Middleway Medicine

Letting Go

I have been moving a lot of leaves around lately. The cooler nights and the shorter days have convinced most of the trees to let go of summer’s growth and settle into winter’s rest. There are a few trees in our yard that stubbornly refuse to yield to the season. Though their leaves have turned brown and lifeless, they remain fixed to the stems. Perhaps they are still holding onto the memory of the warmth and ease of summer, or maybe they are attached to the fullness of their external appearance; but in holding onto what is done and no longer useful, they don’t allow for the leaves to drop and create the soil for next year’s growth. They are no longer growing, but they refuse to let a part of themselves die.

While summer invites us to expand into fullness, autumn is nature’s insistence that we let go of all that is not essential. We can enjoy and share the plenty of summer, but then we are forced to let go of our color and settle into our deeper parts. We can feel naked and bare without our leaves, perhaps we are more difficult to recognize by the causal eye. But as we drop the more superficial layers of growth, we begin to discover what remains: the roots and the bones. Though not as evident as the pageantry of the flowers and the leaves, the stems and the roots also grow during the spring and summer. It is steady and reliable growth and remains when we surrender our outward spread.

When I think of all of the different phases I have gone through, and all of the fads I bought into, I am struck by how many things in my life have been temporary experiments. Yet each year these are brought to the ground around me, to serve as compost for next year’s growth. What remains is what is essential. The work of being human involves taking an honest look at what is really important and what only appears to be. A healthy life is one of balance. Balance between movement and rest, between expansion and contraction, between accumulation and surrender. If we remain attached to one phase, we begin to struggle. Only by letting go, do we create the space for things to be born anew. Autumn asks us all to honestly consider what aspects of summer’s growth are worth holding onto. The growth in the leaves is cyclical, but the growth in the stems and roots remains. If we try to hold onto the more temporary parts of ourselves, we tend to become more lifeless and distracted.

I encourage my patients to use the energy of autumn to contemplate what is really essential. We honor the green leaves of summer by allowing them to transform and be released. When this is done with a willing heart, the leaves turn magnificent shades of color and then fall to the ground to nourish the cycle of life. If we try to hold on, they die on the branch, and remain a remnant of another time. Happy autumn!

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