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Lessons of Autumn: Letting Go

Autumn is ironically not only a season of harvest and abundance, but also a season of letting go, of change, of dying. This is so obvious in the dying leaves covering our ground, and the world changing to the stark colors of gray and brown. In the very familiar Ecclesiastes 8 passage, it occurred to me that the Teacher is talking a lot about abundance and letting go.

There is a time to build up and a time to tear down.
There is a time to laugh and a time to mourn.
There is a time for gathering stones and a time to scatter them.
There is a time to seek and a time to lose.
There is a time to keep and a time to throw away.

Letting go is rarely our favorite thing, but it is also one of those things we must deal with constantly throughout life. On an almost daily basis life demands that we let go of stuff, people, work, health, traditions, expectations, grudges, attitudes, beliefs, fears, dreams, homes and so much more.

Robert Fulghum tells a story about a friend of his who is a juggler. This guy is really, really good. He doesn’t do torches or knives or dangerous objects, but he can juggle eight balls and is working on nine to tie the world’s record.

Ludlum asked him a question one day, “If I were in your class, what would I appreciate about your ability? Or in other words, what would another highly accomplished juggler know about your skills that I miss because I’m just an awed amateur?”

The juggler responded that the average spectator was impressed that he could catch so many things and throw them up again. He said, “The truth is that the hardest parts are holding the balls just right, throwing them one at a time in rhythm, and not altering your breathing or inner adrenaline level as the number of balls increases. Also, an expert would notice he had developed and learned to trust a reliable pattern of movements – a pattern that includes missing a ball sometimes. When you miss you don’t get upset or quit – it’s then that the champion juggler does not blow his cool or change his inner state.  The secret of juggling is inner harmony and knowing how to let go.” 

What a wonderful metaphor for the spiritual journey. Each of us keep so many balls in the air, its inevitable that we’ll drop one or more on occasion. Maintaining an inner calm and grounding ourselves in a spiritually abundant mindset (like we talked about last week) helps us not completely freak out. That abundant mindset reminds us that we have everything we need within us to get through whatever life throws at us.

I get that letting go is hard. Geez, it took me ten years to let go of my grandmother’s dining room table after she died. Never mind that we never used it and all it did was collect dust in the basement. It held sentimental value of years of eating with her around that table that was hard to let go of. Who was worthy of that table?

This year with two of my adult children now living with their significant others, I’m wondering what will happen to the holidays. They probably can’t be what they’ve always been. I may have to drop a ball that I really don’t want to drop. But life goes on, the rest of the balls still have to stay in the air. Deep breath. Let go.

Fear is our biggest obstacle in letting go. Fear of loss, change, hurt, failing, guilt, forgetting memories, and so much more.

Roy Spence tells a story of going to a Land Rover driving academy. He said the driving instructors were insane. They had driven Land Rovers over some of the wildest terrain in the world, and they believed these machines could do anything. They had no fear and they wanted you to have no fear, too. The instructors were also in a real sense Zen masters.

Roy was driving when David, his instructor, told him to slow down and go to the very edge of a straight-down cliff. He did. He moved to the edge and stopped, but kept the car running.

David said, “We are going to let this machine ease off the cliff into the unknown. And here is the blinding truth. If you put your foot on the brakes – even a tap – this vehicle will flip over and we will probably die. On the other hand, if you just ease on the gas – just a tiny tap on the gas – and let the vehicle go on its own, we will be just fine.”

Roy said, “Are you insane? I am not going off this cliff – I can’t even see the bottom.”

David looked at him kindly, and almost whispering, he said, “Roy, sometimes you just have to let go.”

Roy stared back at him, tapped the gas, and they went flying into the unknown – down the side of the cliff into a huge mud and water hole. And when the machine came to a stop, covered in so much mud they couldn’t see out the window, David repeated his wisdom. “Sometimes you just have to let go.” 

It seems to me that this is life… meeting the edge over and over again. Maybe it is a relatively small edge like getting rid of your grandma’s dining room table. Maybe it’s a huge cliff like facing a potentially devastating diagnosis. I’m not sure the size matters, the choice is the same. If we are people who want to live and grow, we must ask ourselves why we’re so scared? Why can’t we move forward? What don’t we want to see? What don’t we think we can handle?

At the end of the day, all we need is a thimble full of courage to tap the gas and send us forward. And we may very well find ourselves covered in mud, but such is life. 

Consider this week what you might need to let go of. Is it control? Is it a thing (or many things)? Is it an expectation or a grudge? It is a fear or a hurt? It is grief or anger that you’ve held forever that isn’t serving you? What might you let go of to be a healthier you?

Remember, you have everything you need within you. And, sometimes you just have to let go.

Love & Light!