Insights: “The Art in Letting Go” by Michele Barkhauer

The Art in Letting Go

Imagine for a moment that you have a single rope wrapped around your hand, and that you’re gripping that rope in order to hold onto what is at the other end dangling over a precipice. At the other end of the rope is a thing that was once important to you, or a part of you, but that no longer serves you. Perhaps it’s an old t-shirt that’s threadbare and well-loved after years of use that you can’t bring yourself to part with, or a letter or photo from a time better left in the past. Perhaps it’s the weight of a grudge you’ve carried, the pain of a secret hurt you’ve harbored in silence, or a voice in the back of your mind telling you that you can’t do something your soul is begging you to do. Imagine that each moment you hold the rope the items at the other end become just a bit heavier than the moment before, and as they become heavier the rope wraps tighter around your hand until you can feel the weight drag you down, constricting your fingers; holding it brings you pain. Now imagine you loosen your grip. You make a choice to take a breath, unclench your jaw, drop your shoulders from your ears and allow your fingers to loosen their death grip. As you do this, the rope begins to unfurl from around your hand and slowly it falls away; your hand is free. The pain goes and with it goes the heavy burden and you feel at ease.

The art of letting go lies in knowing what serves you in this life and what doesn’t. It is in being able to differentiate between what we want to bring with us into our future and what is better left in our past. Each moment is a teacher and each item a lesson; some things we bury in our bones until they become a part of us, but this doesn’t mean we must bear the burden of shouldering them to the grave.

I recently found myself watching a Netflix series on “tidying up”. Most of my friends made fun of Mari Kondo’s methods of “tidying” as she calls it because she states emphatically that you should thank your belongings before packing them away, giving them away, or throwing them away. To many, speaking to a threadbare t-shirt seems silly, but seeing her lovingly touch each item to see if they “sparked joy”, and thanking those that did not for their service to her before letting them go reminded me of the Shinto belief that everything possesses an energy or spiritual essence called “kami”. Some of the participants were hesitant to touch and to speak to their possessions but as they did something amazing happened, they began to find peace. Letting go became easier. I watched as they became more in tune with themselves, their environment, and their inner joy as they easily sorted between what would be carried forward in their lives and what would not.  What I noticed was that as they let each possession go, they appreciated them for the role they played but recognized that the time in their lives for those possessions was over now. I feel that mental and emotional clutter can be tidied up in the same way our possessions can; take stock and ask yourself ‘does this spark joy?’. If the answer is no thank it for its lessons and let it fall away.

I will leave you with one word of caution as you let go: if it sparks joy keep it; this is Mari’s rule. Touch the thing, hold it, speak to it, or if it is inside of you like mine was, close your eyes and check in with yourself. If a thing sparks something inside of you, a tiny ember of happiness or fulfillment, hold onto it. This is the art of letting go, the beauty of choice, of self-realization, of recognizing what you need and what you don’t; it may be the single kindest thing you can do for yourself.

Bill Maher recently tried to shame millennials claiming that their love of video games and comics was childish; he claimed they needed to ‘grow up’. A woman named Catherynne shattered this idea on social media asking Maher why on earth millennials, who are living in an era of #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, questionable politics, global warming, crushing student debt, and a poor economy, would give up what is “good & joyful & rich in the art and accoutrements of childhood in exchange for a yawning grey void?” and she’s absolutely right. Never let go of what sparks joy in your life simply because other people fail to recognize its worth in your life. The value of your joy should never be based on someone else’s exchange rate.

by Michele Barkhauer, Director of Religious Exploration