The Magic — and the Challenge — of Letting Go

black-dog-tug-of-warWhen confronted with a massive life transition, I will hang on like a terrier, sinking little, sharp teeth in deeper and deeper until simple exhaustion finally forces me to let go.

I’m happy to say the terrier lets go far more easily these days. But only because I’ve learned what lies on the other side of that monumental letting go.

What do I mean by ‘letting go’?

Letting go is recognizing that:

  1. Something doesn’t work
  2. That something will not change on its own accord
  3. A fundamental truth needs to be told … followed by action

In other words, I must step out of denial and back into reality.

A relationship I had a few years ago comes to mind. It was a classic case of the rabid terrier refusing to own the truth that there was no way the two of us were going to ‘make it’. All we were making was a mess, which we’d been making since Day One.

I was in denial about the following things:

  • My would-be partner was not actually in love with me, although there was a great deal of ‘like very much’ going on
  • Her massive resistance to the relationship, including everything from frank and frequent criticism of me to withholding sex was not okay
  • It was also not okay to walk around all the time on pins and needles, trying like hell to get her to love me
  • I could not think, manage or force this relationship to be anything other than it was

Oh, I thought I had it all figured out. But now I was endlessly clinging. Endlessly strategizing and trying to change to be someone other than I was. ‘If only I could be better … then she would finally love me’ went my own diseased thinking.

What I didn’t know then is that letting go always, inevitably leads to something better. To paraphrase The Best, Exotic Marigold Hotel, if it has not yet worked out, it is not yet the end.

Life is nothing but a continuous process of letting go. We are constantly being called to let go of love, money, fame, glory, acceptance, children, health, youth, and so many treasured but often unobtainable goals. It’s one release after another, until finally at the end, we let go of life itself.

And always, always, on the other side is the unknown. Which is exactly what we fear the most.

How desperately I clung to my faux-love. I even gave up my apartment in San Francisco, bought a car, and moved in to the new apartment she’d gotten in Marin County. Even though she came to me shortly before we moved, saying she had doubts. Even though I was not on the lease. Even though I, myself, had doubts as well.

I was in denial, and denial is the most powerful of drugs. So when she ended the relationship a few months later, I was relieved. Finally someone had the courage to tell the truth, and so the tension was lifted. The unknown had arrived. I had been thrust into the void once again.

And, actually, the void wasn’t so bad. It has a certain brilliance to it. For it is here that we become formless, and so we can finally, slowly embrace the truth of all things. And in doing so, transform as we must.

This is the work of the Hindu goddess Kali, fierce lover of destruction and chaos, Goddess of Time, Change and Creation. Not long after our break up, I put a small statue of the dancing Kali on my dashboard. And there she still stands, encouraging me to let go into the void, carry my sword and feel my true power.

super-jumboRecently I told a friend facing the void of retirement that it’s like dismantling a house. Down must go all of our dreams, our hopes and even our identity. It must all be taken apart completely, for only then can the dust and rubble be removed. Only then can true reinvention begin.

This process of letting go has its share of pain and suffering, but our inner Kali can help us to embrace it. For once the way was laid truly bare, then the sweetest transformation could take place. Then we can finally tell the truth, and begin to put the warm arm of compassion around our own shoulders.

We can walk away shaking our head, saying, “What was I thinking?” Then, slowly and with a great deal of self-care, we can begin again to rebuild, one tender step at a time. So we listen to our heart as we create anew, this time informed by the wisdom of destruction.

For destruction always leads to something better. But only if we let it.

There is no rush to reinvent, dear friend. Nor can there be. There can only be surrender to the beautiful path of life, which will always deliver us just to where we need to be.

And so it is.

Is Your Inner Four-Year-Old Running Your Life?

Susie-croppedWho is in charge of the decisions you make? You … or a quietly insistent, potentially angry, fearful child who lives in your heart?

I ask because it might be time to get to know her.

