08/29/2013 10:24 am ET Updated Oct 29, 2013

Potential: The Most Beautiful Poem Never Written

If Zen is formlessness, then it's also potential: the formless before it finds its shape.

It's nothing more than that amazing recipe that you haven't had time to cook. It's the ill-fitting shirt, with the price tag still dangling, you haven't yet worn or returned. And that unworn, unreturned shirt is crammed into a cluttered closet that you can see, in your mind's eye, as a sparse and keenly organized space.

That sparse space is there already, it's just been buried under the mess.

Here's what Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki of Zen Mind, Beginners Mind says about housecleaning:

You should have a general house cleaning of your mind. You must take everything out of your room and clean it thoroughly. If it is necessary, you may bring everything back in again ... But if [the things] are not necessary, there is no need to keep them.

When you clean mental house, you start to feel your finite form expand into something bigger and more infinite, and at the same time, your something bigger takes on more shape. You start to experience what is and what isn't (yet) living side-by-side in a slightly surreal harmony.

Potential. It's not some daunting thing you have to become. It's the you that already exists underneath the clutter.

Potential is the 40 notebooks Emily Dickinson left behind. She made her sister promise to burn her love letters, but tellingly made no mention of the poems locked away in a chest.

To publish or not to publish? Maybe she hadn't made up her mind yet. Or maybe she wasn't finished shaping the poems when the clock ran out.

Or maybe that heavy chest full of poems was a burden that she never got around to dumping in the trash.

We'll never know. But we do know that when her sister decided to publish Dickinson's poems four years later, the first volume was a "critical and financial success."

It's also easy to envision the alternate reality. Her sister could have kept the poems in the chest; then instead of Dickinson's becoming one of America's "most important poets," no one would ever have read her poetry at all.

Either way, it's a good time to tidy your mental closet. Toss out some rubbish. Discover some beauty, locked away. You just never know what you might find once you start housecleaning. Here's what Dickinson's sister found:

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality...

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