Saturday, 29 December 2012

Letting Go Impermanently

We are nearing the end of another year. 2012 will soon be over and we will move onto 2013. It has certainly been an interesting year; so full of moments of absolute joy and bliss and some darker ones too, much like every year, every day, every moment. Life truly is awry, as 2012 has proved once again.

As 2012 comes to a close it is important to prepare ourselves for what 2013 will bring.We must let go of at least some of the old, so that we can let in the new. By the way I am not suggesting that we let go of treasured and beautiful memories, no not at all, I am just saying that now is the time to make room for the new. Who knows what the next twelve months have to offer.

Four weeks ago, at the beginning of Advent, I asked the congregations I serve to prepare themselves for the hopes and dreams for either themselves  their families, their communities, for the whole of humanity. I asked them to envision these hopes at the start of Advent and to spend the next four weeks preparing themselves for 2013, so that they can begin to make those hopes and dreams a reality, come the New Year. It will be interesting to see where this takes us all come the end of 2013.

Now of course throughout our lives we are always letting go and moving on. The truth is that we let go of things every single day. We are always letting go of something, in order to make room for what is right there in front of us. At some point or another we have to give up our childhoods in order to grow up and become adults. Now of course we do not let go of them completely, we always retain echoes of our childhood times. We let go of past struggles as we move on to new ones, although we hopefully do not let go of the lessons learnt from them. We let go of old relationships so that we can begin to connect deeply with new people. We do not always want to, I’m sure that we would like to hold on to some of them for all of our lives. Sometimes moving on is not a choice we make ourselves, but made by others for us. Moving on in life is not necessarily easy, but it is something that we have to do, in order to fully experience the present, the one and only true gift of life.

Mary Oliver said that:

To live in this world you must be able to do three things:

To love what is mortal;
To hold it against your bones
Knowing your own life depends upon it;
And when the time comes to let it go...

Life is impermanent and perhaps this is where it’s real beauty lies, but to love what is mortal is no easy task. Why? You may well ask. Well because fear gets in the way. We want to cling to what is mortal, because we do not want to lose it. This is such a human quality and I do not know anyone who does not do this. It is a part of this loving what is mortal. If you have held someone or something against your bones, as if your life depended upon it, it is no easy task to let it go.

But we must let go in order to experience what is here now, it is in life’s impermanence that the beauty lies. Would we appreciate what we had, if we knew it would last forever?

Think about the experiences that have moved you deeply this year. Surely part of their power was as a result of their impermanence? Maybe they moved us so deeply precisely because they do not last forever. Beauty whether it be human or natural; whether it be artistic or musical can never be sustained. Surely the nature of the beauty lies within its impermanence.

There is a story told of a jazz musician who went to that place where jazz musicians go when they exit this mortal coil. In this other place he met with instruments, the eternal presence of great jazz music. Well the instruments invited him to join them in a session. As he played on he thought to himself “this is heaven” As he played away he thought to himself “This is the greatest session that I’ve ever played, that’s ever been played.” They then began to play the arrangement again and this time they really jazzed it up with some cool improvisation and so it continued, on and on and on and on and on...After the 222nd playing and after every possible improvisation had been repeated, several times over, the musician called out to the other instruments “Hey man, when do we take a break?” to which the lead instrument replied, “Never man, never!”

And so they continued to play...

Even the most wonderful gift imaginable would soon lose its beauty if it was to last forever; it would soon become dull, monotonous, boring if it never ended. It is in the impermanence of life's moments that the real beauty lies. The same is true of the love we can create and give. We only have this moment in which to create and share the love we have; we only have this moment in which to shine.

Now please do not get me wrong I am not suggesting that in order to fully experience life we must let go of everything and live as an empty vessel. Actually I believe quite the opposite. There are some things that we must not only never let go of; there are some things that we need to learn to cling to. I adore the following words by my predecessor at Altrincham and Urmston Rev Celia Midgley titled “I do not let go”

“It is not for me, the emptying and the waiting.
I live in the world’s rush and tumble
Its passion and its strife
Its shouting and its joy.

I do not turn to pitying, solemn quietude.
My mind is with the greening spring
urgent with buds
with birdsong and with flowers.

I do not let go, I grasp and keep hold
of daily matter and yearly miracle
that flies and is lost
 that lingers and is loved."

“That flies and is lost that lingers and is loved” I particularly love those last two lines, they speak to me of what life, mortal life, is all about. 

That said 2012 is coming to an end and we do need to move on from it in order to open ourselves, to prepare ourselves, for what 2013 will bring. We must move forward, as the seasons move forward, toward a new birth, a new year; we must do this so that we can fully experience all that life has to offer to us.

So how do we discover what we must let go of and what we must hold on to? Well it begins with awareness. And to become aware of what needs to be let go of and what we needs to be held onto requires discernment;  we need to be able to discern, to sift out, what needs to be let go of, so that we do not continue playing the same tune over and over again. After all there are so many other tunes out there, just waiting to be discovered.

I love the etymology of words. Interestingly I bought a dear friend a book on the Etymology of words, as a Christmas present. I remember at the time thinking to myself how much I would love such a book. Well guess what? Another dear friend bought me the very same book as a Christmas gift. I just love these moments of connection, there is real magic always in the air.

Now the word discernment comes from the Latin “discernere” which means to separate, to distinguish, to sort out. Just think of prospectors panning for gold or sifting through rocks and dirt in search of gem stones. They are separating, they are sorting through the muck for what is precious, they are distinguishing, they are discerning.

I suspect that discernment is the key to awareness, to understanding what we need to let go of and what we need to hold on to. We need to discover what is of value and what needs to be discarded from our hearts, our minds and our lives. We need to do this in order to live fully and experience all that life has to offer. We need to discard the dirt and muck in order to discover all that is precious in life; we need to do this in order to be fully aware not only of our own lives, but the lives of those around us. This is no easy task and this is precisely why I suggested to the congregations I serve, at the beginning of advent, that we take time to prepare ourselves for the New Year; to prepare ourselves so that we could bring to life those wishes, whether for ourselves, those close to us, or the whole of humanity, to reality.

So how do we clear our minds so that we can discern, so that we can sift through the muck of life? Well I believe that we need to create space and we need silence. Our lives, our minds are so full of stuff that it is really difficult to discern what is right and healthy sometimes. This makes it difficult to make wise choices about life. In order to make those wise decisions we need to be still, we need to be silent, we need to connect to our bodies, to our breathing. We need to prepare ourselves for what life has to offer us. If we do we may just hear that still small voice of calm; that voice that is less than a whisper and yet so much more than silence.

And if we do we will be prepared for whatever life offers to us in the coming year.


  1. I've always found it difficult to let go, but recently I've accepted we need to let go of the old, especially if it no longer serves us, in order to make room for the new.

    It can be scary, but...

    The pain isn't in the letting go, it's in the holding on.