— Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)
"Eat, Pray, Love" opened this weekend. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the book, it is the story of a woman's year long journey of self discovery which takes her through Italy, India, and Indonesia. Julia Roberts portrays the main character in the film. I have not seen the film yet, but the book had a profound impact on me when I read it several years ago.
I had just endured a particularly painful loss the year before and was at the point where I didn't think I could survive another tragic event and didn't much care whether or not I did. I had no words to accurately describe how beaten up I felt; it was as if I had emotionally checked out, unable to register any more pain. I was in shock, actually, but felt like I was sleepwalking, my body covered with nerve endings that were on hyper alert and overload.
I had packed a box with all the items that I couldn't bear to get rid of, for various reasons: the memories, the hint of cologne, the last effects that the hospital staff packed up for me. I put them all in a cardboard box and sealed it with packing tape. I placed the box in a closet. Just knowing it was there was comforting; it was like a security blanket...sort of.
Last year, I opened the box. I arrived at the decision to do so over the course of a few months, and one day, I got out the box cutter and sliced open the packing tape seal. Before I raised the flaps, I was transported momentarily to the day when I had placed the last item in and sealed the box; it seemed like another lifetime. I realized then that I was not the same woman...I had changed...I had survived.
I gently removed each item until the box was empty, pausing to inhale the scent that had once lingered on a few of the pieces of clothing; it was gone. All the significance that each item once held for me had moved into my heart...the items themselves were just things: sweaters, a pillow, a bathrobe. I had been holding onto them because I thought I needed them, thought they gave me strength...or something. I held onto them...just in case.
That day I could see them for what they actually were...just stuff that once belonged to someone I loved. Holding onto them would not bring him back...I needed to let them go.
Holding onto the past keeps us stuck there. Hanging onto possessions that no longer serve us leaves us unable to be open to receive the gifts of the present. Imagine walking through life with your hands clenched into fists all the time...how could you give or receive anything but the tiny amount that you clung to so tightly? Sometimes you have to release your grip and let go...and trust that there is someone/thing to catch you.
I remember a game we used to play when we were kids...I forget the name.
You stood with your back to another person and, when you were ready, let yourself fall backwards into their arms. The scariest, but also the most fun scenario was when the other person would catch you at the last minute, just before you thought you were going to hit the ground.
Still holding on to something...just in case?