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  • LivingWell Institute

Letting Go: Lessons from the Leaves

Learning how to let go and embracing change are two of the most difficult things I have learned in life, and I certainly haven’t mastered either lesson yet.

If we’re honest with ourselves, each of us has things we are holding onto that are likely preventing us from living our best life, regardless of what the present circumstances are. And one of the keys to our own freedom is Letting Go.

Consider for a moment what you are holding onto in your body, mind, and spirit. Are there areas in your body where physical tension is causing pain - like headaches, lower back pain, or jaw tightness? Do you have negative thought patterns, a critical voice inside your head, or belief patterns that don’t bring you joy? And are you holding onto painful emotions, regret, shame, disappointment, or envy in your spirit?

During the fall season, there are many inspirational sayings about “Letting go like the leaves”. I thought: how cliche. In thinking about this, I found that not only was I resistant to this idea, I was quickly able to find two examples of trees that grow here in the northeastern US that don’t easily let go of their leaves: oak and beech trees. I had proven my point, and easily justified who I am and why I respond to new seasons and change the way I do.

And then a lightbulb went on inside me: there are things that I am refusing and choosing not to let go of, and that is directly connected to an unwillingness or an inability to embrace change, and underneath that is definitely some fear.

The oak leaf: oak leaves are strong, tough, and they hold on well into the cold and windy fall season. When nearly all of the other leaves have vibrantly turned colors, gracefully let go of the summer season, and yielded to the change that had been progressively happening around and inside them, the oak says - not me, not yet.

The beech leaf: these leaves hold on almost completely through the winter season, with withered leaves that have lost their color, stubbornly and persistently rustling in the wind through wind, rain, sleet and snow. It literally takes the coming of the next season, spring, to push out the old leaves and force them to let go for the new life to emerge from the branches!

Whether change is gradual or abrupt, many times the only thing we have any control over is how we respond to it. And the more life I experience, the more I have come to recognize that letting go is not a sign of weakness, defeat, or failure. Instead, it can be one of the most empowering choices we have the freedom to make.

There is a lot of truth in the saying “change is the only constant in life”. As we grow and change, whether by choice or in response to change that happens in or around us that is out of our control, there is freedom and opportunity in learning from the leaves. Which leaf will you be in this season?

Much like the weather and natural world around me, the past growing season for me personally has been full of extreme temperatures, abundant rainfall (that many times had me feeling emotionally like I was drowning), and long stretches of unpredictable, unstable, and unsettling weather. And I was pleasantly surprised when I read a recent report on the projections for fall leaf color where I live that explained that “due to the abundant rainfall and weather conditions during this past growing season, we can expect vibrant fall colors”. What a beautiful result of a challenging growing season.

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