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IN the morning from my balcony, I look out at the expanse of trees. October opens with them beginning to change colors—a sprinkle of gold here, a splash of burgundy there. I marvel at this annual ritual that by the end of fall and start of winter will result in them being bare, naked.

When that happens, I am certain to find myself peeping through the branches to see the houses that once had been hidden by the full glory of summer trees. Fall permits me to privately examine the architectural designs of homes that surround my condominium building. I can take in their historic beauty and appreciate their simple functionality as havens for couples and families—a collective creating community, an entire city, the nation’s capital.

Living during my adolescent and teen years in the notorious Desire Project in New Orleans, La., this festival of colors eluded my neighbors and myself. There were few trees in our community. We suffered the abuse of playgrounds without either grass or canopy to offer us shade from the brutal heat and humidity or to expose the luxurious strutting and floating of fall leaves.

Even today, in some urban centers, including parts of the District of Columbia, environmental racism is alive and well. Residents are denied nature’s shifting colors and perspectives. There is much to learn from it, insights into how humans should perhaps behave.

To see beyond barriers, blankets hanging over us, no matter their attractiveness, we are required to let go of material trappings, of things, sometimes of people and situations. We are required to reduce weight, to trim the excess. Nature does it for the trees. We are obligated to perform the task for ourselves.

Letting go is not an easy thing. What are we expecting to happen when we engage in the process of releasing? What or who do we hope to discover?

Mostly ourselves—the simple and spectacular. We want to rediscover us, the way we rediscover the beauty of the fall trees, or even the falling winter snow—though I must confess coming from the south, I am not a huge fan of that season’s chill.

Letting go requires intention, deliberateness, a plan--if we are to produce positive results. Each October, my birth month, I actively engage in the ritual of reduction—not to achieve a certain body mass index, although that is sometimes one of the unexpected outcomes.

I am more interested in removing the obstacles to experiencing me, to embracing the essential essence of me, without glitter, without ostentatious trappings, without weighted and artificial attachments. In other words, I want to see my core, my inner being. I want to stand bare, naked before myself. I want to evaluate my authenticity, to claim my agency, to declare my transparent and exquisite value.

There are a few steps I take to accomplish that outcome:

  • I state my personal and spiritual standards and values, always asking myself have they changed even slightly from last year. How and why did they change? Also, what remains nonnegotiable for me? Why?

  • Stripping away the makeup, the trappings of fashion, the elusions of success I ask who am I? I force myself to answer that question with one sentence, as if I were making an elevator pitch explaining myself and not some material product. I want to ensure I can see between my branches as I do when the trees are without their leaves.

  • Am I hording? Are there people, situations, things, that are no longer compatible with my personal and spiritual standards and values? If the answer is yes, and often it is, I make a list with the aim of systematically saying goodbye to those individuals—gently and graciously. To everything and everyone, there is a season. It’s not that I believe people or things are expendable, but if I am to grow, I must reduce excess weight, eliminate burdens and destroy barriers that prevent me from expanding.

  • For humans, trees reduce storm water and erosion. They provide oxygen, which we certainly need. For whom have I provided oxygen, I ask myself. Am I suffocating anyone, making it difficult for them to breathe? I want to know that I am making a positive difference in the lives of people in whose lives I wish to remain. If for whatever reason I am not providing that needful thing in another’s life or community, I consider how can I change that. I identify at least three things I can do to bring oxygen. If, however, I believe I cannot make that difference, I know it is incumbent on me to remove myself from their environment. Sometimes that is hard. But everything must change.

  • Some mornings standing on the balcony, I am certain I can hear the trees singing their own fall tune, happily releasing themselves from summer, stripping to wrap themselves in their winter wardrobe. What is the new attire I want to wear? I am not thinking of clothing but rather an augmentation of my creativity, my talents, my skills, my life’s mission. Equally important, what is my song? Am I singing it? Or am I singing someone else’s. Once upon a time, I admit that I forgot the tune and words to my own song, the one that touches my soul, makes it sparkle and dance. That year, I had a serious talk with myself and promised to write a new song, maybe even an album. Since then, I rarely forget what I am supposed to be singing, but I think to myself it’s okay if I want to update the arrangement.

What are you doing to improve your life, to feed your spirit doing in this season of letting go and discovery?

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