Letting Go

books

Not being catholic, I have somewhat of an outsider’s view of the Lenten season. Mind you, Catholics aren’t the only ones who celebrate Lent, but they are certainly the most visible – especially on the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday.

From my experience, Lent is usually honored by giving up something that you enjoy. The thought has been explained to me as as a sacrifice to echo the sacrifice of Christ, though I have recently read of other interpretations. The idea is to recognize how challenging it is to give up that one small thing (even if it is usually to our own benefit in some way), and to therefore appreciate how great a sacrifice was done on our behalf.

I was thinking about this idea of sacrifice over the last few days, since I often choose Lent as the perfect time to give up something. After all, there is a lot of support out there for letting go at this one time of the year. Take advantage of the communal energy! When I participate in this process, I like to look at it as giving up something so I can see what kind of hold that thing has over my life and evaluate whether I am willing for that hold to continue.

Frankly, my concept of Lent has changed over time. It used to be more in alignment with sacrifice, but this year, I am seeing things a bit differently. I realize that the sentiment behind “sacrifice” is that it should be something you enjoy or want to continue doing, so that giving it up is in some way unpleasant. What I am realizing is that giving things up doesn’t have to be unpleasant to be beneficial. My spiritual life and my physical life can both see benefits if I do this right.

I recently read some comments from a Buddhist monk who explained that monks were only allowed to own 8 things, and those 8 things were actually predefined. This idea coinciding with the timing of Lent made me think of the possibility of giving up ownership, or at least reducing my ownership footprint. I read a new slogan somewhere on the web: “Don’t declutter. De-own.” Sounds scary … and that means it is powerful.

I certainly own a lot more than 8 things. Honestly, I own a lot more than the 100 Things that another blogger suggested. I grew up in a poor household and it was made very clear to me at a very young age that how much stuff a person owned was a measure to compare oneself against. Many family members were hoarders, though I doubt very much that any of them would admit it. When I moved in with my current partner, I think I was well on my way to becoming a hoarder, myself. She, however, is not a hoarder. In some parts of her life, she is downright minimalist. Needless to say, my collection of stuff drove her nuts!

We broke up for a while due, in part, to this very issue. During that time, I came to realize that I really identified with my stuff. When she didn’t want things out where it was visible to guests, I felt like she didn’t want me to be visible. When she would gently suggest downsizing some of my collection, I felt she was wanting to downsize or diminish me! It sounds crazy, I know. From what I can tell though, this is very much how hoarders feel. I now call this syndrome being “stuff sick.” The love I felt for her forced me to face this about myself, and I truly believe she pulled me back from the brink of becoming a hoarder.

Over the years, I have learned to let go, to hold on less and less. She taught me that memories and emotions might be triggered by seeing certain things, but that doesn’t mean we have to keep them. If the object serves no practical purpose, we can take a picture of the thing and let the actual object go. It is a process and I am still not as good at it as she is, but I keep improving.

Which brings me to the idea of Lent 2013.

My idea for this year goes beyond sacrifice into the value of reviewing what defines me. I am not willing to be defined by these things I enjoy. I can give them up and still be me. So, I have decided to give up ownership of one thing each day. At the end of the month, these things will go to Goodwill / Savers. Instead of giving up chocolate or sweets or some other decadence I enjoy, I am going to commit to releasing one item for each of the 40 days. My rules to myself are that I can’t just give up a pair of shoes and count it for 2 days, nor would a box of office supplies count for any more than a single day’s gifting. It can’t be something I simply don’t care about either. To be a valid sign of my healthier attitude toward the things in my possession, I am committing to giving away things I am holding onto “just in case.” If you know anyone with hoarder instincts, this is tough! 20 years in the computer industry simply reinforced that tendency in me, so I am sure this will be a challenge.

Day 1 is going to be a handful of books that I always meant to read, but haven’t. These particular books have been in my “to-read” pile for more than 3 years. I love books and letting them go is never easy for me. Sigh. Time to let them go.

Whew! One day down!

Are you taking advantage of this letting go energy? What has Spirit prompted you to let go of?

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