Here we are again it seems at the beginning of another cold season, nearing the beginning of another new year. I’m getting ready to start over and I’m writing this blog about that.
At the beginning of 2015 I decided that my word for the year would be CLEARING. It dawned upon me that it’s because ‘clearing’ is a natural precursor to next year’s word…CREATING. And then it occurred to me that I always will be (and want to be) in a cycle of clearing and creating because the two concepts are symbiotic. I have slowly adopted a clutter-free maintenance system of one item in/one item out when acquiring new things, and the same should go for projects. I can only spin so many plates at once, and some projects might be best shelved really. We simply cannot carry an entire past of unfinished or outdated projects with us through life – it gets too heavy – and I am sure that weight is not good for creating something new.
I got thinking about this on one of those days teaching abroad in Mallorca that was supposed to be a writing day but insisted on being a beach day. I was sitting by the water watching the waves roll in and out. At the same time, there was a small boy working hard to build a sandcastle. He was 100% focused; nothing was going to distract him from his methodical construction. Until a big, angry wave did just that and wiped away his entire creation.
Was he upset? Oh you better believe it. Inconsolable, hysterical and furious would describe what he was. He lashed out at his parents; he kicked the remnants of his fortress down; he could not believe how unfair the ocean was, especially when he was so close to finishing. Well, clearly this boy needs a good lesson in non-attachment I smugly thought, as if being a yoga teacher (and master de-clutterer in the making) makes me an expert in this field. Not true. Not yet at least. I felt his pain – it was such a nice castle he had built.
I had a similar experience the next day, however this time it wasn’t a sandcastle getting washed to sea, it was nearly myself, in a non-yogic panic, failing to swim stronger than the mounting waves which had seductively carried me a bit too far away from the shore. I’m pretty sure I was a mermaid in a past life, but still, my breast stroke has never inspired confidence. I managed to get back to the beach, but it was enough of a taste of the power of nature and the vulnerability of being alive to remind me that I’ve got some control over how my life pans out, but I have clearly not got control over everything.
So where am I going with this? Well, we’re approaching American Thanksgiving at the end of the month and it’s always a great occasion to be thankful for the things we normally take for granted, and this year after my incident in the ocean and a rocky flight following that, I am especially happy to have more time to write and play on this planet. But before that I want to note that we are also at a good time of year for letting go as Autumn helps us transition from summer to winter by turning the leaves miraculous colours and then helping them to let go to decompose and make room for new leaves for next year (and pretty pictures for my Instagram).
During what has now effectively been about three years of de-cluttering and simplifying my surroundings, it’s the letting go bit that gets in the way of clearing out thoroughly. Not letting go is also something that can make us quite miserable. Holding on to resentment, harbouring ill feelings, regretting past mistakes – these are obviously toxic ways of holding on. But I also hold on to things I spent money on and feel bad I haven’t used/worn enough and projects I started that I want to complete but just haven’t found the time for – and these things can also disrupt our flow. And so I have to constantly remind myself that when I get rid of something old (and that can be an obsolete possession or a negative thought), I am actually making space for something new, something unknown, a surprise. And I am embracing the present moment.
To add to this, I promise myself that there will always be new things to acquire, to inspire, to fill my days (and I avoid watching any films or TV series with post-Apocalyptic themes to convince me otherwise). Because the day after I nearly got washed away by a wave, I went back out into the ocean and kept swimming. And on that same day the little boy got his shovel and pail (‘bucket and spade’) back out and started digging up new sand. And my friend who lost all her digital photos on her phone from the past three years? Well, she started taking new ones (and now her storage is maxed out again). So I am asking you to ask yourself these questions this month – what are my most meaningful projects, possessions, and passions? How can I make more room for them and get rid of the things that simply aren’t serving me anymore/in this moment/now? Who might actually really use/benefit from/enjoy these things? What might I be blocking from entering into my life by clinging to the past?
Chances are that when you put less on your plate, less on your schedule, and less in your closet, you will make the most of those things you have and will be more focused, so you will also waste less over time and feel more grateful for what you’ve got. This is what is really driving me to let go. This weekend I tackled under the bed where I was storing a perfectly good duvet, pillows, towels and sheets (for what? my future mansion in London?!) when I know there are people collecting such items for people without homes this winter. Those are getting donated. I put a battery in an old watch I haven’t worn for two years and brought it to a second-hand shop who sold it to a person delighted to find an affordable birthday gift for someone (I imagine). I have shredded old diaries (the kind that are just calendars), passed on books I haven’t read that I know are more relevant to someone else’s current situation than my own and I cut half my hair off to remind myself that change is good (it’s grown back better and faster than ever before). I am accepting that I don’t have to drag my past through my life with me to validate my existence and things are starting to flow.
I appreciate that I am not the first person to discover the joy and peace that can come from letting go (or the catchiness of that phrase). It’s been written about a lot (before Frozen), and perhaps no where more beautifully than in texts like the Tao Te Ching and the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali so here’s a quote to keep you thinking:
All life is a passing show. If we want to hold it, even for a minute, we feel tension. Nature will try to run away; we will try to pull it back and keep it. When we want to keep it, we put up barriers which ultimately cause us pain. Even with our own bodies, if we don’t want them to change, trouble will come. We will buy all kinds of make-up, creams and wigs to retain our “youth.” If only we learn to enjoy each change, we can recognize the beauty even in aging. A ripe fruit has its own beautiful taste. When we just allow things to pass, we are free. Things will just come and go while we retain our peace. – p.106, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda