Professional Organizer Kacy Paide gave an outstanding workshop for us earlier this month on How to Declutter. (She will likely be back for a longer presentation so stay tuned!) What came through so clearly in her talk was that letting go of the clutter can be about so much more than being motivated to sort and toss. It’s also sometimes about working through our memories about the past, expectations for the present, and our dreams about the future.
Mindfully Letting Go
Letting go is a central component of mindfulness – the attentive and accepting awareness of the present moment. In his book Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., recounts a story from India. As the story goes, hunters drilled a hole in coconuts and placed a banana inside to trap monkeys. But, most of the monkeys got stuck and caught by the trappers because they couldn’t get the hand that was grasping the banana out. The monkeys that let go of the banana, though, could pull their open hand out and move on.
We often are unaware of how tight-fisted our attachment is to how things “should be” or “should have been” and how much it keeps us from being free to move on emotionally and reach our next steps or broader life vision. This is the case whether we’re talking about clutter, issues at work, or relationships. This can equally apply to holding on to a desire to avoid certain experiences.
One of the hardest areas to let go of – our expectations of ourselves and others. We may never question the beliefs and expectations by which we live our lives, often shaped by our upbringing. But, unexamined expectations, such as what makes a good parent, the role of work, the management of money, and spiritual beliefs, deeply influence our choices. When those expectations do not fit with our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs (much less our skill set), or the reality of our circumstances, we can feel a sense of cognitive dissonance. Holding on to them causes more stress than we may realize.
Letting go of your anxiety about how different things are from how we want them to be or think they should be is a key step to reducing stress. Why? Because letting that go reduces the energy devoted to resisting and frees up space and energy to actually move on.
Breath awareness and other meditations are one way to create more of that spaciousness in your life – taking in and releasing one breath at a time as a model for letting go of what no longer serves you. Just as letting go of things and freeing up space in your home or office increases a sense of spaciousness around you, letting go of (or holding on more lightly to these thoughts) increases the spaciousness within.