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Psychological Dust

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

How to get rid of it

Vinegar bottle vase of red-flowering gum blooms on wooden coffee table
Newly dusted coffee table with red-flowering gums (Corymbia ficifolia) at Evergreen.

I’ve ignored dust most of my life. But that changed recently.

I was on holiday in that surfing mecca and upmarket tourist spot, Margaret River, walking white beaches, sipping long blacks and browsing bookshops. In one of the latter I picked up a copy of The Flame, by iconic poet, novelist and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. It fell open at a random page and my eyes noticed these lines:

There’s no one else there’s nothing else can move the dust but you

I thought dusters, brooms and vacuum cleaners got rid of dust. But Cohen is saying it’s me who must remove it.

My relationship with dust has been extremely pleasant over the past twenty years. The only dust I’ve had to move is what’s landed in my eyes. All other sorts of dust I ignore, and it ignores me. That’s because my husband does the housework. In fact, when he went away for six weeks, I had to phone him to find out where the vacuum cleaner was. I’d hunted throughout the house and found it not. ‘I keep it in the tool shed,’ he said, ‘against the south wall.’ I replied, ‘Thank you,’ trying to keep incredulity out of my voice. What woman would keep a vacuum cleaner in the tool shed, and know its compass direction?

But back to Cohen’s quietly penned lines about dust. I knew he wasn’t alluding to the fuzzy coating on furniture because famous poets don’t write about housework. He was referring to psychological dust.

Ordinary dust is a mixture of unsavoury things like dirt, bacteria, fabric fibres, spider legs, hair follicles, dead bugs and skin cells. Get out the vacuum cleaner that sits snugly against the south wall of the tool shed, plug it in and turn it on, and all that dust stuff disappears.

Psychological dust is composed of tiny, highly reproductive, negative and long-living thoughts that we coat ourselves with. The most powerful vacuum cleaner on earth and the latest anti-bacterial microfibre wipes can’t get rid of this film of dust we carry around. Only we can.

When life circumstances force us to become aware of our personal burden of dust, we can either ignore it, deny it, blame it on someone else, or go running to others to get rid of it for us. But, like Cohen wrote, ultimately, we’re the only ones who can eliminate our own psychological dust.


Ah! This is the big question, and Cohen didn’t go on to answer it. He just stated the problem.

But I’m a great believer in the notion that the answer to a problem is tucked inside the problem. The answer can’t be found anywhere else. I’m also a great believer in the principle that answers to seemingly complicated problems are very simple.

So, if I have the seemingly complicated problem of being coated with psychological dust, I could eliminate it by simply letting go of the psychological “me”. Because, basically, it’s my thoughts about myself that have formed this psychological coating of dust.

We coat ourselves with thoughts about being black, white, male, female, tall, short, fat, thin, awkward, urbane, rich, poor, righteous, sinner, famous, forgotten, smart, dumb, young, old, healthy, sick . . .

You may see yourself as a short, white, awkward, smart, young person. Or a black, tall, famous, sick male. But that’s just psychological dust. Let it go.

Just like ordinary dust stops the glorious wood grain on the coffee table from shining through, psychological dust stops our true nature from shining through.

Like most layers of dust, psychological dust is very thin. It’s just on the surface.

But you can’t suck it off or wipe it away.

You have to simply let it go.

With love, Marlane

Would you like some help learning to let go? Take the FREE 7-Day Mindfulness Challenge !

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