new_health (2007-02)

Let It Go

The art of shedding our leaves

by Wendy C. Smith

I was walking with a close friend on a beautiful autumn afternoon. It was one of those grayish days, cool and windy, when you realize that summer has left and winter is right around the corner. We were deep in conversation when we saw a shower of leaves falling from a tree several yards ahead. He said to me, “Have you ever noticed that there are some trees that let go of their leaves, all at once in the same day?” We reached the raining leaves and stood in the drift of tumbling colors, looking up through what seemed to be an unending downpour. It was one of those moments when I felt the Divine acutely in everything around us, connecting all—tree, sky, us. At that moment, I didn’t think I could stand much more beauty.

In the weeks that followed, I kept remembering my friend’s words and the feeling of standing in that cellulose waterfall. Whether it’s botanically accurate or not, I could just imagine that tree, roots firmly planted in the earth, branches reaching toward the heavens, saying thank you to its leaves for nourishing it all year, and then letting go, standing naked among its brethren, knowing its fate was to winter and burst forth with a fresh set of leaves in the spring. 

In thinking about this, I realized that I walk around with my own leaves, leaves that once fed and protected me, but have outlived their purpose. Yet, unlike the tree, I don’t let go. I keep the tired, crunchy browns to myself hoping they will turn green again and give me spiritual food. I hold the old so close that new buds suffocate in the shade without ever unfurling into greatness, purpose and nourishment.

The New Year is a significant time to drop my leaves, to re-evaluate life. January 1 is in the dead of winter, in dreamtime when the days are short. The darkness comes early and from the darkness will come the light. One of my favorite myths is that of Persephone, daughter of Demeter (Greek earth, grain goddess), who was abducted by Hades (lord of the underworld) and taken to his kingdom. While Demeter searched for her daughter, she wandered the earth in sorrow and there were no crops. But the world could not live in constant winter and a deal was struck which allowed Persephone to live on earth for two thirds of every year (spring and summer) and return to the underworld for the rest (autumn and winter). When Persephone is on the earth and reunited with her mother, crops grow and flourish, and when she descends to the underworld, the earth grows cold and plants wither and die. While Persephone is in the darkness, she dreams of the light. When the trees drop their leaves, they stand unmoving and silent. The soul needs the coming darkness to let go; it needs the stillness of winter to reconnect and grow.

What if we shed our leaves, let go of the things that no longer serve a higher purpose or feed us? What if we choose to stand bare-limbed knowing we must make room for fresh ideas and ways of being? What might we let go of and also recognize that solidifies our humanity and our connection to each other and to God? The metaphor of shedding leaves for winter is that of descent and dreaming as well. At the time of the New Year, it is empowering to let go of what no longer works even if we have no replacement or protection. The soul requires room and reflection to ready itself for spring.

Here’s to the New Year. May you drop your leaves without fear. May you willingly go down into the mystery and the unknown. And may you bloom green and nourished in the spring. I heard the below poem at a gathering last month. I think it beautifully captures the light that ensues if we let the leaves fall and do the work of winter.  

The distance between us