This time of year, the changing colors of the leaves create a stunning, visual masterpiece that reminds us that everything must change. The once green trees, that created canopies over our homes, gardens and favorite resting spots, have now transitioned to endless rows of orange, red, and gold works of art that rustle as the fall winds blow through them. These natural wonders can be enjoyed for a limited time, after which the leaves take their final bow, and are released, falling effortlessly to the ground as the trees prepare themselves for their winter slumber. We know, however, that the trees will not be bare for long. After the cold months of winter, they will bring forth blossoming buds in the spring, turning into brand new, lush green canopies that will provide cooling shade on the long, hot days of summer.
Change is inevitable. For some, change can be frightening because there may be quite a bit of uncertainty that comes along with it. However, just as with the changing leaves of fall, change must come about to prepare us for better things to come. In order to prepare for changes that will occur in our lives, we must ask ourselves the question: What are some things that we may need to be let go of, just as the fall season demonstrates to us so effortlessly?
Imagine if deciduous trees never lost their leaves. The purpose of the shedding of leaves is to allow trees to protect themselves from the harsh conditions of the changing weather. The trees absorb nutrients from the leaves, storing them for food, as the trees enter their winter hibernation. If the trees did not shed their leaves, they would continue to exert energy to keep the leaves alive, and would eventually die from the biting cold of winter as they would not be able to protect themselves. Essentially, the trees must let go of their past fruits so that they may survive and bring forth new life. As humans, we must learn to do the same.
Take a look at your life. Are you where you want to be? Are you living your own life or the life that someone else has persuaded you to lead? Ultimately, the question is: are you at peace?
Too often, we spend our time trying to meet exceptionally high standards that we, or society, have placed on us – to be financially successful and/or to achieve an elite status with the influential power to demand or create change. Sometimes, we can drive ourselves towards extremes in trying to achieve seemingly insurmountable goals. If we were to stop and think about it, we may, perhaps, realize that these goals are not what we really want. We may be merely doing what’s expected of us. Therefore, we allow the wants and desires of others to silence our inner voice, which stifles the authentic individuals that we were created to be.
When we’re living a life based on the expectations of others, rather than those of our own, we cannot be at peace. Lacking peace, our lives will, accordingly, bear fruits that contain little joy or fulfillment. For example, because achievement and financial success are highly valued in our society, people take on jobs that, if money were not a factor, they would not necessarily choose. As weeks, months, and even years go by, they may feel as though their “joie de vivre” is being drained from their souls.
How often have you awakened in the middle of the night, dreading going into the office the next day? Unfortunately, this feeling is all too common for a lot of people. And, the more you dread the work that you must complete, the more time it will take to complete your tasks, leading to even longer hours at the office, which steals from your personal time and relationship, and sense of well-being.
So, what are a few ways to step outside of the pre-formed boxes in which we often find ourselves encased, so that we can gracefully embrace the changes to come that we so readily see occurring in nature?
We must learn to let go of the things stifle us from becoming who we authentically are. To do this, we must learn to let go of beliefs, ideas, and habits that may have seemed beneficial in the past, but may not continue to serve us, or those around us, well in the future.
What are some things that we can let go of?
Fears of the future. When it comes to letting go of anything, we often are afraid of the aftermath. There are ideas and beliefs that we have held onto since we were young, making it difficult to release old thoughts or behaviors.
A friend of mine once told me the story of how she feared that she would never marry. Like most women, she was raised to believe that she should be married at a certain age. As she got older, she realized that she would not meet this self-imposed deadline for finding her mate. Because of this fear, she allowed herself to enter into abusive relationships. Although she knew that the relationships were not good for her, she feared being alone and unmarried more than the potential danger in which she placed herself.
After some very heavy heart-to-heart discussions with close friends and family members, she finally mustered up the courage to face her fear of being alone. She ended the cycle of abusive relationships and chose to focus on bettering herself. After a period of “dating dormancy,” she decided to reject her old methods of how she initially interacted with potential suitors. Rather than putting her “best foot” forward, she chose to be herself unapologetically, letting them know where she stood on certain issues and topics, casting off the fear of rejection and the fear of being alone.
Eventually, she did meet her match and has been happily married for the past seven years. Letting go of her fear of loneliness projected into the future allowed her to find the inner strength and courage she needed to be herself in relationships and gave her the ability to recognize a good relationship when it came her way.
If you find yourself often fearful of the future, remind yourself to stay in the present moment, because that truly is all that we have. If we remain fully present and cultivate a sense of appreciation for where we are in life, then that attitude of gratitude can often shift our perception and our emotions towards what is good and worthy instead of betting on the probability that all our worst fears will come true. Our minds are very powerful so guarding how we think is worth every effort.
