I remember a conversation I had when my son was two years old about the nature of impermanence. It started when he was playing with a helium balloon that was leftover from a birthday celebration. I told him to be careful to keep the balloon inside the house, but he managed to slip out onto the porch with it when I wasn't looking. Within minutes I heard his heartbroken cries "Get it back, mama! Get it back!" and I ran out just in time to watch with him as it sailed up, up, up to the top of the redwood trees and beyond.
A week later he and his big brother were playing with a non-helium balloon on the trampoline, and as we eventually heard the inevitable pop, he once again began to sob inconsolably for his loss. After his weeping subsided I asked gently, "We got to really, really enjoy all these balloons while we had them though, right?" He paused before answering. "Yeah. Balloons fly away and they also pop. Balloons just have to go bye bye, and we just have to let them go bye bye," was his sage reply.
And one last parable from my children's wisdom: Recently, my older son, who is a huge fan of amusement park thrill rides, convinced me to go on a rollercoaster with him. The next day I was moaning and groaning a bit about how I actually felt like I had whiplash. My son asked why, and I explained how when we went on the rollercoaster I was holding onto the bar so tightly that all of my arm and neck muscles got completely sore. He looked at me a moment and then said "You know, mama, next time just try not to hold on so tight. It's much more fun and easy if you just let go."
Just Let Go...
As we enter into Autumn, the season of the Metal element in Chinese Medicine, we can see and feel nature's gentle command: "Let go." But with that, many questions can arise, such as, what exactly are we supposed to be letting go of? How do we know what to let go of and what to hold on to? And perhaps the biggest question-- why? Why is letting go so important? What is the point, even, of letting go?
One of the most profound experiences I've ever had relating to letting go was when I chose to let go of my dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. For years I had been questioning whether my relationship with alcohol was out of balance, but I always managed to convince myself that it wasn't. So I would keep drinking, all the while feeling an aching sense of confusion and uneasiness bubbling under the surface of my consciousness.
Then one night while sitting in a deep healing ceremony, I had a vision that changed everything. In the vision, my ancestors came before me in a column of light, and asked me to simply quit drinking, once and for all. These were ancestors that had themselves struggled with alcohol, and they asked me to let go of it for their sake, for my sake, and for the sake of my future ancestors-- the ones not yet born. At the time I was not yet a mother, but this vision made it very clear that I would be having children, and that this choice to let go would benefit them in helping to break this ancestral, karmic pattern of alcohol abuse.
That night, in the presence of both my past and future ancestors, I made the commitment to quit drinking. It's been over ten years, and I still feel it was the most important decision I've ever made. I made the decision to let go of something that was not serving me, and in so doing I made room for greater consciousness, health, and clarity in my life. I also made room for my future children to be born to a mother who was no longer numbing herself in a dysfunctional pattern, a mother who had taken a vow to stay awake even when life got difficult.
When we let go, we create space: we make room for something new to enter. If the deciduous trees never let go of their jewel-like leaves, there would be no room for the vibrant green buds of springtime to emerge. The dried seed pods of autumn hold new beginning and new life within them, but only if they let go and release to the earth. Autumn is the season of death, and death is nature's way of creating balance. Death yields new life-- any good compost heap can teach us that!
The spiritual inquiry of fall is this: "What can I let go of, so that I may create more space, clarity, and room for what will truly serve me?" There are many ways to explore this. It could be us letting go of physical items in our home that no longer match our current needs or lifestyle. Autumn is a perfect time to declutter; I myself have been decluttering the past month more than I ever have in my life and it's been incredible. As I let go of what is no longer of value to me I create something that is: spaciousness and clarity. This is what the Metal element within the Five Element tradition is all about.
Beyond physical clutter it could be that we need to let go of certain psychological clutter: distorted beliefs or thought patterns into which we've been painfully locked. I don't have bumper stickers on my car, but if I did I would probably have the one that says "Don't believe everything that you think" because it is such valuable advice. We can let go of old beliefs about our selves and our lives that we've been unconsciously hanging on to. Meditation is amazing for this.
It could be that we need to release certain habits or addictions that are damaging our health and dulling the natural brilliance of our spirit. Life works in patterns, and it is so painfully easy to stay locked inside self-destructive patterns, as these habits become more and more established. It takes determination and support to break them, but it can be done.
The yin organ associated with fall in Chinese Medicine is the lungs; in order to receive the clear and sparkling heavenly Qi of the breath, we must also empty and release the old breath. We must exhale, we must let go. The paired yang organ of fall is the large intestine, and clearly we need that organ to let go on a regular basis in order for our bodies to be healthy! But there can be a kind of spiritual and emotional constipation too. When we keep holding on to something that is no longer serving us we are not making space for new growth and possibility.
As a practitioner of Chinese Medicine I help my clients attain health and balance in their physical organs and meridian systems. But because this is a system of truly wholistic medicine, I also look at the spirit-level healing lessons that each of the Five Elements and their corresponding seasons have to offer. When we align ourselves with seasonal energy we align with nature, and in so doing we start to come into a greater state of balance.
As we deepen into autumn, I encourage each of us to explore these seasonal contemplations about letting go, and to look deeply within our hearts to see what (and how) we can let go of that which no longer serves us.
Wishing everyone a blessed Autumn!
I am a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist with a Heart-centered practice in the Santa Cruz mountains. See my About page for more about me and the work I do.