What a Humane World Looks Like: Releasing the Things that No Longer Serve You

This post is by contributing blogger Lynne Westmoreland, long-time music instructor and a humane educator. Lynne is a graduate of our M.Ed. program, and is the instructor for our online course, A Better World, A Meaningful Life, which is designed for people who want to put their vision for a better world & a more joyful, examined life into practice


There is an exercise in A Better World, A Meaningful Life, the online course that I teach for the Institute for Humane Education, that asks us to give up something and replace it with something new. I like to change the language on this assignment to "release something that no longer serves you and add something more positive and life affirming in its place."

We are sold the message of scarcity every day in our culture. We are told that there is not enough time, money, looks, job security, natural resources, humane connection, love, etc. We are constantly bombarded by messages that we are also not good enough, beautiful enough, smart/wealthy/successful/thin enough, and that we must surrender our own knowledge and intuition to “experts” who know better than we. Marketing plays to our insecurity and would have us believe that we must not just hold on tightly to everything that we have but constantly add to it too. This leads to our constant grasping after more every day.

But when we don't empty out space in our literal and virtual closets, when we don't open up time that has been spent in trivial pursuits that could be spent much more productively (in the sense of fulfilling, healing, nurturing, helping), and when we don't let go of beliefs and opinions that are no longer serving us and others, there is no room for the spaciousness that allows other, more useful and satisfying things to grow.

In Buddhist practice the idea of enlightenment, nirvana, or pure consciousness has at its center the achievement of emptiness. While this sounds like a negative concept from our Western cultural perspectives and constructs, it actually means not assigning importance to material possessions, ideas that we hold dear, the stories we tell ourselves about what is happening to us and its meaning, and even the pursuit of enlightenment or some perfect meditative state. By becoming empty (of expectations and outcomes) we can then invite in whatever appears with joy, openness, and curiosity.

In Native American sweat lodge practice, there is a similar goal to achieving emptiness. By physically sweating out our bodies’ toxins and thereby cleansing ourselves, we are also aiming to release toxic emotions, opinions, judgments (of self and others), and destructive thought patterns and behaviors.

So while I don't like the idea of giving something up (most of us don't), I really like the practice of releasing those things that are either unimportant or toxic to us at this point in our lives and replacing those items with things that will truly enhance our lives physically, mentally, and psychologically. Remember that releasing some things in order to invite in others does not have to only apply to physical and material things. It can also represent behaviors, attitudes, perspectives, decisions, saying yes when we mean no, and a whole host of modes of thinking and being in the world. It is so much fun to use our imagination to begin creating a new life for ourselves today. Think outside your comfortable boxes and see what else is out there that your allowing more space for might invite in.

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