On letting go

12 December 2014

It’s almost the end of the year and it’s time to take stock, clean house and plan for the future. If you’re into that sort of thing. Of course, the “end of the year” is an entirely arbitrary designation loosely influenced by the rotation of planet and the whims of society. But, whenever it is, the occasion to reflect and envision is the only holiday I feel in any way drawn to celebrate. So I do so at New Year’s.

As my recent essays have probably demonstrated, lately I’ve been sorting through a rather large stack of habits, memories and hopes, and determining which to take forward with me. Letting go used to be a very easy, possibly too easy, process for me. Dissatisfied with what I had and perpetually feeling out-of-place, I focused on what lie ahead, not on what I left behind—undoubtedly, in some cases, blindly so. In more immediate years, however, I have suffered more loss and more derailment of expectations. It seems likely that’s a normal path of growth and a stage everyone will encounter at some point. Now it’s my time to wrestle with what it means to lose what you will never get back or maybe even replace.

The natural impulse is to tighten your grip, to cling to what you have for the sake of its familiarity and the comfort, however slight, that affords. But this isn’t ultimately any more productive or healthier than casting what you have aside without thought. Instead, it puts you in confinement. Some things you can’t hold on to. Some things you shouldn’t hold on to.

Genuine growth is a balance between alternately holding on to and letting go of the right things at the right times, and not only do I think I’ll never get the process perfected, I don’t think anyone ever can. But not trying is a wholly dishonest and cowardly way to live. So there we are.

We’ve got a little bit of this year left. Plenty of time to bring up those boxes in the mental basement, unpack, examine and make choices about what to do with the contents. There are wrongs to forgive and apologies to make. Responsibilities to discharge and responsibilities to accept. Maybe there are some good times to remember. Certainly there are mistakes to regret. There’s likely a lot to throw out. But the most difficult part is that putting everything in order and putting it all away again is not the goal. Neither is using what you find to make a careful, sunny plan for the future. There is no goal. There’s just living with more awareness and deliberation in every moment. It’s, frankly, terrifying.

That’s probably why we drink a lot for this holiday.

The good news is, the awareness and deliberation gets easier as you go along. So go ahead and get a head start for next year.

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