The Freedom of Letting Go

Though their days are short, January and February seem to stretch on longer than other months of the year. The trees have shed their leaves and remain dormant and bare, the landscape is washed of color, the cold feels bitter and never-ending. It’s easy to feel stuck as you wait out the grayness, hoping for warmer weather and longer days ahead. But there’s a lesson to be learned from these winter months; and a look at those barren trees reveals a powerful truth we would be wise to follow in our own lives.

When a deciduous tree sheds its leaves each fall, it is not because the wind rustled the leaves from its branches or the cold forced them to wither and drop away. Rather, it is because the tree itself cut its leaves off. At the place where each leaf stem meets a branch are thousands of tiny cells called abscission cells. The word abscission has the same Latin roots as the word scissors and means exactly what you’d think—the act of cutting off. A tree’s abscission cells forcefully cut off its leaves as winter approaches. This allows the tree to conserve energy and nutrients during the cold months ahead and, more important, leads to greater growth when spring comes and the tree’s leaves return. You could bring a deciduous tree inside to keep it warm and stop the abscission process, but you’d also be dramatically decreasing the overall lifespan of the tree. When a tree lets go of its leaves each year, it increases its lifespan and leads to better, fuller growth in the future.

The same is true for each of us. Letting go—even if it means we feel gray and vulnerable for a time—leads to stronger, fuller growth in the future. In fact, though we may feel vulnerable as we let go of the things weighing us down, we actually open ourselves up to feeling more joy and, eventually, blossoming into something greater and stronger than we are now. So, instead of waiting out the winter weeks ahead, take charge and let go of the things that are holding you back. You’ll be brighter and better come spring. Here are four things to consider letting go:

Physical clutter.
The fewer physical things you have to manage (clean up), the more time you’ll have to do what you really want to be doing (not cleaning up!). Tidying up will take less time; focusing on the task at hand will come more easily; and a general sense of well-being will take over your mood. Scientists have, in fact, discovered that the chaos of a cluttered environment restricts your ability to focus and your brain’s ability to process information. Straighten up your physical environment and let go of the things you don’t use or need. Here’s a great tip for decluttering a closet: turn around all the hangers in your closet so the hooks (the open end) are facing you. When you wear an item of clothing and hang it back up in your closet, turn the hanger around the correct way. At the end of six months, get rid of any clothes on hangers that are still facing the wrong direction.

Emotional clutter.
Holding on to past grudges, offenses, and mistakes is like hoarding emotional clutter in your brain. It’s true that forgiving another person—or yourself—won’t change the past, but it will definitely change the future. Acclaimed author and spiritual lecturer Marianne Williamson said, “Forgiveness is the key to inner peace because it is the mental technique by which our thoughts are transformed from fear to love. . . . [It] is ‘selective remembering’—a conscious decision to focus on love and let the rest go.”

If you’re on the cusp of doing something different, let go of your fears, take a risk, and just do it. Think back to when you were a child, afraid of taking off the training wheels and tumbling from your bike as soon as you began to peddle. Then think about what it felt like when Mom or Dad let go of the seat and you suddenly realized you were doing it—you were riding on your own! You could go so far and so fast, so freely! Most risks are like this: once the fear is overcome, the feeling of freedom is incomparable.

To help you push through the fear, try starting a daily ritual. In a glass vial, blend 20 drops bergamot essential oil, 20 drops clary sage, 6 drops ginger, and 4 drops fennel. Diffuse 5 to 7 drops of the blend and repeat this affirmation while breathing in the aroma: “I am capable and strong. I feel joy daily. I am safe. I have enough and I am enough.” Continue to diffuse the blend throughout your day.

The perfect life is simply unattainable; and constantly searching for it leads only to disappointment. The pursuit of perfection puts you in the position of constantly comparing yourself to others—effectively shackling yourself with expectations that will never be met. There’s always going to be someone smarter, thinner, richer, more successful . . . more “liked” on Instagram. Instead of striving to be perfect, look inside yourself and strive to do your own personal best. Forgive yourself when you feel like you’ve fallen short, and move on.

Social researcher and bestselling author Brené Brown says: “Perfectionism is the belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen.

“Perfectionism is also very different than self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. . .

“In fact, research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds.”

As you let go of physical and emotional clutter, fear, and the pursuit of perfection, you will prepare yourself to grow strong and fuller—to blossom into the person you were meant to be. So, embrace the winter, cut off the things that are holding you back, and look forward to spring! 


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