Letting Go: Start Small
How many conversations do we have with friends about needing to get rid of old clothes, old shoes, terrifying old food in the fridge, and so on? Yes, sometimes it is just a matter of finding time, but isn’t there all too often the voice in your head saying, “I might need that someday” or “I’ve always loved that shirt, even though I haven’t worn it in two years” or “that yoghurt might still be good” (I know – ew – but we all do it)? I had two separate conversations about closet purging this weekend alone, and I didn’t even bring either of them up!
The practice of letting things go can be so difficult. Even letting go of the small things – that random lotion under your bathroom sink, an old pair of shorts, or that special liquor from your trip to Europe four years ago that you will never drink. We become so attached to material items because of the memory that they represent or the money we sank into them. It’s very real, and it can be very hard to just say “goodbye.” But notice that I said “sank.” It’s a sunk cost (you already spent the money, and you are not going to recoup it whether you use the item or not). More importantly, the memory is never going to go away, even if the item does.
Attachment is not a logical process, and it can be near impossible to make sense out of it. Some of us have a hoarding-nature a little more strongly than others of us, and either way it is okay. It’s all very intricately tied together with our sense of self, and with our desires to be comfortable and prepared. It is also, of course, driven into us from Day One that the more stuff we have, the happier we will be. But let me ask you this: did you fall into a deep depression the last time you cleared out the closet? I would be willing to wager that you actually felt the opposite! Freedom! Levity! Joy! And, perhaps, a refreshing sense of non-attachment.
I have found that a good approach to letting go is to do what you feel comfortable with, a little bit at a time. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Confronting the material things can sometimes be easier than the thoughts (like I’m not good/skinny/tall/smart enough) or maybe the grudges (he lied to me/wronged me/screwed me over) that you’ve been holding on to, so maybe just start with that old lotion bottle or hairspray that you never use and just see how it feels. Take a deep breath through the nose, and then just let it out. Let go of the breath. Let go of the hairspray, and feel that much lighter.
Are you holding onto something less concrete than a bottle of lotion that you’ll never use? Sometimes, just releasing a little bit of tension can be the best way to let go of something emotional. Taking a walk or a jog to physically let go of some steam is a great way to practice non-hoarding; it helps you let go of your workday so that you can enjoy yourself and your evening. An alternative: just find a comfortable seat (at your desk, at the kitchen table, the couch, or your yoga mat). Take a deep breath in, hold onto it for a couple of savored seconds, and then send it on its way. As you breath out, notice the warmth of the breath as it leaves through your throat and nose. Also notice the changes in your body as your breathe out: maybe your shoulders relax a little further down your back, or perhaps your jaw loosens up a little more.
Aparigraha (non-attachment or non-hoarding) is one of the five yamas in yoga. By practicing with the small unwanted things in life like stress and old shirts, we prepare ourselves for the big-ticket items – like letting go of the ego, or our youthful wrinkle-free faces, or anything else that you can imagine that someday might leave you. Non-attachment is no easy task, but we can work on it daily with the small things.
Say “good riddance!” to something small today and let us all know how it felt!