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Letting Go

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
— Mary Oliver, In Blackwater Woods

This is the time of year when the leaves release from the trees and drift in the breeze in waves, becoming a force of nature in their return to the earth. It’s easy to see them as alive—characters in their freedom from the branches that once held them. The tree lets them go in their time, and releases their burden that they may survive another winter season.

Humans hold on to their own things. Homes full of stuff, people who sap our vitality, positions of honor that sap our soul. Why do we hold so tightly to things that, deep down, we know must be released?

Identity. We begin to believe that we are that person with that job, or the one who raises those children. For awhile we may be the soccer parent or the blogger, the hiker or sailor or the life of the party. Perhaps even that crazy uncle who says the most ridiculous things and prods nieces and nephews out of their shells. Identity is a tricky thing indeed. We are grounded in it, and let it drive our every decision.

Human beings always cling to things.
Practice begins when you stop clinging.
— Awa Kenzo, Zen Bow, Zen Arrow

Those trees offer a lesson, don’t they? The tree is rooted in place, reaching for the sky, making the most of whatever season it happens to be in. The leaves are not the tree, but a part of it, nurtured in one season and released in another. Everything has its time. No, the leaves aren’t the tree at all, simply a part of it. It’s the roots that matter far more for the tree to survive.

What are we rooted in? What do we hold on to far longer than we should? What do we need to let go of to survive another winter and thrive when the season changes in our favor? When the time comes, let go.

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