I closed the San Francisco office of my clinical practice three weeks ago, after 20 years of seeing patients in the city, after 10 years in that building, in that same office. I still see patients full-time, now in my Corte Madera office just 15 minutes north of San Francisco.
Since there was no room in my already-full Corte Madera office for the couch, chairs, desk, bookcase, tables, files, office supplies from the San Francisco office, I had to clean out my garage to make a temporary storage space for the move. Going through 15 years’ worth of previous iterations of myself – old brochures, workshop announcements, training materials, conference notes – became a spiritual practice of realizing – all things fall away. As important as each event was to me at the time, 2 years ago, 5 years ago, all has since fallen away. The events themselves have fallen away; the announcements and mementos of the events have fallen away. Sometimes relationships with the people involved have fallen away. As I sat there in my driveway, filling up the recycling cans of neighbors up and down the block, I realized that even therapeutic modalities fall away, philosophies fall away, nations fall away, eons fall away.
In the midst of all that clearing and recycling and falling away, I came upon a quote from the meditation teacher Adyashanti: “Allow the known to fall away into the unknown, not just temporarily, but consistently.”
I experienced, in an expansive moment of awareness, that everything so exciting, so important, so precious and dear, will in time fall away. Everything. Allowing me the opportunity to “take all things seriously, and hold them all lightly,” as my friend Andy Dreitcer says.
I’m still excited about the new events being scheduled in my life. (See Calendar if you’re so inclined.) I’m still thrilled that Bouncing Back is going into its third printing this week; that the book is still ranked #12 in neuropsychology on Amazon after two months. I’m still excited about the deepening conversations among other authors and presenters at the intersection of neuroscience, mindfulness practices, and psychotherapy. And…I have a daily practice now of being with the truth of the falling away.
To honor the courage it sometimes takes to let things fall away, I’m offering an exercise in Letting Go developed for the Deepening Joy groups I lead in support of James Baraz’s Awakening Joy course. May it be useful to you and yours.
Exercise for Letting Go
- Homework to let go of stuff
The point of this exercise is to open up space in your life so something new can emerge. As always, alignment with our True Nature is what guides our choices, our wise efforts. It’s very helpful to do this exercise with a buddy, to give you a larger or alternative perspective on love letters from your boyfriend/girlfriend in college or dishes you’ve inherited from a great aunt.
- First get a clear sense of your values, your priorities, your commitments now. And a clear sense of your own True Nature – spacious, stable, and flowing.
- Experiment with changing your perspectives on stuff. Rather than de-cluttering by geographical area – living room, dining room, bedroom, kitchen, office, etc.- think of function – socializing, sanctuary, infrastructure (pay bills), food prep, food consumption, food clean-up. “Stuff” might wind up in different categories.
- Choose one drawer or one cabinet or one shelf where you feel you can sort things out by your current values and priorities and let go of whatever doesn’t fit, align, serve anymore.
- Allow ten minutes for this exercise. This practice is not meant to clean out your entire house or garage overnight. It’s to let you have the experience that you can let go of stuff.
- Take everything out of one drawer or one cabinet or one shelf and spread it out on the floor where you can see it all at once.
- Sort everything into one of four piles:
- serving a current purpose, used every day or week enough in a month to keep it in easy access. Will be put back.
- Memories, stories, tradition, heritage connected with it. Wanting to save for now in the archives. Usually a different space for storage, not use.
- Undecided – don’t spend a lot of time in ambivalence. Put to one side, perhaps in the back of the cabinet. If you don’t use it in six months, it goes in pile to forward or delete next time
- Forward: into sub-groups: recycle through swap party with friends or through recycling. Donate to Goodwill, the public library, the local elementary schools, etc.
- Delete – to the trash
- Celebrate the new spaciousness, the new confidence in the process.
- Homework to let go of a busy, overcrowded schedule.
This is not just letting go of busyness but letting in space to ponder the busyness.
- Schedule 20 minutes of meditation time every day for this month. (If you’re too busy to do this, you’re too busy!) Use the time to allow your mind to become quiet and spacious. Create a space in your mind that will allow to assess the rest of your schedule from the point of view of what’s in alignment with True Nature and what isn’t.
- Make a list of 20 or 30 activities you do regularly during a week or month. For each activity, check one of these boxes:
- In alignment with True Nature – this is a manifestation of your spiritual path. Whether it’s family time, creative work, community service, financial stability, health and recreation-restoration; trivial imperatives to keep the ship afloat until you change ships. The activity is in alignment and is worth keeping.
- Should’s – patterns fed by unconscious expectations, yours or other people’s. Decide which of those are in alignment with True Nature and worth keeping, which are not.
- Escape – into denial or distraction rather than entertainment, education, enlightenment. Many activities can be used either for wholesome wise effort or for unwholesome escape, the same activity; we have to discern which way we are using it.
- Destructive – de-railing addictions or behaviors out of integrity. These are good to let go of, using the methods of re-pairing or replacing with something more positive.
- Identify one “should” you are willing and able to get go of this month.
- Celebrate the space created for new things to emerge, more and more in alignment with your own True Nature.