Letting go of needless baggage

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Accepting your history need not be your destiny.

                                                                 Joseph Palmar

 

Decluttering our lives

Seasoned travelers learn to travel light. The more baggage they carry, the more work that is required, and the less the enjoyment of the adventure. And so it is with life.

Yet, excess baggage accumulates. It accumulates in our physical lives, and it accumulates in our emotional lives which in turn contributes to mental stress.

Continuously accumulating baggage doesn’t work well in either the physical or the emotional realms of our lives. At some point, we need to say “enough” to accumulating more and “enough” to continuing to carry what is burdening us.

Creating space in our lives means selectively letting go. Have you kept a sweater that you have never worn? Have you kept your old dressing gown even though you were given a lovely new one for Christmas? Have you acquired a new set of dishes but not parted with the set that has 2 plates and 3 saucers missing?

The web offers some decluttering tips and sites.

Spring Cleaning

Our grandmothers held annual spring cleaning.

Items that were still useful but not needed were passed on. This required letting go of  sayings like “someday I might use that,” or “someday I might be that size again”.

Jamming our closet full actually has the affect of making our world less spacious.

It is useful to spring clean our inner lives as well. It may be as small as parting with birthday cards from people we hardly recall. In other cases, it may be letting go of a long held resentment or fear or revisiting a belief that has become dysfunctional.

Over time, we  clutter our lives with thoughts and feelings that weight us down – that interfere with the adventure of life. We become burdened with emotional and mental baggage that interferes with creativity and productivity. Eventually, we become so burdened that our vision of the future is obstructed and our energy is depleted.

Emotional baggage can often be thought of as “unfinished business”. For some reason, we hang on to the emotional component of events and relationships that are long since over. Yet, for us, they are not finished. We are still wanting someone to say “I am sorry”. We are still looking for recognition from a parent who is gone or absent. We continue nurturing a wound that won’t heal because we keep opening it.

Effortless decluttering

Sometimes dealing with the clutter of our lives means simply letting go of the item, thought, or feeling. At other times, what is required to is to deal with the unfinished business. Letting go does not mean you have to deal with something. Sometimes, you can just let it go.

Deciding to let go

When feelings and thoughts weight us down, it is time to consider letting go. The issues could be large or small, related to relationships or material things, social media that has gotten out of control, or a career direction that is no longer viable.

When new circumstances enter our lives, letting go may require adopting a new reality, whether permanent or temporary. For example, when illness interrupts our lives, it is important to stop expecting life to be normal.  During Covid 19, we all experienced the need to adapt to new demands and restrictions. Being able to see the pandemic as a unique, time-limited period was key to letting go of expectations.

Making space

Just as decluttering your material goods gives you physical space, dealing with emotional issues gives you emotional and mental space. There is more room for joy, kindness, playfulness, creativity, and productivity. You literally feel lighter, your stress is reduced, and your focus is sharpened. There is new found energy available for your personal goals. You free  yourself from responsibility that was misplaced.

What should go?

  • Are you hanging on to a relationship that has actually ended? The other person may have moved on.
  • Are you regretting a mistake you made years ago?
  • Has guilt or inadequacy become part of your excess baggage?
  • Are you harboring resentment about events long since past?
  • Are you carrying confusion around because you have not clarified what‘s important?
  • Do you keep overextending yourself to accomplish tasks that are questionable in terms of their importance?
  • Are you still involved in a friendship that is essentially toxic, but you hesitate to end it?

Why hang on?

  • Hanging on to an unhealthy relationship will not get it back.
  • Hanging on to resentment will not bring an apology.
  • Hanging on to guilt will simply delay forgiving yourself.
  • Hanging on to fear will not make you more brave.
  • Hanging on to the need to be perfect will not make you flawless.
  • Hanging on to a sense of unfairness does not correct an injustice.
  • Hanging on to an unsubstantiated belief doesn’t make it correct.

The list goes on. We hang on because we feel pressure to comply with certain social expectations. We hang on with the hope of revenge. We want to punish someone, perhaps even accuse them over and over of betraying us. We have all met the divorcee who is still badmouthing their former spouse a decade later. In other instances, we carry the excess baggage thinking that, in some way, it protects us.

There is no one answer to why we hang on to what we do. We may hang on to different things for different reasons. The essence of why we hang on maybe to avoid personal responsibility. Blaming external circumstances, or may be the system provides us with the reason for our unhappiness or failure. The sense of being a victim frequently hides behind unfinished business.

How to get started

Lightening your load starts with naming the excess baggage and the unfinished business you have. What is weighing you down? What are you struggling to let go of?

Remember, not all unfinished business has to be finished. Sometimes you can just decide to let it go. Sometimes, it can be as simple as saying, “I am done with that.”

Here is where writing can be helpful

  • Sitting in the silence of your own presence with oversized index cards, name the extra luggage you are carrying. Put only one name/label at the top of each card.
  • Sort the labels into two piles: things I am willing to let go of (even if you don’t yet know how) and things I am not ready to let go of.
  • Write the story of each unfinished business or excess baggage below the name. Deena Metzger in Writing for your life suggests writing the story in five sentences.
  • On the back of the card, explore your understanding of how this event or relationship became heavy and why you have continued to carry it around.
  • Consider the implications of letting it go.

Recommended readings

Think again: The power of knowing what you don’t know by Adam Grant is an encouraging read. Be ready to learn to question your opinions about people and ideas. Well known Brene Brown in her review of Think again  says, “Adam Grant weaves together research and storytelling to help us build the intellectual and emotional muscle we need … to change.”

Five things we cannot change: And the happiness we find by embracing them by David Richo. A seasoned therapist, the author offers the perspective that there are certain facts that we cannot change – the unavoidable “givens” of human existence: everything changes and ends; things do not always go according to plan; life is not always fair; pain is part of life, and people are not loving and loyal all the time. By letting go of our resistance to these givens, life gets lighter. Richo blends western psychology with Eastern spirituality and provide practical exercises.

Research

Opening up by writing it down (Third Edition): How expressive writing improves health and eases emotional pain, by James Pennebaker and Joshua Smyth, leading experts in the field of therapeutic writing, describe how taking just a few minutes to write about deeply felt personal experiences or problems may help you. They incorporate findings from hundreds of recent studies that document extensive new information on specific health benefits.

Writing Strategy of the Month (June 2021):

June 2021 newsletter uses the metaphor of a traveler overloaded with excess baggage.

Metaphor

A metaphor compares one thing to another in a figurative sense. By using a metaphor, we bypass logic. We can describe an aspect of life by comparing it to something actually unrelated, but that projects a particular quality. A metaphor conjures up a simple image.

For example:

  • My test was a breeze.
  • He is as strong as an ox.
  • She is behaving like an entitled princess.
  • My upbringing was a nightmare.
  • Their life is a bed of roses.

When you think of your life, what metaphor would describe the life you’re leading?

Once you have chosen a metaphor, expand the metaphor by personalizing it. Example: My life is like a roller derby. Everyone else seems so aggressive. I just keep going round and round. I feel the pressure to win. In order to continue, I intend to …. 

Photo Question of the month

What shall I let go?

Please begin your writing with, “I am letting go of [something on your list],

to make space for [something new that you want to be doing]”.

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