My linden tree knows. Change is once again in the air. Autumn is my favorite season! Cozy evenings, pumpkin spice, the bonfire, red wine!
It's true that with any change, even an anticipated one, letting go is a part of that change isn’t it?
Actively letting go is part of many spiritual paths. Fasting is a way for many. Muslims believe that fasting opens a space in their hearts for God to enter. Christians, too, have advocated fasting as a spiritual practice.
We're in the period of High Holy Days for our Jewish friends. Yom Kippur comes on the last of the 10 days of repentance that began with Rosh Hashanah this weekend. The day is usually observed with fasting and extended time in deep prayer, before ending with the sounding of a "shofar," a trumpet made from a ram's horn.
The practice of fasting does not necessarily have to do with the abstinence of eating, but rather should be the result of asking, what do I do in excess?
What attachments – be they people, things, ideas or habits – what attachments do I have that have an unhealthy control over me?
Fasting is done to let go of something for a time to note how it changes your life. Heck, one year I tried to give up being bitchy for lent! I think this time around I am going to limit my phone time to twice a day.
Buddhists consider “letting go” the central theme of spiritual practice. To truly love something or someone, and to let go can be the same thing, they tell us.
Neither way seeks to possess. Both allow us to touch each moment in this changing life and allow us to be fully present for whatever arises next. Sooner or later, they say, we have to learn to let go and allow the changing mystery of life to move through us without fearing it, without holding and grasping.
Each of these traditions speaks to the importance of learning to let go. It's so important that each tradition offers a method of practice for it, whether through fasting or meditation, we practice letting go; practice giving up.
We take the time to remember that joy and wisdom don’t come through possessions, but rather through our capacity to be open to change, to live and love more fully, and to move freely through life.
I HATE letting go. I have the sofa that was in my childhood home in my living room and like the old Rod Stewart song, every picture tells a story...or rather every picture has a story.
In her poem, “In Blackwater Woods” , Mary Oliver uses stark imagery to speak about love and loss and its inevitable cycle. She begins with a description of Autumn, then talks of its lessons for her life. She ends with the words that some of us are familiar with because we’ve heard or read her poems.
To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what
is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”
I remember hearing an interview with Terri Gross a few years ago with Tom Obrien,the author of a book called, "The Things They Carried" about foot soldiers in the Vietnam War.
He begins be describing the many, many things they were expected to carry on their backs, and every sentence begins to weigh down on you, so that you are left with this sense of burden they must carry with them to ensure their very survival on the field.
There are tangible items that add pounds, and intangibles such as guilt and fear that lay heavy on the heart. All of these they must pick up every morning, shoulder the burden, in order to survive in the field. And yet, and yet, there are times when in the heat of battle, a soldier needs to free himself of the things he carries and just run.
How do we know when the time has come to let it go? When it feels like our very survival depends on the burden we carry?
Jack Kornfield, author of "A Path With Heart", writes that we let go of that which blocks our heart. We let go of what is blocking our heart.
You know, as Americans we can be reluctant to let go of things. Success is, after all, measured by the number and size of things we accumulate, isn’t it?
So “letting go” can make us feel like failures in this particular culture. Yet, while we are often reluctant to let go ourselves, we are often quick to tell others just to “let it go.” Why is this?
I would guess that it has something to do with our being uncomfortable with emotions such as grief and deep sadness. It's hard for us to sit with, isn’t it? We are taught, after all, that there is something wrong with us if we are not smiling, happy, optimistic people.
And so we say, I wish he could just let it go! Wouldn’t that make our lives easier?
We should let go of those things that block our hearts. But when we see someone grieving a loss, or when we see someone who is deeply saddened by a memory, we are witnessing a heart that is open. Open to emotions that are part of the human experience of living fully, loving deeply, and losing profoundly. These emotions are in most cases not signs of unhealthy attachments.
“The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.”
I think the need to begin letting go will manifest itself, not as grief, but as a kind of angst, of frustration, of disengagement with the world. A feeling of too much clutter. Signs of a closed heart. Feeling these, you know the time has come.
Letting go needs to happen on its own schedule. It has little to do with the timeline of the actual physical loss. It can’t be be forced, because it is a transformation of the heart.
A shift in consciousness that creates an opening, a space, for a fuller life to enter. It’s not always dramatic is it? We bumping into it when we find we need more help around the farm.
But when it happens, it is, as Mary Oliver describes, a kind of salvation. “Everything I have ever learned in my lifetime,” she says, “leads back to this: the fires and the black river of loss… whose other side is salvation, and whose meaning none of us will ever know.”
Salvation doesn’t depend on making meaning out of our loss. It lies in being able to let it go, when the time comes, of getting to the other side of that black river of loss.
“To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal (in other words, that which you know will someday no longer exist); to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”
When is it time to let it go? I believe in each individual’s wisdom to know when the time has come. When you feel your heart is blocked, it is time. And yet, we HATE letting go!
My advice: when you know it’s time, don’t go it alone. Find some wise and trusted friends or a professional who can listen well, who can provide a safe space for your process to take place, and who can stay through your rants.
Jack Kornfield writes that when you know it’s time to let something go, and you just can’t, take a milder approach and practice letting it be.
Set it aside for awhile and practice not carrying the load. Notice how much more open your heart feels.
The Beatles used to sing, Let it be. Let it be. There will be an answer, let it be. In the meantime, we will wait. One morning you will awaken, not feeling the hollowness inside.
Loving, holding on, and letting go describe the cycle of our lives, nothing more, and nothing less, because really, that’s all there is. We enter fully into this life by moving through each of these three things with love and intention.
Today I encourage each of us to make some space in our lives by emptying ourselves of one thing we’ve been hanging onto, something we know it’s time to let go of.
Time and space...
We do this in order that something new might enter into our lives and the thing that we release has been taking up the space that your open heart is ready to accept.
Try this Letting Go Ritual
adapted from a meditation by Thomas Rhodes.
Feel the earth beneath your feet as it supports you.
Feel the love of this community as it surrounds and enfolds you.
Feel your breath as it flows in and out of your body
Listen to your heartbeat.
Listen to your heart.
Take another breath and consider:
The air you hold in your body is the most precious thing in the world, for your life depends on it. And yet, none of us can hold on to it for more than a moment,
or else we would strangle and die.
What has been most precious to us must be released, so that we may live, and life fully.
Look into your heart, find what is there, and hold it.
The love you hold within your heart is the most precious thing in the world.
And yet no one can hold onto it any more than your body can hold your breath.
What is most precious to us must be shared, so that we may love, and love fully.
Look into your life, at those things that are most precious to you, that you accept with an open heart.
Look again, and you will find that their value lies not in being held, but in being shared.
May we share these precious gifts that they may return to us, multiplied beyond measure.
And so it is, Amen and Blessed Be.