“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”
This quote has questionable origins; some claim it was declared by the Buddha, and others assert it was not so. Whatever the roots, the tenet is clear: the quality and ease that we wish to embrace in life can be achieved through love, simplicity, and humble wisdom that allow us to recognize when we need to let go. The Buddha was wise in his observation of the cyclical patterns in which humans repeatedly create and perpetuate suffering. Above all, he taught, we agitate ourselves into discontent, anger, hate, jealously, greed, stress, and fear through our desperate attachment to things—physical, emotional, and mental. Liberation from this suffering emerges when we are able to gracefully accept the transient nature of things and relinquish attachment.
New Year’s is a hallmark holiday for reflecting on and redefining the quality of our lives. It’s a time in which we can do just as the Buddha taught: relinquish attachment. This manifests in a multitude of ways that are personal to each of us. One of the most outstanding things I’ve heard this year from friends is their gut-wrenching desire to leave their current job. This is a common resolution because it’s where we spend the majority of our time! If there is little to no satisfaction or sense of accomplishment left in the job you chose, it’s time to reflect on whether your attachment to security and benefits is really causing you joy or just drawn out suffering. What good are benefits if all you gain from the job is degraded health due to stress, over exhaustion, and emotional distress? In the end, you’re merely spending more time and money putting those benefits to use to fix your damaged health, which may have not been so were it not for the job. See the cycle?
Often times we start strong with diligence, clarity, and conviction, but within months or weeks we let that good-natured discipline fall to the temptations and distractions that we resolved to cast out. This is no secret and yet it happens time and time again. I, too, fall prey to a lack of resolve as I become swept up in the hustle and bustle of modern life.
So how do we really let go? How do we create space by shedding what isn’t meant for us in order to embrace what may truly bring us joy, peace, and contentment? An understanding that we may not actually yet know what it is that will instill unshakeable peace, remaining open to possibilities is also crucial.
Although we live in an era that promises standardized, one-size-fits-all remedies for what ails and disgruntles us, the art of letting go can never have one such formula. But there are a multitude of techniques, principles, and guided exercises that undoubtedly help to initiate and sustain the art of letting go. This year, rather than focusing on what you want in the New Year; flip that on its head. Think, what can I let go of?
For example, when we buy more stuff without getting rid of the old, all we’re doing is accumulating clutter. The same applies to life-- emotionally, mentally, and physically. Truly reflect on your year by making a list. In one column list the challenges you were faced with, and in another, their outcomes, positive or negative. Read back over your list and start looking for patterns or connections. Is there a recurring challenge in your life that stems from a common root? Is there a recurring pattern in which you deal with adversity?
Make another list detailing the things that you’ve identified as patterns or cycles of adversity—focusing on the things that you are responsible for. Draw out keywords from this list. For example, my list for 2014, after distilling it down to the keywords, includes: overachieving, people-pleasing, multitasking, introversion, and pride. Only I know what the full story is behind these words, but that’s precisely the point. These are things I want to shed from my life for 2015 so that I may make room for the beautiful things that can emerge once they’re purged!
When I stop trying to overachieve I can then give true, quality attention to a smaller list of things to do, resulting in less multitasking with less hard-hitting results for each task. I can stop feeling the necessity to overachieve if I let go of my obsession with being a people-pleaser (an epidemic syndrome that effects so many of us). If I can let go of my introverted habits that have habitually caused me suffering, then I can begin to open up to more possibilities and more meaningful relationships.
Remember, these things can be of emotional, physical, or mental nature; they can even be toxic relationships that you’ve allowed to linger for too long. Post the list of things to shed in a prominent place so that you may continue to draw inspiration throughout the year. Your focus on those buzzwords will become etched into your brain, down to the very wiring of your thoughts, effectively helping you to stay focused and manifest change. For reals this year.