The Art of Leaving Things Behind

I have a book of sheet music that is well-worn, well-used and the cover is falling off. One of the songs in it that I love to play and sing is "Things We Leave Behind" (which is what I wanted to title this post!)

Every heart needs to be set free
From possessions that hold it so tight...
It’s hard to imagine the freedom we find
From the things we leave behind.
— Michael Card (poiéma)

I hadn't considered myself much of a possessor of things, really, though I'm sure you could find plenty of stuff in my home that counts (where did it all come from?) But there are certain things I attach myself to with the right of possession: Content I have written but don't want (ahem, I mean am afraid) to share, ideas I've shared and someone else has made better use of afterward, and prospects for success if I just work one more hour today (... to infinity!) or if I'm willing to compete a little bit harder.

As it turns out, I am very possessive of more than the stuff I can hold in my hands. Ouch.

Recently, I was inspired by a story of a tradition where people leave behind a valued item at the end of their pilgrimage on the Camina de Santiago. It is a symbolic way of putting off the old self and maybe also about letting go of the things that can no longer serve us but keep us trapped because we are not willing to set them free.

This really spoke to me because one of my greatest fears is of being trapped. And yet I engage in it daily when I am unwilling to let go of my old self, the parts that have changed or grown or died off, or when I become fixated on a piece of story I want included in my future at any cost.

You see, I've had completed projects sitting around either collecting virtual dust or that I was saving with the hope of one day rolling out in the future, as soon as I made it perfect. As soon as I figured out what to charge for it. As soon as it was a guaranteed success. Because let's be real. Life is hard and we all need a win. We all need help. A lot of it. Just for daily living and eating and shelter and medicine. Throw special needs into the pile for many of us. There is so much pressure to work it all out through my own steam, that I give up before I get started.

“There are days when the only thing to do is return to all things simple and small.”

- Book of Hours: In Shadow and Sun

But what if it’s not about that? What if it’s not about me saving myself through the things I possess? The reason I have not done anything with my project possessions is because they are too wrapped up in my "one day..." life, when I can be all-sufficient. What exactly have I learned in the past 37 years? (Shh. It's rhetorical.)

I am ready for a change. I keep saying this because it keeps on being true. Change and change and change some more. Shed the old skin that no longer fits and is keeping me struggling in its too-tightness.

I have decided to begin engaging in the art of leaving things behind. Yes, the art. I believe it can be a thing of beauty, a gift, and a vivid depiction of creative presence.

I will start with one thing. I am still small and afraid, after all. (I am doing it anyway.)

Let's call it a spiritual discipline.

Let's call it a risky leap of faith.

Let's call it terrifying.

I will also call it this: Freedom.

I want to be clear, though, that leaving behind does not have to mean throwing away. If I have material that is helpful to someone, the logical thing is to put it in the hands of folks who can use it. This is my mission this summer. I'm excited both about sharing and about making room for The Next Thing, whatever that may be and when the time is right for it. I'm grateful for the prospect. I'm even more grateful for the opportunities available to me in my right-now life. I'm not going to look ahead at the expense of today's treasures. (Or at least, I'm going to try. These things take practice, you know.)

Stay tuned, because more of this radical spread-the-love material is coming your way. !!! It's all joy.

While we wait, here's a question/food for thought I'd love to hear your answers to: Has there ever been a time in your life when you found freedom in leaving something behind? Please share in the comments!

Love, and go brightly.



“Open those fists clenched tightly around everything you want to become.”

-Book of Hours: In Shadow and Sun

Jamie Bagley