On Releasing Parts of Us that Need to Die

Jenn Pamela Chowdhury
9 min readAug 17, 2021

How inviting growth into my life meant being open to cycles of life, death and rebirth

Photo by Shravya Kag | Brooklyn Botanic Garden (2021)

In order to become butterflies, caterpillars shrink, shed their skin and dissolve their organs, turning into mush. They have to fall apart completely and literally die as part of their transformation process.

What does metamorphosis look like for us? When we invite transformation into our lives, we open ourselves to cycles of life, death and rebirth. Whether they’re stories we’ve long held onto from our childhood experiences, or habits that no longer serve us as fully realized adults, we’re always letting go of parts of ourselves in an effort to invite change.

And very much like the mushy stage for butterflies, the process is uncomfortable. Pain, confusion, grief and shadows emerge, followed by a period of rest and recovery. To uncover the beautiful, we must lean into the ugly.

At this moment, I’m writing from an apartment in Brooklyn (my third space this year) and in a few days, I will be heading to the West Coast to visit a dear friend. When I’m in new places, I allow myself to feel gratitude, excitement and joy. For years, I’ve been calling in a life full of freedom and movement. It was more than a life beyond a 9–5 job; it was something deeper.

Namely, I forced myself to fit into boxes — roles, identities, careers, relationships, structures — and I kept failing. I believed something was fundamentally wrong with me and I internalized the shame. I wanted to badly belong but never felt truly comfortable in certain spaces.

At some point, I started to pay attention to what made me feel at ease. Writing under a large cherry blossom tree at Snug Harbor in Staten Island. Unstructured time to explore a new city. Trusting in my ability to make an impact without needing external validation. When I noticed my values and life outlook made some people uncomfortable, I learned to practice self acceptance.

Photo by Shravya Kag | Brooklyn Botanic Garden (2021)

This journey was full of many deaths. To dismantle old structures and beliefs, I had to be open to grief, chaos, confusion, depression, and deep loneliness. I wasn’t processing all those feelings in healthy ways because I had no way of knowing what I was processing. I was dependent on others for comfort.

During my darkest moments, I found refuge in nature and in spiritual communities. The changing seasons taught me about the nature of impermanence while Buddhism encouraged me to embrace the instability of life. “We are continuously dying,” a Theravada monastic once shared with us half jokingly.

The concept of change and nonattachment is another powerful Buddhist insight; it shows us that our experiences, even the most pleasurable ones, are fundamentally unstable. Imagine liking someone so deeply and having to deal with the heartbreaking reality that the relationship may end. There is power in endings. And the more we deny the changing nature of life, the more we suffer.

I learned about shadow work through workshops organized by amazing healers and practitioners; how our dark sides offer teachable moments. What were mine trying to show me?

I began to understand that I wasn’t “stuck” with trauma. I was continually in flux, very much like the changing seasons or the cherry tree in our family garden. And I wasn’t alone: everyone changes. Learning to accept that we aren’t stagnant creatures is an important part of my growth journey.

I have always formed a deep attachment to people, places and objects. Maybe it’s the highly sensitive creative within me, or the immigrant child who grew up in a small apartment with my family, but it’s hard for me to let go of something I created memories with. The place, person or object is folded into my identity and it’s energy intertwines with mine, leaving an imprint.

This attachment ran contrary to the freedom seeker within me who loved adventure and change. I didn’t know that it was okay to love these contradictions; as an immigrant child, I was raised to believe it was safer to see the world in black and white. But learning how to embrace and navigate these beautiful contradictions and release binary thinking allowed me to play and experiment. I could love and care about my family and be happy traveling and working from different cities.

So that’s exactly what I did. Earlier this year, I set the intention to live a more nomadic lifestyle.

Learning how to let go has been an important part of my growth process. It comes easily for some folx but for me, it becomes a whole thing. When I decided not to renew my lease and finally lean into a life full of freedom — a life I have been calling in for years — I unknowingly activated a cycle of life and death.

I miss my old apartment and I miss the things I filled my space with — my books, my artwork, my travel mementos. They are all now in boxes in my parent’s home. Somehow, I made myself believe that these objects were a part of me and that without them, I would feel lost. Every time I move into a new sublet, I cringe knowing that I can’t bring everything with me.

But through practice, I noticed that as challenging as it is, the more I allowed myself to let go of things I thought I needed, the easier it was to focus on what brought me joy. I didn’t really need my entire collection of books to write this piece. The fact that I could breathe easier in a less cluttered space allowed me to get curious about other areas of my life, especially my spending habits.

I bought stuff because it gave me a sense of power to spend my own money. When I did some inner work around my relationship with my money, I learned that having a sense of control was a way for me to navigate uncertainty. I also didn’t grow up with a lot of money so I felt a deep sense of satisfaction that I could take care of myself. So I began exploring other ways to fill my unmet needs from my childhood, without having to blow my budget.

