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I’ve been carrying around my bad mental habits, my sad stories, and my anxieties for as long as I can remember. I drag them around like a big sack of loose rocks slung over my shoulder digging into my collarbone, or sometimes as one united boulder like Sisyphus shuffling up the eternal hill.

As a life practice, I have always known that dragging around cognitive boulders is a poor choice, but had never been totally certain how not to do it.  The nebulous suggestion I’d always hear would be to simply just “let it go.” I’d heard the phrase a thousand times in different contexts: echoed from the Dalai Lama in books, whispered with a stringy guitar in folk songs, suggested by my therapists, my mother.

Letting go always sounded like a nice idea in theory, a far-away dreamscape that people talk about like opening up a beach bar in the Caribbean, or as an unfortunate necessity, last-ditch chanced by a person pushed to exasperation who had snapped like a shorted-out circuit breaker with a fizz and a pop. If the former were true why would I bother, and if the latter were true then I didn’t want to let go. The alternative? Hold onto all of it and trudge forward.

Carrying mental weight, however, is exhausting.  Holding onto to heavy things stoops our backs and calluses our hands, makes us less patient with our loved ones. It makes us drink more and sleep less. It will irrevocably manifest as illness. But even recognizing it as a burden I had no idea what letting go looked like.

I thought The Official Act of Letting Go was supposed to be a momentous occasion, a glorious event, a parade with tubas and kettle corn. My sadnesses and fears wanted me to make a big to-do of it, to Jerry Maguire the thing with my office goldfish in a plastic bag, wobbly knees, putting on a show: “Look everyone! I’m going! I’m letting it all go!”

It was not until I realized that it is none of this that I could begin. Letting go is quiet and warm. It is the whispered secret in your ear that you smile and keep to yourself. It is small and piecemeal like a petal falling from a stem, the drift of a dandelion poof onto summer grass. It is one day with an average breath that you exhale out your sad story and let it dissipate into the atmosphere like smoke. It is the silent drop of one pebble at a time until one day, you walk taller with a lighter heart.

 

Kelly NicholsAbout Kelly Nichols
Kelly Nichols is a high school English teacher and a poet since she first read Shel Silverstein’s 
A Light in the Attic sometime in the late 80s. She earned an MFA in poetry from The New School in New York City and realized that teaching poetry is just as fun as writing it. Outside the classroom she is passionate about health and wellness, and relies on CrossFit for a constant challenge. Her school-year weekends look like books and wine and cozy things, while she uses summertime for getting out of the country and chasing adventures.