Frequently around this time of year, when I’m chitchatting in small circles of friends, someone will inevitably say, “What’s your New Year’s resolution?” I used to succumb to the pressure of this question and come up with something. But this year I said, “I have no resolutions.” A conversation stopper, indeed! Luckily, others had some ideas.
But I still felt sheepish. Surely I should have some type of goal this year. Thankfully, an idea did come to mind. I was doing the laundry and reminiscing about a long-forgotten time in my life, a particular day when I was feeling adventurous.
I was 23, and I wanted to go skydiving. Ahhh, what a time! No husband, no kids, no mortgage. You could just get up one morning and decide that you’re going to jump out of a plane. I think I like where I am now better…but I digress.
I drove to a skydiving school in Osceola, Wisconsin, where I received two hours of training, and where I also noticed memorial photos of skydivers who had perished. “Uh…who are those people?” I politely inquired. A worker quickly remarked, “Plane crash. On the way to skydiving.” Oh, great. Didn’t think of that.
Anyway…up we went! I’m all suited up like Aviator Snoopy and secured to my tandem instructor. As I’m anxiously chatting with the guy who is going to videotape this whole thing, the pilot announces that we’ve reached 13,000 feet. Time to get ready.
My instructor opens the plane door. WHHHHOOOOOOOOOSHHHHH! Have you ever heard that noise? It’s very freaky. “I don’t have to do this,” I think. “No, I have to do this!”
The instructor yells, “Move with me to the wing, and hold on to the strut!”
I exclaim the ‘90s equivalent of “WHAT the??” and add, “Can’t we just jump?”
The instructor repeats, “Move with me to the wing, and hang on to the strut!”
I’m thinking, “OH, FINE! You’ve got to be freaking kidding me!”
Now I’m in a place that I never thought I’d be: outside a plane at 13,000 feet in the air, where the only obstacle between me and a 220-mile-per-hour free fall is my death grip on the strut. You can guess what came next.
“Now, LET GOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” yells the instructor.
I’ll spare you the namby-pamby seconds of whimpering “I can’t” before I finally let go, plummeting and then gliding to earth. I’ll also leave to your imagination the even more comedic video set to “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty. Doesn’t get any cheesier than that!
Aside from the cheesy memorabilia, that memory was a perfect metaphor for what I’m going to try to do this year: let go. Letting go of something you’re holding on to as a convenience, crutch, excuse, or fear can be paralyzing. But maybe, just like jumping out of a plane, once you let go, you feel completely free and joyous. See how I move from petrified to elated!
Holding on to something can make you feel sick, depressed, tired, cluttered, angry, or lonely. The authors of Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine reported that “50-80% of all physical disorders have psychosomatic or stress-related origins.” Google the term mind-body and you’ll find hundreds of books, centers, methods, and studies related to stress and disease. The very foundation of ancient Eastern or “alternative” medicine lies in the connection between mind and body: energy created in your brain (i.e., memories, experiences, and thoughts) gets stored in your body and can cause disease and pain. Yoga, meditation, and prayer are also well-accepted practices in mind-body healing. If you’re holding on to something so tightly, ask yourself, “What exactly is this doing for me? How does it benefit me?”
In my own case, I hold on to painful experiences because for whatever reason I believe that holding on to that pain helps protect me from future painful experiences. Guess what? It’s not working. It’s actually holding me back in many ways. In fact, I dare to admit that hanging on is having the opposite effect. You know the old saying, “Whatever you focus on is what you’ll end up with.” I am hopeful that letting go of these experiences will soften my heart and leave me feeling free and joyous (like in the pictures!).
Sometimes letting go is more tactical, but no less meaningful. Here are some examples:
Knickknacks. Look at your décor, piece by piece. Do you love it? Does it warm your heart? Make you smile? No? Then donate it. Someone else will receive joy from those items.
Outdated pantry items. How about that can of condensed milk that moved with you from your last home? (Oh, maybe that was just me.) Whatever it is, get rid of it.
Sibling or friendship jealousy. What is that doing for you anyway? Appreciate what you have and express joy and support when good things happen to friends and family members. Not doing so is just plain mean.
Career or financial longings. My husband, reflecting on his imminent 40th birthday, aptly stated, “It’s not so much anymore about what I can become but being content with who I am.” Now is the time to let go of who you aren’t or what you don’t have. Let go of unrealistic goals and start working toward a goal that you can achieve (my husband jokingly accepted that he’s not going to play tennis at Wimbledon). The point isn’t to stop trying, but to let go of the crutch of wanting. There’s a great little book called Find Your Great Work by Michael Bungay Stanier. It’s a wonderful place to start.
False beliefs. I could go on and on about this one, but let me quickly illustrate with a story. A close friend was thinking about a past love interest—let’s call him Great Guy—who’d dumped her 15 or so years ago. Then my friend ran into Great Guy, and Great Guy joked about how she hadn’t been interested in him. Astonished, her thoughts snapped back to the past again, and she said, “You dumped me.” He boldly disagreed. He’d really liked her, he said. But he’d found her somewhat distant and had interpreted that as disinterest. Wow! How often do we believe something in our lives that is dead wrong? Imagine if my friend and Great Guy had just had a conversation. Double check your old beliefs and presumptions, especially if they’re negative. Open yourself up to other possible explanations for your negative experiences.
So, find your own personal wing struts, my friends. Identify the obstacles in your life or those beliefs that no longer serve you. Then close your eyes and let gooooooooooo! Trust me, the chute will fly open, and you’ll be so glad you did it!
Fauci, Anthony S., et al. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 17th Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2008.