Letting Go

“Somehow, in the process of trying to deny that things are always changing, we lose our sense of the sacredness of life. We tend to forget that we are part of the natural scheme of things.”
– Pema Chodron

Lessons from Silence – Letting Go

On the last day of our recent Silent Retreat, we took a very special journey into the woods with Pause Meditation Instructor and Outdoor Mindful Guide, Cindy Olsen. We were instructed to walk slowly, look around, and collect objects along the way that we would use to make art at the end of our walk.  With a variety of interesting items in our backpacks, we came together at the end of the trail and were instructed to build a nature mandala by slowly adding our found objects one by one to the table.

I was honored to be asked to start the process by adding something to the center of the table. I started by building a cairn, a stack of three stones delicately balanced one on top of the other, at the center of the mandala. Cairns are guideposts often seen on hiking trails to help hikers find their way and avoid getting lost. They are also a beautiful reminder along the path that you are not lost and you are not alone, as someone else was here and left those stones to help guide you. This cairn was a prefect symbol for this group gathered together that morning, a beautiful balance of women all silently supporting one another on our own unique paths. As we each added our mementos –  sticks, leaves, berries, rocks – to the table, a gorgeous piece of art emerged!


When finished, we all smiled and admired what we had created together. Then, Cindy instructed us that we would each take turns sweeping a part of our mandala into a basket to return all of those objects back to nature. We all felt that twinge in our chest and stomach that signifies not wanting to do what was being asked of us.  How could we destroy this beautiful piece of art that we all just worked so hard to create?  Ahhh . . . that was the point! Change is hard. Things, experiences, and people (just like all things in nature) are impermanent. The goal is learning to be fully present for them, and truly enjoy them, while they are here and, although it is painful, accept that we must eventually let them go.


We all helped return those pieces back to nature. As the last participant took the sweeper and knocked down the one remaining object, the cairn, into the pile, I felt another collective tightening inside as we wanted to leave that one remaining object on the table as a lasting guidepost and as a sign that we were here. Then, I remembered and reminded the group that those guideposts and those memories will always be in our hearts and will be a lasting part of who we are.