There’s a lovely Jewish ritual called Tashlich, which in English means to “cast off.” After atoning for your sins on Yom Kippur, you then throw breadcrumbs into a moving body of water on Rosh Hashana to symbolize casting off those sins to begin the new year with a fresh start.
As someone who tends toward self-recrimination, I look forward to Tashlich every year, I am consistently moved by the lightness I feel afterward. It always made me feel a bit silly to feel so good, given that nothing had actually changed in my life from before the ritual. However, it appears as is often the case, that ancient Jews knew intuitively something we are just now learning. A recent study out of Denmark found that when we engage with objects to which we attach symbolic meaning, the areas of our brain associated with social skills and language are activated.
We can use this information in any number of ways to free our minds from negative thoughts. Here are just some that have worked for me.
- Brain Dump.
Write down all of the bad thoughts in your head. Write anything that is bothering you, anything that is worrying you, and anything you want to let go of from your past. Keep going until it is all out on the paper. You want a completely clean slate.Once they are all out on paper, it’s time to engage with them. You can get creative here and see what feels best for you. I like to burn them. Seeing them slowly lose shape and disappear into the ash feels particularly freeing. If I can’t burn them, shredding or even just ripping works too. Some people – particularly those with recurrent feelings of helplessness – get relief from forcefully crumpling it into a ball and pounding it flat. Some even holler at it – though I recommend waiting until no one is home if you plan to do this 😉 It doesn’t matter what you decide to do with the paper as long as you feel the symbolism and let it go.
- Closet Dump.
Sometimes when we are carrying a lot of mental clutter, we tend to also hold onto physical clutter. Go through a little bit of the clutter at a time, and make a pile of everything you can get rid of.When the pile is ready to go, take a moment for reflection. Visualize your thoughts clearing out of your head and spilling onto the pile. Make it real to you. See the words flowing, make pictures representing the upsetting feelings and problems. Some people tell me they use sounds to help make it feel real. Feel the relief and clarity growing in your mind as you watch everything that is bothering you move on. Seal it up, and let it go.
- Trash Dump.
You can do this one in just a few minutes every night as maintenance to prevent the buildup of negativity in your brain. When you go to take out the trash, just take a minute or two to let your bad thoughts go with it. Then just take out the trash.
You can attach your thoughts to anything to help rid them from your brain. You can skip rocks on a pond. You can pile leaves in the fall. As long as you can create the symbolism in your mind, you can give your mind a respite from rumination.
Jill Gould is a Mental Health Mentor who helps people take their lives back from depression and anxiety. She is certified in Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), Life, Happiness, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Coaching.
In her other life, Jill is an attorney, recruiter, entrepreneur and author, all of which take second place to her roles as wife to the love of her life, mother to two wonderful grown children, and executive assistant to two mini-dachshunds.
Jill’s life and family are a testament to the fact that with the right strategies and support, you can move beyond depression and live the life of your dreams. More about Jill