While I’ve done money mindset work years ago, the process of moving, feeling the grief of letting go and opening myself up to other possibilities allowed me to reach a level of awareness I wasn’t able to access before. If I stayed in my old apartment because it felt safe and stable, I wouldn’t have noticed my attachment to my belongings.

When I stepped into a space of uncertainty, not knowing where I’d live next, I activated a cycle of transformation. I questioned everything I thought I knew about myself and in doing so, felt cycles of grief and loss. I saw parts of myself I didn’t particularly like. Like how needy I felt when I expressed my need for consistent communication to someone I was dating over the summer. Or how bad I was about sticking to routines (especially when I’m coaching clients on how to develop healthy routines for themselves!)

But this was transformation, too. The clinging. The pulling. The pushing. The weeping. This is the mushy phase that Instagram wellness influencers and Harvard Business Review articles skip over. As a collective, we want to move through transformation with as little discomfort as possible. There are lessons to be learned from the darkness.

When I made the audacious decision to be more nomadic, and feel my way through the grief of moving and letting go, I began to ask myself: what else can I do?

The death of one phase led to the rebirth of another. I started to create more and put my work out there. And creating is fucking hard. I started reexamining all the “I should” stories about my writing and my art. I tried to establish routines to make space for my creative work and even allowed myself to find accountability buddies.

Creating again activated another cycle of transformation. I recently shared a video of one of my storytelling performances on LinkedIn. That act was followed by hours of deep self doubt and spiraling.

How can something that brings me so much joy lead me to feel this despair? I tuned into myself and leaned into my community for support. The only way out is through, right? I moved through the discomfort, the stories of shame, giving this phase the space it needs. I reminded myself of the “yes, and’s”in my life.

Yes, creating is hard AND I can love the process.

Yes, I feel alone AND I have a community who loves me.

Yes, I want to fit in and find places to belong AND I love being an original thinker.

These self soothing practices help me move through the transformation process in softer, gentler ways. A few days after I released my video, I noticed how easy it felt to be myself and express my authentic voice on LinkedIn. And perhaps I was always this brave person who was unapologetic about her views because she trusts herself so deeply. Perhaps I needed to let the shame die so I could learn to accept myself again.

I mourned the parts of me that felt shame, too. The shame protected me from reliving old hurts from my girlhood so when I made a conscious choice to let it die, I grieved for the child in me who felt the original pain. We can choose how we want to show up for that grief: through crying, dancing, writing, or even sitting still.

We know that transformation isn’t linear but a cycle. We will continue to go back to the old stories, habits, ideas and parts of ourselves until we are ready for them to die.

When you are ready, may your cycle be full of gentleness and the deepest self compassion.

Join me on Wednesday, August 25th at 4 PM PT/7 PM ET for a workshop on navigating change. We will explore practices and rituals — meditation, embodied practices, community conversations — to support you on your journey. Register here.

Born in Dhaka and raised in Lenapehoking (Brooklyn, NY), Jenn Pamela Chowdhury is the founder of In Full Bloom Coaching. As a Liberation Coach, she helps freedom seeking BIPOC and immigrant women of color who have been taught to sacrifice in service to others listen to their deepest selves with love and respect so they can honor the “yes” within themselves. To learn more about her coaching offerings and workshops, sign up here to join the In Full Bloom Coaching community.

Jenn is a meaning maker who believes dismantling systems of oppression starts with transforming our inner lives. Her own work in the social justice and global development space led her on a powerful self healing journey involving sacred practices to look within from a place of deep self awareness, curiosity, and care.

She is a certified Reiki Level II Practitioner and meditation guide, and has held numerous workshops centering on themes such as working with loneliness, embracing strong emotions, and defining one’s purpose. Her values are centered on anti-racism, anti-oppression, decolonization, joy, and liberation.

She writes and speaks regularly about the human spirit, healing, mental health, social justice, poetry, and other topics, and has been featured on Thrive Global, Barnard Magazine, at Open Society Foundations, the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, and through her own newsletter, Homecoming of the Human Spirit. She’s also written and performed monologues with artist collectives, including the Aseemkala Initiative and Yoni ki Raat, on topics such as mental health, social justice, and immigration at the Bowery Poetry Club and other venues. She was the closing act at the 2021 production of The Moth x Barnard College Alumnae Storytelling session.

A veteran of the social impact space, Jenn has been working closely with leading NGOs, nonprofits, foundations, and startups in multiple countries for 18 years on strategic communications and business development. She holds a B.A. in Political Science and Human Rights from Barnard College at Columbia University and an M.S. in International Affairs (International Human Rights, Peacemaking, & Global Development) from New York University.

Her current favorite question, asked by Viola Davis at Barnard’s Commencement in 2019, is: “What is your elixir?” (Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” by Mary Oliver is a close second.)

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Jenn Pamela Chowdhury

I help BIPOC identify their deepest needs and embody their calling through coaching, storytelling and healing practices https://bit.ly/2VEYfit