You know she’s in charge if any of the following ring true:

  1. You find yourself drawn to difficult people in love or work… kind of like all those kids who bullied you in the schoolyard or your tough parent.
  2. You spend money too freely – or perhaps not often enough. You get a physical rush of satisfaction when you act like this, despite any financial or personal mayhem that may ensue.
  3. You eat that last jelly donut or drink the extra martini, even though you REALLY ARE trying to stop. Because … well, it’s been a hard day. (Your inner child is the one who has to have those additional pints of Ben & Jerry’s.)
  4. Financial, career or business chaos seems to follow you around, no matter how hard you try to shake it.
  5. On some level you feel addicted to excitement and drama, even though you ‘know’ it’s draining and debilitating and you’re sick of it.
  6. You have consistently attracted people who encroach on your boundaries in some basic way. And frankly, it’s tough to say ‘No’ to them.
  7. You find yourself feeling mad for no reason sometimes — or anxious, teary or bleak.
  8. You long to do things you can’t get started with. Yes, you’re scared but … why? An invisible barrier seems to block your path.
  9. Procrastination is second nature … though somehow things usually, finally happen. But not without a fair amount of adrenaline.
  10. You buy things on impulse only to return them later – or stockpile them in a room or closet filled with unused items.

Honestly, the foot-stamping or frightened little self who lives in your heart is so entwined with your life that there is little you can do WITHOUT her involvement. And sometimes she feels a little out of control.

For most of us, our inner child is firmly in charge. And she operates like … well … a four-year-old. (Or perhaps one even younger depending on the circumstance of your childhood.)

Decisions get made and impulses followed that mirror that distinct 4-year-old logic. Which is why the last jelly doughnut is impossible to resist.

Our inner child becomes the source of many of the unbreakable patterns that show up again and again in life. And it is not until we begin to work with this formidable power source that things can begin to shift.

For me, I’ve had to spend active time first of all finding my inner child … and then just plain old listening to her.

I began this work in earnest after I noticed I’d attracted a string of difficult women in my life in love and friendship. Yes, they reminded me of Mom; point made.

But there was something deeper going on as well. Somewhere back behind the annoyance and upset I was in was an anxiety, as well as a strange, subtle desire to feel that feeling.

I was experiencing a palpable gut-level fear around these women … the same fear I used to experience as the kid who got bullied at work and by the kids at school. It was all incredibly familiar.

My inner 4-year-old knew this anxiety, this sense that ‘they can strike at any time’, and she knew how to manipulate her way to safety. Oddly, this was my comfort zone. So when I found one of these women it was an auto-Yes to engage.

It’s this kind of recognition that can begin to break the log-jam and end the pattern.

So I have been working with calling my inner child out into the sunlight and getting to know her, day by day. It happens by sitting quietly, tuning in and letting ‘Little [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE]’ show up.

When you do this, you may be surprised how she shows up. In the beginning, Little Susie was pissed; furious really, because I’d shown such a complete lack of interest in her. I was taken aback.

So first I had to just listen while she had a nervy tantrum. But over the weeks that followed, she began to lighten up. And at the same time, I began to tune in to her more and more deeply.

Now I actively say a meta prayer that is nurturing to Little Susie every morning. She sits on my lap in my imagination, and I stroke her head and tell her how much I appreciate her. I ask her what she needs.

Inevitably she just wants me pay a little attention to her. Or maybe take her to the beach.

Moreover, my big take away is that this little girl was just plain bewildered by the circumstances of her childhood all those years ago. And so all that anger I’ve had at myself has begun to finally dissolve.

I no longer need to rant at myself for opportunities missed and mistakes made. Instead, I can be compassionate as I tune into this sweet little soul’s innocent heart. Occasionally Little Susie and I have blown it, and the world did not end. Nor will it as we make more mistakes in the future.

We are all children of the Universe throughout our lives. It is when we can recognize that and feed ourselves accordingly that life becomes more and more beautiful. And so we become more and more transparent, allowing God’s grace to shine through us.

Take a moment right now to close your eyes and say hello to the one who lives within.

Chances are she or he has been waiting for you.