I know in my body when I am holding on to something too strongly. Sometimes it is an idea of how something could unfold, a plan, a resentment, a to-do, a sense of shame or defeat. Often, it is a feeling of responsibility for something I can’t do, don’t really want to do, or shouldn’t do. When I am holding on too tightly, I feel it in my body. Shoulders tense. I don’t breathe deeply. Humor eludes me. I am impatient with people I love (and don’t love!).
And I know the sense of release. I can breathe again. There is a tension released from my muscles. I become more patient, receptive, and eager to listen. I sing along to the radio and dance in my car! I slow down to listen to the people I love (and don’t love!).
I used to believe this idea of holding on was especially gendered for women, but I think it is woven throughout our culture for all genders and peoples—an emphasis on intense responsibility, holding on and even shame about releasing. Consider the culture of over-working which is a veritable competition of fatigue when we see one another! “How are you?” “So busy!” one person replies and the other almost always answers, “me too. I am working XX number of hours or I am running around for the family…kids/grandkids are so busy!” I can’t think of the last time when I asked someone how they were doing and they replied, “I am really taking it easy these days and cultivating space. I am letting go of the things that aren’t helping me grow and live with integrity.”
I have a friend who recently took up the practice of de-cluttering following the expert Marie Kondo. The process is relatively simple. Kondo recommends letting go of everything in your life that you either don’t absolutely need or doesn’t spark joy for you. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Kondo advises that if something doesn’t spark joy or is unnecessary, to thank the object and then release it.
In some forms of Buddhism letting go is understood as a source of release and joy. Sometimes the fear of missing something or someone, being incomplete without it, keeps us from seeing the joy and contentment on the other side of release. In this space of release, we discover what we truly need and who we truly can become together. Unlike cleaning out a closet, though, freeing the self is best done within community. Buddhists gather in a sangha for this very reason- to create communities of courage and accountability.
And so we gather. This month in our congregation we will be sharing practices of spiritual de-cluttering. May we seek together and discover new paths of release and service to one another and the world.
Peace to you and yours,