Maybe it is just this time of year—when the rains begin to come down and the skies often turn a little bleak—but every fall, I feel an acute sense of grief and an intense desire to let go.
There is sweetness to spending more time inside, to wool socks and warm sweaters, but there is also sadness, and today I am feeling it. It’s as if the world slows down just enough after our busy summer, and we begin to touch on those old experiences that have been floating beneath our vibrant sunny selves.
These experiences resurface when they get the space to, and so now they tug at my newly donned scarf and hat, and whisper: “You know you haven’t let us fully go, right?”
Coincidentally, an old friend of mine contacted me recently, and my response to him was so strong that I realized, “Damn, this one I have been hanging onto!”
We had fallen out a few years ago over a misunderstanding, and it had been sitting in my heart as a little rock ever since. What he said now triggered me, and his desire to rekindle our friendship went straight over my head.
I still felt angry and wounded, and my instinct was to spit little sharp tacks at him—and yet, at the same time, I felt paralyzed. So I basically ignored him and became sad.
It was then that I knew I had my own letting go to do before I could look at him clearly again.
This is what unreleased things do—they muddy the waters of our perception and weigh at our spirits in ways we don’t realize, until suddenly we are confronted by them once more.
I have a daily contemplation practice in which I let the old go and then welcome in what I currently desire. However, I sometimes forget to do this for the things that are so specific and personal. It is easy to say that I release old pain, but it is harder to say that I release my anger at this specific person or heartbreak, or to actually let an individual go.
Sometimes there is fear in fully letting go, as it means things will change.
But I knew my holding on must be released, and I understood from my practice of Buddhist ritual that I could do so. Ritual in Buddhism is seen as an activity to build skillful means, or upaya (as translated in Sanskrit). We partake in this when we need supportive refuge or to come back to our true intention.
Rituals are a meditation in action to invoke love, peace, harmony and health, and also something we can use to say goodbye.
For holding on to anger or resentment is often just our ego’s way of still wanting to be right. In the skillful means of letting go, we try to not make things right or wrong, but rather see things just as they are clearly. In fact, one of the most popular styles of Buddhist mediation is called Vipassana, which literally translates in Sanskrit to “clear seeing.”
When we are able to let go of things, we can then approach our situation again with a steady view.
I needed to see my old friend for who he was, not what he had done. So I harnessed upaya and practiced a homemade Buddhist ritual to let our disagreement go.
Here are the steps for my own Buddhist ritual for letting go:
(If you are new to rituals, set a timer for five minutes. If you are experienced, do this for as long as you wish!)
In Buddhism, we structure rituals with a beginning, a middle and an end.
Open this ritual by doing something to delineate it from the rest of our lives; for example, lighting a candle, sitting crossed legged, ringing a bell or lighting incense.
Then we set an intention. It can sound like, “May I release the anger I feel about this (person, place, situation), and may I—in its place—feel love.”
Repeat this as many times as feels right.
Now for the middle portion, we sit still in silence and observe the breath. This allows letting go to occur. We may keep our eyes open and look at the candle or floor, or close them and focus solely on our breath.
If other words come to us like: “I release this anger now” or “May I be free,” we can voice this too.
Traditionally in Buddhism, to close, we dedicate the merit, which means we wish the outcome of this practice to benefit all beings.
So to end, choose a phrase like: “May all beings find peace.”
It is important to do a final act of blowing out the candle, ringing the bell, smudging the incense or bowing to signify the finality of this release.
When we hold onto something that no longer serves us, we suffer—and we miss out on new opportunities offered in this moment. By releasing it, we free ourselves up for liberation. Freedom is found in the skill to see things for how they are now, not how they were.
I’m now ready to be a friend once more.
Author: Sarah Norrad
Image: Tareck Raffoul
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina