“Learning consists of daily accumulating. The practice of the Tao consists of daily diminishing… True mastery can be gained by letting things go their own way. It cannot be gained by interfering.” – Lao Tzu
Before I start setting what I want to add to my life in the new year, I like to reflect on what I want to subtract from my life and leave behind in the previous year. This is a process of addition by subtraction; of increasing my peace and joy by letting go and leaving behind that which burdens and clutters my space or my mind, and gets in the way of my greater peace and joy.
This may include physical things that I no longer really need and could throw out, give away or donate. That’s a good place to start. But where I really want to let go and lighten up are old beliefs and habits that no longer serve me (if they ever did in the first place).
Just because I’ve picked up a belief, a judgment, a preference or a habit, it doesn’t mean that I have to continue to take it with me. Thoughts are very fluid in nature… like air. When it really comes down to it, the heaviest things I carry around with me are thoughts that I’ve given a lot of my attention and belief to, so they seem very real to me. But they are still just thoughts and without me continuing to feed them with my attention, they will drift away and out of my life.
What thoughts do I want to give an honorable discharge to and leave behind in the year that has passed? I like to start by looking at anything that makes me feel lousy. Feeling lousy could take many forms: worried, anxious, guilt ridden, resentful, jealous, depressed, etc. Behind every lousy feeling is a stinky thought that I don’t have to believe any more.
Here’s how I like to go about doing this. I get a piece of paper or a small stack of blank cards and begin writing down those stinky, heavy thoughts that I’m tired of carrying around and don’t want to take with me into the next year. The negative self-judgments, the grudges, the offenses and the resentments.
Then I say something like “Thank you for what you’ve taught me, but I no longer need you and hereby give you an honorable discharge. You no longer own a portion of my attention, and if you try to come back begging for it, you will be denied.” Then I either burn or tear up and dispose of the paper, and literally walk away, leaving them behind.
While this is a wonderful annual exercise, I don’t need to wait to only do it at the end of a calendar year. I can do this on as regular a basis as I choose. Quarterly, monthly, weekly, daily.
If you find you’d like some help withdrawing your attention from a thought you’ve fed for a long time, let me know, I might be able to help you. I’m also collecting a list of “left-behind thoughts” that people have so I can share them (anonymously) with others. I think it is comforting and enlightening to see that those heavy, stinky thoughts I’ve been carrying around, thinking they were unique to me, are in fact very common – like germs that infect us all.
If you’d like to contribute to this effort and see the summarized results, please share your “left-behind thoughts” with me by email at email@example.com. I’ll then create an article with the most common responses and share it. No names will be included :)
Do you have any thoughts that you would like to leave behind or have left behind in 2012? Share them below… and do share this post with your friends and loved ones if you believe they have thoughts they should let go of :) Thanks for reading, and all the best with your new chapter.