock, and a stranger greets me.

“Hey there! What are you doing out here?”

Without skipping a beat, I answer, smiling joyfully, “I’m diving for enigmas.”

I know, it’s just a dream, but the thing is, for whatever reason, I had yet to become acquainted at that point with the word, enigma. I remember looking it up later to solve the mystery. Ironic.

Enigma: something hard to explain or understand (Merriam Webster) A mystery.

Somewhere in the deep blue waters of my subconscious mind, I knew what it meant. 

I am spiritually curious, and there’s nothing that interests me more than stumbling over something both mysterious and illuminating. Ironically, however, I usually need to spend some quiet time praying in the murky dark in order to make room for the light to do its work. 

Prayer, meditation and journaling has afforded me decades of opportunity for casting my net into spiritual waters, and lately, a job shift  has poured out even more time than ever before to take mental snapshots of the flotsam and jetsam that I find floating out in the deep, writing and sorting what I find to enrich my personal journey, and perhaps, add layers of understanding.

So, what is flotsam, anyway, and why does it matter? 

Simply put, the terms flosam and jetsam serve as metaphors  for the miscellaneous items floating about in my stream of consciousness. I looked these terms up recently, diving for the enigmata I hoped to find under the surface. Apparently, human-created debris is always associated with ships in distress and classified by the method through which it finds its way into the ocean. 

Flotsam, from the French word for floter, is named for debris that, although discarded, was not intentionally thrown overboard, and can therefore be reclaimed by its owner. I would liken it to the bits and pieces of our constructed selves we lose track of along the way, pieces we never really mean to discard. But out of sight isn’t necessarily out of mind. In moments of awareness, perhaps it’s best to sift through our own floating debris, identifying which memes, thoughts or values belong back on board, and which deserve a burial at sea.

I find myself filtering flotsam and other debris when I am still and quiet, when thoughts pop up like duck decoys in a shooting arcade often attached to the subjunctive, like shoulds or could haves. Mental clutter has quiet but profound impact, causing angst or anxiety whether something can be done or not. 

“I should have saved more.” 

“I could have worked-out instead of reading that blog post.”

In particular, internal self-badgering about my lack of exercise recently grabbed my attention, reminding me that it isn't just about unnecessary guilt. It bugs me because I need full-body, heart-challenging activity; it's healthy and genuinely grounding. I have often opted for an hour of Netflix and  almond-butter-on-an-apple instead of time on the elliptical, but ultimately, noticing my exercise regret has brought me to  identify intentional movement as one of those important pieces of who I am, a piece that simply has to stay on board for the ship to sail steady. The draw toward active movement and exercise, embodied by my highly energetic and athletic father, has re-emerged as flotsam worth recovering.  

A similar discovery has come from filtering through the sense of loss and regret I feel when I don't make room for poetry and thoughtful prose.

The writing I abandoned  in my twenties, and renewed somewhere in my thirties, is a tool for processing emotions and spiritual clutter. Although I don’t always pay attention to the sometimes-gentle, sometimes-urgent impulse to capture the ideas that drift through my awareness, writing offers a mystical connection to the Divine, making it the cream-of-the-flotsam, salvaging very best and truest bridge to my better self and to the God of my understanding. 

Although free-floating flotsam can present itself like flies buzzing around my head when I’m trying to grab a quiet moment, I find it pays to give it some sift through the mental fluff and debris, identifying what’s useful and what isn’t. The cool thing about flotsam is that it can be recovered once we become aware that we have left it behind. We just refocus on the bits and pieces we want back in our lives, we write them in ink into the calendar, and start reclaiming the odds and ends, one at a time.

And what about jetsam, the bits and pieces that have been intentionally jettisoned in the interest of safe passage? I suppose some debris needs to be permanently discarded, clearing the clutter once and for all. 

 But...I think I'll save that for the next post.

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