Today I’m inspired to write about the most obvious thing going on in my little corner of the world: the falling leaves. We’re not often taught how to let go, though it’s such an important and unavoidable part of being human. Trees can be great teachers in this regard.
As my feet crunch along a leaf-covered trail, I find myself asking: What do I need to let go of to prepare for a new cycle of growth? What no longer brings light and nourishment into my life? These are questions worth contemplating every now and then.
Here’s what I’ve learned from my journey of letting go: First, you don’t have to settle on a new aspiration before releasing what already is. Just let go of what no longer serves you, to make room for new possibilities as they arise in their own rhythm. Trust the cycle of letting go, envisioning, planting new seeds, and tending them so they flower and bear fruit. Then letting go again…
I repeat: You don’t need to know what you desire to let go of what feels complete. If you put it down, you might catch inspiration about what’s next drifting through your less cluttered mind. You might integrate what you’ve already done into whatever you do next.
But whatever you focus on next will look different. It will be fresh, like a new generation of leaves emerging from a springtime tree. If you let go of clinging to something outworn, you can grow and experience and be even more. And if you’re not able to give it up yet, at least let go of the beliefs and attitudes that don’t serve you. That way, you can have a different, more spacious relationship with the situation. This alone might reveal new possibilities.
Like breathtaking autumn landscapes, letting go can be accomplished with gratitude and celebration of how something or someone has enriched your life. Perhaps a soul contract has been fulfilled with another person or you’ve learned the lesson you needed from a situation. You don’t need to make anything or anyone bad to release what has served its purpose in your life.
In her popular Ted Talk, multipotentialite coach Emilie Wapnick said, “It is rarely a waste of time to pursue something you’re drawn to even if you end up quitting. You might apply that knowledge in a different field entirely in a way you couldn’t have anticipated.”
And yet, endings can be challenging. We might get in our own way. After receiving a master’s degree in education, I only taught full-time for seven years before leaving that career a few years ago. When I resigned, I didn’t know what was next. All I knew was that my soul had moved on from classroom teaching and was being called elsewhere. Despite all the hoops I jumped through to prepare myself for that career in the first place.
It had taken me a few years to muster up the courage to leave that career because of all the time and money I invested in a master’s degree, my student loan balance, employer-provider health insurance and benefits, and my vision of it being THE career for me, for the long haul. I had such passion for early childhood education in the beginning and wondered if I could get it back if only I held it the right way again. So I examined it from every angle and even requested a sabbatical year (request denied) before I finally acknowledged beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was time to let go.
By that time, it was long overdue. After spending so much time wondering what was wrong with me because I couldn’t make it work, I was burned out to the point of no return. Putting energy into work that was so hard to show up for took up a lot of space in my mind that could have focused on new possibilities. It was like a huge boulder sitting in the middle of my mind that obstructed my view of the path ahead.
Letting go doesn’t have to take so long. We don’t have to suffer in something that feels like clothes that have become too small or outdated because how we felt about it in the past is so different from how we feel now. Because the season has changed, as seasons do.
Relationships can take new forms. Talents, experience, skills, and knowledge you’ve developed can be integrated into something new. This is something that tends to be undervalued in our society. As a result, deciding to end a pursuit often feels like a failure when it’s not.
Would you discourage a flower from blooming if it’s bound to wither?
How do you know when it’s time to let go, or what to let go of? If you tune in to yourself, you will know. Sometimes it’s hard to separate your deeper wisdom from other people’s fears and desires and your own conditioned patterns. I’ve found that a meditation practice and going on a spiritual retreat can be really helpful. Taking walks in nature.
Do you feel drawn to the leaves falling from the trees? If so, go outside and ask the trees for a message. Then keep your senses open, and listen deeply. Anytime you find yourself drawn to something in nature, you can ask what message it has for you.
It’s not a failure to acknowledge that something is no longer a fit for you. That’s an old, conditioned belief that keeps you living small and static when you were made to be so much more than who you used to be. Letting go is part of a tree’s growth cycle. The tree doesn’t stop growing because it lets go of its leaves that for a season or two gathered light to be photosynthesized into food. Like deciduous trees, letting go helps us to expand further. And like deciduous trees that look barren in the winter, we might need to be patient.
All you have loved remains part of you and helps to synthesize new possibilities into fuel and nourishment. It’s like the discarded seeds we toss into the compost bin that surprise us the following summer when they sprout and grow without any effort on our part.
Letting go isn’t something we’ve been taught to do – let alone letting go with grace and elegance. It doesn’t have to be something big like a job or marriage. It can be regrets, perfectionism, certain thoughts and beliefs, situations around which you’ve not had healthy boundaries, trying to do too much, resisting what is, physical or mental clutter, and so much more.
When a new generation of leaves comes out in the spring, it’s vibrant and exciting. Nonetheless, the trees will let go of them in autumn. Not because they didn’t love or need them. Not because they’re bad now. Simply because they’ve outlived their purpose, and in order to grow more, the tree needs to release them.
What leaves are autumn winds calling you to release? Can you let go of what no longer serves you and make room for something new even if you don’t yet know what it is?
© 2019 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, Reiki practitioner, and mindfulness meditation teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.