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Clearing out what doesn’t work

"Inner work" on background of a gnarled tree

Becoming conscious is not easy. It’s about clearing my inner landscape of old beliefs—and that takes work. It’s like clearing debris from a physical landscape.

We have a small stand of trees on our property that we’ve ignored for years. Some of the smaller trees are dead and need to come down. The lower branches on the rest of the trees are dry and brittle and need to be trimmed off. The latest ice storm brought down even more branches. It’s not complicated work, but it’s exertive and easy to put off. Now it’s piled up on us and has become a big job.

So we chip away at it. We chop dead branches off a few trees, pile up enough to get the burn pile going and then start feeding the fire.

The branches are stiff and wiry. They get tangled up with one another. Sometimes I get whipped in the face by a sharp twig. Even with gloves and long sleeves, my wrists get scratched up.

But discomfort is not damage and the job needs to be done. So I keep going, trudging up the hill with yet another armload of branches.

Sometimes the fire flares up and the flames leap high. Then it’s time to slow down the pace. After a couple hours of steady work, it’s time to rest and refuel: lunch time.

From the outside, our little stand of trees looks green and tall. But step inside and you see the fire hazard. Fallen twigs are a bed of tinder, just waiting to be ignited. The first ten feet of branches are dead and dry—a ladder for flames to soar up into the trees. If we clear it out now, we reduce the risk of a conflagration.

Just like old beliefs, these twigs and branches are hidden under the surface and hazardous. It takes work to clear them out. It’s not easy to face the beliefs I hold that cause damage to others. And I can’t clear them out all at once. It takes steady, dedicated work—”little by little, day by day.”

I’ll be working on my own inner stand of trees for the rest of my life. There is no end. But there are rewards.

Every bundle of branches I haul out of the trees is one less batch of tinder. And every outworn belief I become conscious of is one less trap to fall into and an opportunity to choose a new perspective. Eventually these weaknesses become strengths, as my awareness grows. It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s like exercising a long-unused muscle. The muscle tightens up and complains in the beginning. But the more I use it, the stronger and more flexible it becomes.

Soon I’m able to do more. Move more. Dance more.

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