As a death doula, I regularly talk about the healing value of embracing impermanence. Clients who have trouble letting go at the end of life suffer both emotionally and spiritually. Practicing letting go ahead of time, while alive, shows us it can feel good, on a visceral level when we un-attach ourselves.
We also avoid all that subsequent pain that comes from clinging.
I can’t very well support and encourage people to let go if I’m not modeling that same behavior. I must practice what I preach. Even if it requires a certain amount of work.
Practice Makes Better
Letting go of sentimental items was easier for me than for most people, even at a young age. I enjoyed the regular de-cluttering of my personal space.
Letting go of people was another story.
Well into middle age, I stayed in relationships way past their expiration dates. I suppose I felt a certain amount of pride saying, “I’ve known this person since junior high.” I found myself clinging to those friendships even as they dissolved.
Of course, this led to suffering.
In 2015, I knew I needed to change.
Therapy helped. So did the excellent book “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chödrön. I moved past anger and saw those relationships as beautiful despite being flawed or impermanent. Releasing what no longer served me, I utilized meditation, especially loving-kindness meditation, as part of my process.
Practicing how to observe my feelings, without judgment, and then watch those feelings go, without attachment, made my life better.
When clients have trouble parting with a sentimental item, we use specific language to work through similar feelings. We aren’t discarding a treasured necklace, a priceless quilt that our Aunt Laura made, or some other precious memento. Not at all. We’re giving others joy, letting some lucky persons pick up where we left off.
Someone will cherish this gift the way we once did and shower it with the love it deserves.
The same thing can be said about people we give away, too, right?
That’s how I’m able to experience sustained happiness when releasing others. I’m setting us both free.
It’s joyful to send resounding peace and goodwill to others without needing to reach out or cling to them. If someone drifts away, I let them.
I send good vibes, light, and love.
That’s it. No clinging. No suffering. Just release.
The freedom of forgiving and releasing a loved one is profound. Saying, “I’m satisfied with what we’ve had and don’t need more” is something we can do to make all goodbyes less traumatic than they otherwise would be.
But no matter how good you get at releasing, sometimes it still takes work. This is especially true with prized possessions and essential, healthy, life-affirming activities that add so much to our lives.
“I’m of nature to grow old, I’m of nature to get sick, I’m of nature to die.” This Buddhist mantra reminds us that our mortality is something to regularly contemplate and accept.
Maybe even embrace.
When recent illnesses and injuries, that come from getting older, required me to seek out ways other than cycling to stay fit, I resisted. “I don’t want to,” became my mantra for a minute.
Ahh well, sometimes I’m my own worst client.
I wanted to continue cycling. Simple as that. For lots of reasons. Cycling keeps me connected to a specific community and way of life. I clear my mind, think, work off stress, get some exercise, and enjoy a healthy lifestyle. The world always looks and feels better when I’m out riding my bike.
That’s the voice I listened to, instead of what my body said. By ignoring my injuries and illnesses, I clung to something that no longer served me.
And so, I suffered.
It took some time to recognize the signs. Doesn’t it always?
At first, I started cycling inside. It still hurt to do this, but I stubbornly barreled ahead.
While traveling and away from my bicycle, I found other ways to stay fit. I felt better physically. That’s when I couldn’t ignore it any longer.
I wanted to continue feeling good physically. So, I focused on that. I focused on the joy that donating or selling my bicycle and accessories would give me. Sharing them with someone who could use them. Someone who’d derive joy and gain better health as a result.
And so it was done.
Precious items or precious people, in the end, letting go wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.
It never is.
(You don’t have to practice letting go alone. Reach out for support today.)