The cleansing fire: Sorrows and worries released to the sea

Emily Campbell, with her daughter Maddie, offer up their Hawaiian leis in gratitude to a monument to the sea during their recent women's healing retreat to Maui. 

There were about 20 pages that I burned on the beach in Maui two weeks ago. Burned to ashes, mixed with sand, and then tossed into the sea.

At the urging of a counselor and several friends, I kept a notebook with me during my women's retreat. In it I wrote down all of the things that made me sad, or that I regretted, or that frustrated me. I had separate pages for different topics, and also long, handwritten diatribes releasing my anger.

The idea of writing down my sorrows and frustrations was repugnant to me at first. I didn't want to have a record of my hate and anger. I didn't want it to be a lasting record of how I felt, because I wasn't even comfortable with the emotions themselves.

But burning them, that would resolve my concerns. I wanted to release these bitter sentiments and get rid of them forever. I wanted to be free of the hold they held on my heart. I had the idea to do this for months before I did it. I actually had to build up the courage to face a lot of these feelings.

I was very careful with my notebook. I didn't want anyone to see how much sadness and anger had filled my heart. I was actually surprised at how much I was able to come up with.I thought I had dealt with all of these emotions.

Sometimes I would write pages at a time. Other times it would just be a thought or idea. I expanded the notebook to include all sorts of "bad" feelings. At times, without noticing, I would start to write things I was grateful for, blessings that I had noticed and things that made me happy. I had to stop. I just couldn't help myself, though. Maui was just so restful and beautiful, it was hard not to write them down.

So I perservered and wrote and wrote. Several times I wondered if I should make a copy of the list. It was hard to think that I would write something down just to destroy it. I had a hard time letting some of these feelings and emotions go. After all, weren't they a part of me?

I wondered what, if anything, would happen when I actually gave away these concerns. My attachment to my own sufffering was surprising.

Easter night we were to burn everything. In a last ditch effort, I was flooded with new additions to my list. Things that I had been keeping in reserve. My whole life I have tried to not focus on negative emotions, and I had to jump some mental and emotional hurdles to allow myself to feel and write these things that made me ashamed.

Easter evening seemed fitting, as we recognized the endless availability of new beginnings offered to us by the Savior in his atoning sacrifice. Well, I was ready to seize this gift, to really "give it to Jesus" and lay my cares at his feet.

On the beach that night, we spoke a little bit about releasing our negativity and replacing it with love and, most especially, gratitude. We were thoughtful about how all of these things had shaped who we were, and had no longer served a purpose.

One by one, we crumpled our papers and tossed them into the pot. We watched them burn, burn, burn.

Fire is definitely a cleanser. It reduced our lists of troubles to a very small pile of ash. We mixed these ashes with sand and tosssed them into the surf. the ocean is big enough to absorb our record of human tragedy and suffering.

Throughout the little ceremony, I focused my thoughts on release and on letting go of these emotions and thoughts that were holding me back. I didn't feel much at first, though it was very satisfying to toss my troubles into the Pacific. I found a stick and wrote in the wet sand, feeling great satisfaction as the waves erased my sorrrows at losing a child and all of the confilict and anger and drama that accompanied me as I cared for my two other terminally ill children and tried to rebuild our lives.

I woke up the next day feeling lighter. The fear that I had let go had somehow loosened my chest and back. There was more room inside of me. I felt so free!

In the following weeks I've felt a genuine freedom for the thoughts and cares that I tossed into the waves.

Occasionally I'll feel a jab of worry that I'm not carrying that heavy load around anymore. Who is going to nurture and care for all of these negative feelings? No one! That was the entire point, to give it away, to truly "Let it go."

To the counselors and friends who suggested this, I am so truly grateful. To have had a concrete forum to give to my sadness, and to physically release it has had a tremendous impact on my life. I feel looser in my own skin. I feel immeasurably happier. My husband, Aaron, noticed that I got my "mojo" back and I'm feeling good.

When I was pondering the other day how I would release my future worries, I told a friend, Amy, that it was too bad I didn't have an ocean nearby, because I was comfortable releasing my sorrows to the sea, as it was big enough and powerful enough that it could handle my grief.

Wisely, in reply she said "Well, we do have mountains, and they are pretty big. They can take it."

Of course they can, and really, it is just a symbol. It is really a higher power that is allowing me to give it all up. Thank the Lord for that.