Expectations of others. As we grow up, we’re often forced to make a decision fairly quickly about what we want to be when we grow up. Think about it. As soon as you’re old enough to start understanding the world around you, you must have in mind a career path, even before you have experienced life as a true decision-maker. If your parents are paying for your college education, they typically weigh-in, sometimes very heavily, on what they think your career-path should look like. Sometimes, they even want you to follow in their footsteps. However, after you’ve had some life experiences, you discover that the goal that others may have for you is not necessarily the goal that you would choose for yourself.
Lauren grew up in a very affluent family. Her father was the CEO of a very established company, affording her a life that many others may only dream about. With her father’s connections, it was pretty much expected that Lauren would choose a lucrative field for her career path, but Lauren had another dream. Lauren loved dancing.
From the time that she was a child, Lauren had taken many dance classes and loved to perform on stage. When the time came for her to make a decision about her college education, she chose to further her study in the arts with a concentration on dance, rather than focus on the preferred occupations that her parents had chosen for her.
Today, Lauren couldn’t be happier with her decision. She has traveled the world, dancing across many stages, living a life that she chose for herself. If she had pursued an externally-motivated path, she may not have the exuberance for life that she has today.
If you don’t actively pursue to be who you authentically are, the world will miss out, because no one else was born with your talents, gifts, experience, and perspective. If you have uncertainty in this, spend time meditating, praying, or journaling to discover who you are. You owe it not only to yourself, but to those around you, and the broader communities of which you are a part.
Unhealthy boundaries. Perhaps you may find yourself in relationships that stifle who you are as a person. This situation likely arises from the desire to be accepted by others. However, this misplaced desire for acceptance comes at a cost, often leading you to lose sight of who you are. Having unhealthy boundaries can also lead to toxic relationships where you may find yourself in a relationship that is physically or emotionally abusive. This can often lead to significant long-term suffering, well after the relationship has ended.
In the broader social and professional context, when we are consumed with social and professional acceptance, we may find ourselves agreeing with the majority rather than stating our own differing beliefs, consistently engaging in activities that we don’t enjoy simply because the group collectively decides to do so, working longer than we may intend, which impacts personal time with family. Rather than choosing to be the lone voice, people who long for the acceptance of others tend to comply with the group dynamic out of the fear of being cast aside.
I recently served on a scientific peer review panel where, at times, I felt like the “lone ranger” in sharing my thought or opinion because it ran counter to conventional dogma. While I felt an internal struggle to support the perspectives of some of the other scientists and clinicians, I knew that I had to speak, based on my own understanding and experience. You can imagine my surprise, after the scientific peer review panel was over, when several of the people who had served on the panel came up to shake my hand and thank me for how much they had learned from what I had shared.
When you allow your perceptions of how others might react to you pressure you into modifying your behaviors, you’re relinquishing your personal power and quenching the essence of who you are. However, surrounding yourself with people who are secure enough in who they are will allow you the space to grow fully and authentically into who you are.
Unhealthy habits. Sometimes, the things that we must learn to let go of are not externally motivated, but habits that we have taken, sometimes even unconsciously, on that can affect our health. Consistently making unhealthy food choices can lead to poor nutrition that can affect you physically and mentally. As researchers continue to study the effects of food on our bodies, there is increasing evidence that unhealthy food choices can degrade both our bodies, leading to various diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, and our minds, as evidenced in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Not getting enough sleep, or sleeping too late at night, or getting too much exposure to non-native electro-magnetic forces (EMFs) can disrupt your circadian rhythm which can lead to a deterioration in your health in many more ways than you may realize. Many choose to sacrifice their sleep for more time to get work done or to binge watch a few more hours of a favorite television show. However, as you know, sleep is important to your body and mind. Without enough rest, your body won’t be able to regenerate, detoxify, and perform the activities needed to function optimally and enjoy a good quality of life. When you feel better about yourself, you’ll tend to make better decisions, for yourself, and those around you.
Letting go allows you the freedom to be yourself, no matter what circumstance or life situation you may find yourself in. It allows for being able to grow in self-acceptance and self-compassion. Take time each day to discover the driving forces in your life so that you can give yourself permission to let go of that which does not make room for inner peace. Just as in the changing leaves of fall, learning to let go of habits, ideas, and beliefs that are not in your best interest can lead to a more fruitful, abundant, and happier life. Granted, there may be a time of hibernation as your fruit is in the growth and development phase, but know that your springtime is on its way.
Ready to make your health a priority? Contact me here for a free consultation.