Once a year, I go through my closet – okay, closets – and give away clothes I no longer want. This year, for the first time, I gave away some clothes, not because I didn’t want them, but because they no longer fit me. It was hard, because it wasn’t really about letting go of a bunch of jeans: It was about letting go of the Kagiso who wore size-26 jeans.
I have pretty much been the same size since my varsity days. I managed to stay that size through quitting smoking and turning 30. It’s the baby that did it! Choosing to give away those jeans rather than embarking on a weight-loss regime meant letting go of a particular version of myself; one which spanned well over a decade of my life. It seems life constantly requires that you let go of something or another in order to grow: things, people, places, feelings, and even beliefs. Gardeners prune plants to stimulate growth; snakes periodically shed their skin to accommodate growth spurts; and children lose their milk teeth to make way for their adult teeth.
Letting go might be an intrinsic part of life, but it certainly hasn’t been easy for me. I suspect that I’m not the only person who struggles with letting go. Hanging on seems to be a human condition, which might have prompted this observation from Anaïs Nin, iconic writer and one of my favourite women. She remarked, ‘Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.’
I wish someone had taught me that at school, instead of theorems. If that time had been given to my current self, instead of Mr. Matthews, my high school math’s teacher, this is what I would have taught my younger self:
Kagiso, you have never really been a hoarder of things, you release those easily as you outgrow them. Have you noticed how quickly they are replaced? You never seem to have a shortage of things. I bet you think you release material things effortlessly because you have so many, but I am here to tell you that you have an abundance of things because you let go of them so readily.
As the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum. As such, the best way to attract new things into your life is to create space for them. You seem to have gotten this one intuitively, when it comes to things. What I would like you to do is apply the same concept to the immaterial.
I know you love to learn, well learning requires the acceptance to new ideas. It’s hard to grow while hanging on to old beliefs and ideas. Learning is much harder when you are invested in being right. It’s okay for you to let go of your old truths to embrace new ones. I know you hate being wrong. What if you look at it this way: Truth is relative. It’s all about perspective. For example, what is a chrysalis – the beginning or the end? If you are a caterpillar it is the end, if you are a butterfly it is the beginning.
You should also consider letting go of expectations of how things should be. Often, you become unhappy because a situation, person or relationship is not conforming to your expectations. It’s easier to let go of your own expectations and accept that things are as they are, than fight reality in an attempt to get it to conform to your idea of how things should be. This will greatly reduce the stress and tension in your life.
While you are at it, let go of hurts too. I am about to use the F-word: forgive. They say unforgiveness is the poison you take hoping someone else will die. I know that some things are hard to forgive, some people even seem unforgivable, but you forgive for yourself, not another. Forgiving allows you to move on. It’s about letting go of hurts that occurred at a point in the past. As long as you hold on to the hurt, a part of you has to remain in that place in time. As soon as you forgive you call it into the present, where all of you should be. The beauty of forgiving is that you don’t need to know how to do it. All you need to do is be willing to forgive. If even that is still too hard to do, be willing to be willing to forgive. Soon you will get the hang of it.
Then I am going to ask you to do something even harder. Forgive yourself. In every single situation that you need to forgive another you also have to forgive yourself. There is always a part of you, which blames you for the experience, a part which believes that you could have done something differently.
Forgiving yourself sets you free. You will be free from the painful memory, and you will also be free to benefit from the lesson contained in the experience. Often, once you stop focusing on what went wrong, you notice what went right.
Finally, let go and let God. I know that you’re not religious. This is not about religion; it is about faith in abundance. Remember at the beginning of this lesson I commended you on your ability to let go of physical things. It is because you have faith that there is more, better stuff out there to take the place of the things you are releasing. If you apply the same faith to all other aspects of life you will let go of beliefs, situations and relationships with the same levity and joy with which you part with old shoes. Know that whatever you choose to release, be it a job, a house or a person it will be have a more suitable replacement.
This way you can live lightly, enjoying the flow of the river of life without the need to build any dams to hold the water. Oh, and buy a calculator in case there is some practical use of the theorems you missed out on while learning about letting go.
Writer: Kagiso Msimango