The Importance of Letting Go
Of all the seasons, Fall has always been my absolute favorite. Yes, of course I love the cozy cable knit sweaters, decadent comfort foods, vibrant colored leaves and fireside quietude that are welcomed by all as the weather cools down, however, my affinity for this particular time of year goes far deeper than that of the pumpkin spice variety. What really draws me in about this season is how nature invites us to let go of what’s no longer serving us so that we can make space for new and positive growth in our lives. Sound a bit lofty for talk of the seasons? Let’s go a little bit deeper and I’ll explain.
I love the practice of yoga because yoga teaches us to look to nature as our teacher and a guide on this path of self discovery and awareness. Anyone who has ever taken a yoga class ever in the history of time probably remembers the teacher instructing them to do “Mountain Pose”, “Tree Pose”, or “Downward Facing Dog.” Why on Earth do we make dog and tree shapes in yoga one might ask? Because we learn about our own nature by imitating our environment. Be it a tree, a season or even the way the tides move, there is a valuable lesson to be learned from everything around us, we just have to notice it.
In the case of Tree Pose (Vriksasana), we are asked to make the shape of a tree with our physical bodies so that we may look at life from the perspective of a tree and perhaps apply the knowledge gained from that experience to our overall human experience. While holding tree pose you might ask yourself questions like “What do trees embody? What are their strengths? Do they have any weaknesses? How can I apply this understanding to my own life?” Trees have roots that create a foundation for a healthy life. We too need solid foundations in order to thrive. Trees are able to sway with the winds of the storm, and if they can’t then they will get uprooted or snap in half. We too need to be flexible with the winds of change and challenges in our lives, otherwise we too can break. One thing trees are really good at is letting go. Each year they let go of their beautiful leaves and they don’t think twice about it. We humans on the other hand? Letting things go, or what we call in yoga, “non-attachment,” isn’t exactly our forte.
Human beings like to cling to and attach to things for it helps us feel like we have some control over our wild, senseless, infinite and completely uncontrollable environment. The more we attach, the more attachment becomes a habit, and habits are familiar and therefor feel safe to us. We will even hold onto painful memories, bad habits, unhappy relationships and negative self talk simply because it is familiar and that familiarity provides a false sense of comfort. Often what we’re holding onto becomes a part of our identity we’ve created for ourselves here on Earth. If something awful happened to us when we were little, we own it as a part of our “story” and we retell it to ourselves, and perhaps others as well, over and over again until it is completely ingrained into our minds as being a major component of our identity. It gives us something to focus on, feel “control” over and distract ourselves with so that we don’t have to focus on healing, growing and evolving past our pain and old stories. We don’t let go of our stories because we equate letting those things go with losing a big part of our identity. But this is pretty ridiculous when you really think about it.
Let’s simplify it and put it in terms of the Tree; is a tree not a tree anymore once it loses all it’s leaves in the Fall? Of course it’s still a tree. We know that the tree doesn’t need it’s leaves to be a tree...it’s a tree through and through no matter what. We too are not dependent upon our external circumstances and stories (our leaves) for our identity. We exist beyond that stuff, and therefor need not attach to it any longer. Like the trees, we can simply release it. Think about how strange it would be if trees stopped losing all their leaves in the fall. What if they held onto every dead leaf and never made space for regrowth ever again? This would seem preposterous to all of us. We know that if one day all the trees became attached to their leaves and decided to desperately cling to them that eventually they’d stop thriving, become overcrowded with dead growth and would eventually die. You might be saying, “Wait a minute! Not all trees change color and lose their leaves!” This is true, however, even evergreens shed their dead leaves and branches over time. All plants do. In fact ALL living things do; cells die, are shed and then new cells are made, and thus life goes on and on.
Aside from having literal roots and branches, we are not all that different from our tree friends. Turns out, holding onto our unhealthy, dead parts (or what we may refer to as ‘baggage’) isn’t so good for us either. That pain you’ve been holding onto since childhood, or that annoyance you’ve been feeling towards that coworker, the neighbor you’re so jealous of because they have the prettier front yard or your irate road rage you spew up every time someone cuts you off in traffic? This is all the stuff that we can most definitely file into our baggage department, or our “dead leaves”. Whatever you call it, it’s simply the parts that are no longer serving us. In fact, all it’s doing is causing us pain. Every time we think about what happened to us in the past, it triggers suffering which uses up our precious energy and kills our joy. Energy that we could be using to help grow healthy new parts of our lives, but that we’re instead wasting on protecting our familiar pain. And even if we’ve managed to push that stuff so far down into the depths of our being that we don’t feel as though we’re bothered by it anymore, it’s still there lurking beneath the surface, just waiting to get triggered by one wrong comment, interaction, thought or memory. So, unfortunately, there really is no shoving this pain down and fully escaping it. It’s still there and it’s still poisoning our ability to be truly happy and free. Until we chose to let it go.
We are so much BIGGER than our stories and our pain. They try to limit us but we are INFINITE.
LET. THEM. GO.
Why? Because we can’t truly be happy until we do. They hold us back from experiencing the well of joy residing within each and every one of us. How on Earth are you going to be happy when you’re holding onto all that baggage? Just like our tree friends do every year, it’s time to get rid of our dead leaves, our baggage...our old stories. The parts that aren’t helping us grow and are just weighing us down. “But how?” you ask. Through practice, patience, trust in the process and some very VERY very deep breaths. When you get emotionally triggered, instead of clamping up and shutting down like you normally do, just allow yourself to feel the uncomfortable feelings bubbling up. Don’t shut them off, just simply let them flow. Watch your negative or fearful thoughts. Cry, yell, scream, run around, jog it out, play some really loud heavy metal music, head bang (do people still do that?)...you get the point. Do whatever you need to do to fully feel that particular emotion and then take a deep breath and exhale it all out. Tell yourself you’re releasing that story. With each out breath imagine releasing it from your heart, your mind, your bones, your body, your energy and your breath. I promise you the more you do this practice of letting go you will literally feel yourself get lighter and lighter. You’ll find that that baggage you’ve been carrying around for all those years was pretty darn heavy. And then something crazy awesome will happen; you’ll start feeling really REALLY good! Free from all that dead weight.
The trees don’t cling to their falling leaves, however colorful and glorious they may be, simply because they trust that with each Spring comes new, beautiful blooms. In order to invite more of what we want into our lives we must follow the trees example and release the old to make room for the new. We too must trust in the process of nature and our ever expansive and loving Universe to provide for us always, because it does, always. We must trust that when we let go we won’t fall but instead we will soar. No longer being weighed down by the past, we can fly high and be truly happy and free. We can live the life of our dreams; a life that is available to not just the lucky few, but to ALL who are willing and committed to doing the work day in and day out. It’s a practice and it takes effort, but it always pays off. As we move into the cooler months, look to Mother Nature for inspiration and encouragement as you do this work of letting go. She is always showing us the way, all we have to do is look, listen and observe. Inhale and take everything in, exhale and let it all go. Experience every moment in present time; not looking at things through the lens of our past or anxiety about the future, but with a presence that only comes with feeling each breath and showing up for each moment fully. Trust that you are supported and that everything is unfolding exactly as it should.
That is the yoga. That is the practice.
And if you stick with it season after season, with Nature as your teacher and your guide, you too will blossom, grow and thrive.