Over time we become attached to people and places, beliefs and burdens, things and trepidations because they become our markers for meaning. A point of reference for us to gauge who we are.
But what happens when we evolve? Do our attachments hold us back or enable us to grow? Letting go is one of the hardest things to learn.
This was how I felt after releasing 1 out of 3,000 paper lanterns, which lit the sky on fire when I went to the Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai last year. What started out as something to check off my bucket list became an exercise in letting go. It all happened so fast.
My journey to Chiang Mai started as a spur of the moment decision. I’ve always wanted to attend the Lantern Festival, but I wasn’t available for the international festival date. Luckily my sister who was already in Thailand messaged me the local date, which was happening only a few days away!
After some internal debate about the cost I ended up booking anyway just one day before my departure. And even though buying 4 airplane tickets for a 2 day trip and sleeping overnight at the airport might not be practical, I knew that once-in-a-life-time experiences never are.
Afterwards, every moment leading up to the festival was about waiting.
We waited underneath our makeshift tent of scarves, in the scorching sun, for more than 6 hours. We waited until the procession of monks indicated the start of the ceremony. Even when the speakers blasted, “Do not light your lantern until we give the signal,” we waited some more.
Our patience was growing thin so we passed time by chanting along with the monks while shifting our weight between kneeling positions. Then finally the loudspeaker blasted the signal. We could finally spark our lanterns. I was so engrossed in the moment of trying to light my lantern that I almost forgot to look up at the sky. But when I did I was speechless yet overcome with awe and rapture. One-by-one the lanterns floated into horizon, like messengers of goodwill delivering our wishes to the universe above; a surreal sea of floating lanterns; a sky burning at the seams with positive energy. I felt so alive witnessing gratitude and hope multiplied by the thousands of wishes floating in the sky. Me? Well, I held onto my lantern long enough to channel all the people and places, beliefs and burdens, things and trepidations that no longer mattered to me into the fire. Then I let go not only of my lantern but also of all the parts of my life that don’t serve me anymore. Because I realised that if we don’t let go, hope will never be free to light the way. And if I didn’t let go, I wouldn’t have felt so alive.