When 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:
- Something doesn’t work
- That something will not change on its own accord
- 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.
Recently 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.