Person standing against twilight sky, letting a fan of leaves drift from their hand

Letting Go of the Old

Fall has always been one of my favourite times of year.

Nothing compares to that crisp back-to-school feeling when you step outside in the morning, or the vibrant oranges and reds of the autumn leaves. For most of my life, fall meant that a long cold Canadian winter was on the horizon, but even that dread wasn’t enough to stop me from feeling a burst of excitement when I first noticed the hint of crispness in the air.

Living in San Francisco is almost an absence of seasons in many ways, but I still feel the pull of fall. It’s a season of change, of letting go. First the leaves transform completely from their summer green to reds and oranges and yellows so bright and beautiful it almost defies belief. Then once the dramatic display is complete, the trees release their leaves to the earth to start a whole new cycle of life.

* * *

In a way, 2020 has been all about letting go. So much fell away from us all at once, and we just don’t know when the life we once took for granted will come back, or what things will look like on the other side of all this. But in the space left behind by the loss of so much, new things have emerged. That’s just how it works. In order for something new to come in, first we must create space by letting go of the old.

For me, 2020 has allowed me to let go of teaching Pilates and step fully and unapologetically into coaching full time. This change was forced on me by the circumstances of 2020, but how wonderful, because it would have taken me so much longer to come to this decision on my own. And how well-timed too, because more people than ever need coaching right now, and now I have the space to take them on.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, about how we must make space for whatever is next by actively practicing letting go.

I’ve been on a tear the last month or so, going through and decluttering each room and each closet one by one. Fall just hits me that way, and I’m determined to rid myself and my space of any excess, any things that are no longer necessary for the version of myself I am stepping into. It’s a weird hobby of mine, but a very satisfying one. Each time I part with something old, I know that I am not only passing it on for someone else to make use of, but I’m also freeing myself up to allow whatever is next to come in.

When I cleaned out my closet a few weeks ago, I decided to give away half of my yoga pants. It just made sense, and it felt like such a concrete way to signal the closing of one door and the beginning of a whole new chapter. And I’m not rushing out to buy something new to immediately fill that void. I’m just creating space, and trusting that something new will come in when the time is right.

* * *

I’ve also been practicing letting go of old beliefs and habits. I use the world ‘practicing’ because changing our beliefs isn’t as simple as giving away an old sweater, never to be seen again. Our belief systems and the narratives we carry about ourselves and the world are deeply ingrained in us, and have been with us most of our lives. So I’m making an effort to notice the beliefs and habits that are no longer serving me, and consciously choosing to let them go. And when they pop back up again a day or week or a month later, I can notice them and say “Hey, didn’t I get rid of you already?” and let them go once more.

I’ve created a little ritual to help me practice letting go. This started a few years ago, during another season of decluttering, when I was forced to confront how many damn seashells I’d collected over the years, and the fact that most of them have been sitting unseen in a box in my closet. I made a commitment to stop hoarding things that didn’t belong to me, and to return them to their rightful place in the Pacific.

So a few times a month, I bring a shell from my collection along with me on one of my beach walks. I think about what I most need to let go of as I walk along playing with the shell between my fingers, and after sufficient walking, an answer comes. Always. It’s kind of amazing what happens when you simply make space for things to emerge.

* * *

On my walk last week, the answer hit me with a force. It was a perfect day, so warm I was tempted to go for a swim, which virtually never happens here. I walked and walked along the strip of sand that hugs Crissy field, all the way past my favorite old pier, thinking of what I most needed to let go of. I felt the urge to lie down in the warm sand and listen to the sound of the waves gently lapping against the shore, and decided to follow my impulse, ignoring the nagging thoughts saying I really “should” rush home and get to work. It was just too perfect a day and I couldn’t face going back yet, not when I still had hours before my first client, and ample time to prepare.

It hit me then, lying on my back on the warm golden sand. What I most needed to let go of was impatience with myself. I can be so impatient with myself, or rather, I always have been. Working on a new narrative here! But the old familiar song goes: I “should” be publishing more writing, I “should” have more clients and be charging them more, I “should” really be marketing myself like crazy on social media, and just hurry up and become wildly successful and perfect already. You know the drill. Should, should, should.

I don’t know about you, but for me, the more I focus on the shoulds, the ways in which I find myself lacking, the more elusive those things actually become. It’s like they can sense my desperation and they want no part of it. Conversely, the more I relax into myself and trust in my passion, my ability, and the fact that I know without a doubt that I am doing the work I am meant to be doing in the world, the more easily things come to me. It’s almost like magic.

* * *

After soaking up the glorious warmth of the sun above me and the sand below me, in no great hurry I stood up, brushed myself off, and walked into the water as far as my shorts would allow. “I’m letting go of impatience with myself” I thought as I felt the shell’s contours between my fingertips one final time before pulling my arm back and throwing it as far as I could into the blue green water. Then I stood there for a minute, feeling just a little bit lighter.

And impatience with myself will return, I have no doubt. But now that I know how good it feels to set it aside for a while, I feel sure it will be much easier to notice and release it the next time around.

So, in the name of creating some space for yourself, what’s one unnecessary burden you could lift from your own shoulders? What’s one belief, expectation, or even piece of physical clutter you would like to release yourself from? And what might you be calling in by creating that space in your life and your mind?

Of course, I’m hoping that next week allows us to let go of an enormous burden that’s been weighing on us for four years now, but one thing at a time.

Until then, stay safe and stay sane,