09/10/2012 07:39 am ET Updated Nov 10, 2012

Autumn: The Season for Letting Go

We can learn a lot from nature. Most striking in autumn is what we see happening to the trees. I'd like to reflect upon this and offer some thoughts on the matter of letting go.

In a beautifully-written synopsis of this season from a Chinese Medical perspective, Neil Gumenick states the following: "Nature instructs us about our own cycles of creating and letting go: Trees in autumn don't stubbornly hold onto their leaves because they might need them next year." He goes on to say, "... how many of us defy the cycle and hold onto what we've produced or collected -- those decayed leaves, that old negativity?"

In Buddhism and many other "Eastern philosophies," it is indeed these attachments that prevent us from moving forward in our evolution. On the level of "the now," if we don't allow things to fall away, we wind up carrying an ever heavier load.

Interestingly, one of the most common physical manifestations of "holding on" is constipation. And not surprising, then, all throughout Asia, medical practitioners understand that one of the major organs associated with autumn is the large intestine. Here we are familiar with the colon's function to eliminate undigested food. But we should also be clear that the colon is a major organ for the removal of toxins from the body. Imbalances often lead to constipation and other toxic states. (If you suffer from either of these chronically, you might be interested in pursuing an approach that works from a more skillful perspective.)

We should also be mindful not to get completely consumed with the physical aspects of our lives as something that is independent of our emotional and energetic status. I find it intriguing that the Chinese are also clear on the relationship between the colon (and its partner organ, the lungs), and one strong emotion in particular -- grief. In this context, grief is most accurately understood as the emotion associated with the experience of loss and separation. And the challenge we are faced with is to let go at these moments. It is my experience, both personally and professionally, that much of the time, for some reason, we prefer to hold on to this condition.

What would we expect of a tree then, if it did not let go of its leaves?

In essence then, quite simply, I want to compel you to examine what you are holding on to and to examine what purpose it serves -- or more aptly, how it defeats your purpose of achieving a healthier and more balanced life. And before you get too upset with me, let me go on by acknowledging the difficulty with doing this.

There are at least three categories of attachment. The first and often the most obviously painful is those associated with the loss of life, limb/organ or function -- both our own or that of someone we love. The second are those associated with our personality -- our quirks and habits. And the third are those associated with our ego -- our status and situation, as we believe are viewed by those around us as well as how we view ourselves.

There are fewer differences among these three categories than may first appear. But clearly on first blush some losses are more painful than others. But we are often just as attached to some of the less "significant" issues and the pain of separation may be just as great if we were really to get down into them. Essentially, all attachment is both an opportunity for pain and liberation.

Indeed, it is the fear of pain that leads us to hold on. Like biting down on a throbbing tooth, if we can keep the experience at some consistent level, even if it is causing discomfort. This is often better than allowing the rush of "feeling." So it takes a lot to put oneself through this intentionally, which is why I quickly acknowledged that this is not an easy thing to do. Still, I believe there is great potential if we were to take this on, but we often need help doing it.

The best answer to the question about where this help may come from again takes us to the Chinese understanding of this season, another aspect of which is the change in the air. While this year (in the Northeast at least) the usual refreshing crispness of autumn was delayed, it is a phenomena most of us recognize. Autumn provides us with a welcome relief from the hot, oppressive and air-starved days of summer. We stretch our lungs to fill with... inspiration.

We require inspiration, then, to have the courage to plunge into the depths of our attachments. We require inspiration to see them for what they are. And we require inspiration to help us shake loose from the ego's attachment to pain in particular and instead learn to live without regret.

So how do we use the energy of inspiration for this transformation?

To begin with, I'd suggest you imagine for a moment what it would be like to be in such a state. And though you may not see it lasting too long, go on to imagine what it might take to get there. Are there some things you can shed now that are easier to manage? Go ahead and plan to do them. At each opportunity look for others. See how much lighter you feel. Imagine that there is a way for you to get closer to this ideal condition. If you find something is holding you back, explore its origin. I suggest you pick up a notebook and write about what you are experiencing and thinking. Play the story back as a movie, compose a way the hero or heroine, you, heal and return to wholeness. If you find yourself preferring to hold onto the pain in one area, this may not be the best time to take this on. Do what you can and be patient.

Maybe it will help to realize that one thing that we hold on to is the notion that we are something other than perfect right now. In addition, we might serve ourselves better to let go of the faulty thought that we cannot change. We do it all the time. What doesn't change so easily, it is true, is what we hold on to -- our assumed identity.

As a radical final thought I pose the following argument: This doesn't require as much work as it may seem. In autumn, leaves fall from trees effortlessly. So try it... let them go... I think you'll be pleased with what happens in the spring.

For more by Dr. Michael Finkelstein, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.