Letting Go

We collect things. From the time we are little, we begin a process of accumulation. We start by picking sea-shells on a beach and storing them in boxes. We are given toys and carry them around until parting from them becomes painful. We all share funny anecdotes about how our mother gave away a quilt or a doll because it was ragged beyond repair and we yearned for it. My mother has literally brought a dilapidated doll-house back from a garbage bin to appease me. Somewhere in an old trunk lie dust laden teddy bears wearing jackets with broken buttons, knick- knacks of our school years, a lucky pair of socks. We couldn’t bring ourselves to discard these things even if we no longer use them. They are retained because they symbolize the phases of our lives that we lived through. These inanimate objects meant something to us so we couldn’t let them go. We get attached. That’s what people do. And that attachment becomes our identity.

Then we move on and form attachments to bigger things. Intangible things. Some of our earliest memories are dotted with faces we wouldn’t recognize if we crossed paths with them decades later. There are friends we played with for years till circumstances intervened and we lost touch. Maybe they grew up and became busy people. They, probably, unlike me, don’t sit thinking of the time we spent together. Besides, there are many people out there who are not on social media and hence not as easy to trace. They will remain forever in that vacuum in our heads. Yet, these are fleeting feelings and we can shrug the nostalgia off quite easily. After all, by now we have been told by our elders, philosophers and thinkers that we must nurture the ability to let go. Yet, even as we let one aspect of our lives go, we become completely involved in another. All the spiritual masters tell us to remain in the present but it is difficult to make an acceptable present without having planned it years ago. To a certain extent we must live in anticipation for a better time to come. So yes, our dream for the future is an attachment that helps us to move forward. We become attached to the idea, the self-image, the life we long for. And the journey of our accumulation takes us on a new, more dynamic course.

For a young adult nothing is enough and the pursuit makes life interesting and worth living. Cars, holidays, homes and family. We create memory after memory. For a while life is full. In fact, when we have children, we take on the responsibility of more lives and become attached to their attachments. Until we are stuck in that chasm from where we can’t wholly understand their world and a day comes when we are forced to recall Kahlil Gibran’s wisdom, “For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.” ‘On Children’ is one of the most eloquent poems ever written on how life moves on and ought to move on. Yet, I daresay that Kahlil Gibran was fortunate to not have known what it feels like for a mother to let go.

And so, there comes a time when we have to put our sea-shells back on the beach. From the time we grow up, we also begin a process of decumulation. At first, we have to let go of our childhood and then our youth. We start by accepting changes in our bodies. We all share funny anecdotes about grey hair or forgetfulness. I literally walk around looking for my reading glasses when they’re sitting on my head. Our lives become so inextricably woven with other lives; our parents, spouse, children and friends that a part of letting go is segregating their tragedies and triumphs from our own. The unravelling of it is tedious because they became a part of our personalities, often fashioning it and redefining it so much so that we don’t recognize who we originally were. Moreover, adding to our cache are their attachments that we must shed; making the process all the more difficult. Try though we may, we will continue to retain all that refuses to leave the head because everything we’ve lived through has formed our sense of self. Yet, we are told to detach. So, then that’s what people do. And, just like that, the opposite happens. The ability to detach becomes our identity.

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