I don't usually share this kind of thing in "public".... but... I am kinda particular about my attire. Even if I'm not dressing for a special occasion, I like to wear colors and fabrics that make me feel more calm, clear, and at home in my body. Oh, and I also dress to match or enhance my mood. And yes, I try to look "good" too. So, when I pack my bags for travel, I may be guilty of over-packing just a little. I like to ensure that I have just the right outfit for whatever mood I may be in on any given day.
So, this summer, as I was on the road more often than not, I was packing and unpacking almost weekly (My pup, Sunday, spent his summer sulking in the corner at the sight of my suitcase over and over again.)
In July, as I was packing for 8 days at Kripalu for my annual summer retreats, I also had to add in an extra 5 outfits for a photoshoot. Needless to say, my suitcases were full!
As I was loading up my car with many (many!) bags and boxes (books, props, handouts, gift bags, etc.), I saw Sunday in the kitchen window, his sad face pressed up against the glass. No matter how many times I had kissed and snuggled him goodbye, he was still protesting. I was guilt-ridden and couldn't bring myself to go back inside for another tortuous goodbye, so I just jumped in the car and left quickly.
I put on my favorite tunes and did manage to enjoy a beautiful summer ride up the Saw Mill Parkway. Arriving at Kripalu four hours later, I was excited to begin! Imagine my surprise when I was unloading my gear and realized I hadn’t put my suitcases in the car! Even more surprising to me than forgetting my bags, was that I did not freak out about it (delightful proof to me that my years of practicing meditation is working!).
Of course, I was bummed. In two hours, I’d be welcoming 100 students and all I had to wear were the ripped jeans shorts and t-shirt I drove up in. But rather than getting angry with myself – or angry at all – I literally laughed. Then I grew excited about the shopping spree I'd have in the Kripalu store. I thought: I always resist, now I'll splurge. After all, I need 8 days of clothing!
Oddly, for the first time ever, there was nothing in the store that resonated with me. I couldn’t even find anything in my size. Nevertheless, I scavenged together an unappealing outfit that I would normally never buy – not my size or style – and began the retreat.
As soon as I started teaching, something unexpected happened. I was not only okay with forgetting my bags. I found myself in a whole “just rolling with it” mindset, which somehow provided me a lot more freedom to show up more fully in the actual moment. In this mindset, I was super relaxed and confident in my ability to respond quickly to whatever was going on around me. This came in handy because a variety of different issues came up: Students with special needs that I didn’t know about in advance. Technology issues. Also, there was a very challenging health situation with a family member back home. Letting go of my "baggage" – both my literal bags as well as my “need” to have what was in them – allowed me to step into every moment filled with so many more resources to work with the circumstances I was being presented.
Now, back to my clothing. I wore that ONE new “non-me” outfit for three days, in 100-degree heat, before my suitcases arrived. And then the most fascinating thing happened: I was actually disappointed when I got my bags back. Yes, truth be told, when my suitcase arrived, it took me another day before I opened it up.
I actually realized that having my bags, filled with all my habitual options, gave me anxiety. Normally, I would think of having options as a "luxury", but on this trip, the luxury for me was in not having options. I felt more free and unencumbered. It turns out that on this particular week, I was more relaxed, present, and content without my “baggage.”
In yoga and meditation, we so often talk about letting go. Releasing. Creating space. That less is more. And while we often talk about all of this in relation to emotions and thoughts and habits, this tangible experience of “letting go of needing my stuff” was so transformational that it gave me new insight into all the baggage we hold onto.
As we get deeper into autumn, nature will demonstrate her process of letting go, as her winds prune the trees and till the earth. Her commitment to release is relentless. She strips away all the excess, allowing for the transition into winter to be free from the weight and extra baggage. She is always flowing along with the ever new now seasonal conditions.
Whether you are feeling the urge to clear out your closet or let go of excess emotional baggage, autumn is the perfect time of year for a 'releasing' practice. It is the time of year to consider what we are carrying that no longer serves us. What is preventing us from feeling more present, open, and available to the ever-new now?
The idea of “releasing” seems so freeing, yet "letting go” can often come with a feeling of fear or vulnerability. Letting go of our baggage (often filled with what has been important to us) can leave us feeling like we’re losing part of ourselves.
Whether we’re letting go of our clothing, belongings, or job – or our opinions, habits, or feelings – it can feel like we’re losing our identity. We wind up feeling vulnerable, out of control. And when we start looking even closer at what we want to 'release,' it can be scary to discover that much of our 'baggage' is made up of experiences or conversations that we’ve been replaying in our mind for years—our stories about what might happen or what should have happened or what we’re afraid won’t ever happen. Even though these stories may cause us pain, we cling to them.
This is not a surprise. The baggage we have the urge to release, shift, and change is filled with the very things that have defined us for some while. No wonder it's easy to get stuck when we experience this paradox.
There’s a Buddhist fable I love about how we cling to our “stuff.”
A monk is walking down a path and hears wailing in the distance. The monk follows the sound and finds a man hugging a thorn bush, screaming from the pain. The man and the bush appear to be entwined, so the monk tries to help. He tells the man that if he works very slowly and carefully, one body part at a time, he can free himself. The man gently and methodically disengages himself from the bush that’s causing all his suffering, and he moans with happiness.
“I’m free! I feel great! Thank you!” he says to the monk.
Then suddenly, the man becomes uneasy. His eyes narrow in suspicion. “Wait a minute!” he says, spinning toward the monk. “You can’t have this bush! It’s mine!” And he wraps himself around it anew.
The lesson here? It feels good to let go of what we cling to. And it also doesn’t feel good. Because our “baggage” is familiar. And we’re most comfortable around what’s familiar. As human beings, we are wired to want to feel “in control.” We may sometimes think we’re crazy when we cling to ideas, feelings, and behavior that we know make us feel bad. But it’s not crazy. It’s our wiring at work – doing what it was designed to do: ensuring that we’re protecting ourselves.
Our wiring does not take into account that our habitual choices may actually be causing our suffering. Our wiring doesn’t know that we might feel a lot better in our bodies and our lives if we can release a bit of what we cling to so desperately.
So, in order to switch up this wiring, we can begin to practice relaxing our “clinging” – even just a little. We can cultivate the practice of releasing bits of our baggage all day long. When I feel unhindered by old habits that no longer serve me, I feel bright and light. I'm always looking for more and more ways to release and create space. One thing I now know for sure: I will be packing lightly for my next trip.
As we transition through autumn, can you make more space in your closets, your bags, your life? This will be of great service to you as we head into winter and begin a new year! Now is a perfect time to practice. I offer several practices below to help you begin!
Practice for Release
Replace "Letting Go" with "Letting Be"
Why It's Time to Replace "Letting Go" with "Letting Be" and how to start.