What moving to a new house taught me about letting go

Woman's face among moving boxesThere’s nothing quite like moving house to make you realise you own far, far more possessions than you actually need. I shifted to a new address last week (a revolting process, always) and I was shocked, as I always am, by how much stuff I own… and feel attached to, for reasons I can’t really explain. There were items that are currently useful, items that may be useful in the future and items that are not useful at all but are lovely. As I gathered up and disposed of the items that didn’t fall into any of these categories, I wondered how I can dispose of all the other clutter that’s taking up space in my life – the emotional baggage.

About 10 years ago I went to a Christmas Eve mass in Bondi, which is a suburb of Sydney with a high percentage of travellers, particularly from the UK and Ireland. In his sermon the priest talked about how many backpackers he sees around the neighbourhood carrying their life’s possessions on their shoulders, and he likened this to the emotional baggage so many of us carry around that weighs us down. This is the only sermon I’ve ever heard that I have never forgotten – and since I was forced to attend church services for the first 16 years of my life, I’ve heard a LOT of sermons. He talked about how if we have faith in something, we have everything we need. There’s no cause for carrying around worries. This is the beautiful and alluring promise of spirituality, in all forms: peace. No matter who or what you believe in, if it brings you peace, hold on to it.
When the priest described the burden of emotional baggage in such simple terms, releasing it sounded simple too. But if you’ve read even one post on this blog, you’ll know that my belief in angels and the Universe and goodness and love and human kindness have not shielded me from moments of worry, fear or despair. That’s because I am human. (Just on that note, I would recommend you steer clear of any spiritual guru or blogger who claims they have eliminated these emotions from their lives, and promises that you can too. Utter delusion.) And like every other human I know, I have baggage. And yes, its weighing me down. 
Here’s a popular saying that pops up on Instagram from time to time: Life is a delicate balance of holding on and letting go. Like, I suspect, most people, I have a tendency to quit at times when I need to hold on, and to stubbornly clutch onto the destructive old stories and the limiting beliefs that I need to release. As previously mentioned, I am human.
Full moon rising over the water
There’s a lot I need to let go of right now. And as it’s the super moon, and there’s an eclipse, and a blood moon, and a bunch of other (apparently) VERY SIGNIFICANT astrological portents I don’t really understand, it seemed like a good time to do a quick stocktake of my emotional baggage. It wasn’t a long list, but some of the items were fairly weighty – and many were coated in layers of dust. These include, but are not limited to, my regret over my mediocre career and my ongoing guilt at living far away from my family. None of what I listed is serving any purpose, except making me feel crappy, which isn’t all that useful. Some of this stuff is old and I’m ready to ditch it; some of it needs further processing first. But what if I could just gently ease my backpack straps off my shoulders, place the burden on the floor and walk away? What would that feel like? What would it be like to be so light?
I don’t think I can ever clear away ALL of the suitcases or ditch my backpack but I think that by having awareness of the areas where I’m weighed down, I can start to unpack them gradually. For example, when I notice I’m beating myself up about my lack of professional success (yet again), I feel better equipped to talk myself out of that negative spiral before it snowballs into full-scale self-sabotage.
I do think that sometimes we can continue unhelpful thought patterns even though we’ve long since outgrown them – because they’re comforting in some way. A bit like how I kept drinking beer for years after I had adopted a gluten-free diet – even though beer is loaded with gluten. I kept drinking it because the habit was familiar. Earlier this year I swapped out beer for red wine and the difference to my stomach has been remarkable... as I had known it would be. So why hadnt I stopped years before? Sometimes thoughts and habits that are unhelpful, or downright destructive, are comforting because theyre familiar. Its not until you make a point of clearing them away that you remember what its like to feel freer, lighter, better.
What about you. Is there something old and heavy that youre ready to clear away? 

On necessary heartbreak

Bleeding broken heart illustration"You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens."

I’ve never met a Rumi line I didn’t love, and this sentence is one of my absolute favourites. It reminds me of a quote I read last year by the peerless Cheryl Strayed. Someone had written a letter to her ‘Dear Sugar’ advice column (BTW if you’re not familiar with the Dear Sugar series, you are truly missing out) asking what advice she would give to her twentysomething self.
Her characteristically eloquent response included reference to her decision to divorce her husband in her mid-twenties. She had still loved him, but even though she could not say why, she knew she didn’t belong in the relationship anymore. Cheryl closed with this quote, which I have loved ever since and never forgotten: “Be brave enough to break your own heart.”

When I first read this, it leaped off the page and dug its steely fingers around my own silently shattering heart. You know that feeling, I know you do. Something resonates with you so strongly you’re sure it was written just for you, just for that moment. It is the truest thing of all the true things that have ever been before. At the time I was in the process of completely uprooting my life in New Zealand and moving to Australia for no good reason other than the fact that I could not stay. And no matter how many times people asked me why I was leaving, I could not produce a better answer than “I need a change” – as if this were sufficient to justify the wrench of leaving all the people I loved. If you’re going to leave behind the people who define you, bolster you and imbue your life with so much meaning, you’d want to have a very good reason. I didn’t. Staying meant stagnation, but leaving meant losing so much. I knew ultimately that I would gain in the long run, but in that moment, surrounded by boxes, Customs forms and piles of the objects that had amounted to my life in Auckland, I could only see the losses.

You must be strong enough to break your own heart. Friends, I held these words to my chest and I repeated them at 2am when fear and despair kept me from sleep. I uttered them when I found myself shaking in the toilets at work and in the evenings when I ran out of tissues to collect my tears. These words reminded me that I had to do the thing I did not want to do – even though it made no sense - and proffered the dimmest promise of finding hope on the other side.

We do not grow when we stay stuck, we grow when we take risks and follow our instincts, even when common sense and peer pressure do not support us in those actions. I broke my own heart and I found – as I had suspected it would – that the being strong made me even stronger. It was the right thing and the best thing to do, and it was worth all the tears and all the despair.

My affection for Cheryl’s prose is matched only by my adoration of Rumi, and I firmly believe there is Rumi line for every occasion. On the subject of necessary heartbreak, he offers this: “The wound is the place where the light enters.”
And where light enters, growth happens.
(That last sentence is mine, but you can use it.)

Have you ever broken your own heart? I’d like to give you a high-five. And a hug. Because that is an act of bravado, not to mention self-love. Email me your story here.