Is Letting Go the Key to Happiness? (Absolutely!)

releasing flower petalsQuestion: what do you long for, dear friend?

What, in your heart of hearts, do you know you could have if only …

If only, what? You won the lottery? You had more time because you didn’t have this %$%#$&amp**
[INSERT PERSON, PLACE OR THING] that holds you back?

If so, then it could be time to surrender — but only if you are willing to let go. (And I do mean completely.)

Here’s the catch.

Innate to the human condition is a certain level of suffering that is just … there. We somehow have it wired up that we must suffer on some level. Perhaps people were not kind to us when we were young and we think we deserve a certain amount of pain. Or perhaps we made a karmic decision before we entered this life that we would have all sorts of lessons, usually delivered through harshness.

Whatever the case may be, we are mere babes as we move through this life and subject ourselves to a huge amount of suffering. Yes, we think we are all powerful, wielding credit cards, cell phones, tight schedules and big demands. Yet behind all of that posturing is our fear.

We are afraid that our suffering will catch up with us. That we will lose our steely grip on control and be brought to our knees by circumstance. Or that we will lose everything, and so we will crumble to the ground and die.

What we don’t see is that when we have nothing, when we finally let go and fall apart, then we are finally free.

In that moment, we become surrendered enough to acknowledge the truth – that all of this resistance and suffering we’ve cooked up is unnecessary. We start to see that we can have anything we want … if only we will allow ourselves to trust the Universe to bring it our way.

Ranier Maria Rilke wrote: “Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.”

If we can allow ourselves to relax into that receptivity and stop the incessant striving and pushing, then life can finally, truly turn our way. Perhaps for you that critical surrender means losing a treasured client or contract you’d wanted forever. Without that guaranteed source of income you think you will never make it. You believe you will simply dissolve, and cease to be the glorious You
you keep trying to be.

Ah, but friend, what if …

What if the real You is actually waiting behind all the letting go and the chaos? What if the Universe has something even better prepared for you? Can you let go and surrender into that infinite possibility? This is when your heart opens, your love for the world expands and you are finally set free.

When I gave up my 23-year marriage, my big showcase home, my identity as a nice straight lady, and then, subsequently, the woman I thought was the love of my life, I began to surrender and truly fall apart.

For a while I roamed around, staying with friends here and there, not sure exactly what to do. And then, incredibly, my daughter suddenly died. And so, in a curious way, I was reborn. Now my life has finally come into an amazing alignment in which every day I feel more confident, more powerful and stronger than ever before.

And all I had to do was let go. Completely.

There is something unexpected and sweet about this state of non-attachment. The usual supports are gone; unusual taboos are being lived. And in the chaos you realize you are made of unique and beautiful stuff. Above all, you discover you are loved and supported in ways you’d never imagined.

For in that ultimate moment of self-reliance, devoid of all your usual props, you can finally know what you are made of. And what you are made of is love. You are not your judgments, your hurts or your long list of to-do’s. Nor are you your self-criticisms and your relentless drive for perfection.

No, dear friend, you are nothing more than your big, beating heart. The degree to which you can know and live this love is the degree to which you will set sail and honor the path you have been given.

There is no valor in holding back in the name of practicality. Do that thing you have been given to do in the small of your heart – the one that propels you forward with an ‘if only …’. That is where the magic is.

If it means some carefully constructed structures must dissolve as you face your worst fears, then so be it. On the other side of all that loss is simply freedom.

You will survive – and, in fact, you will thrive; I can promise you that. That dream of yours is like a great beam of love waiting to pour out into the world and light your path as it lights others. And in that divine consciousness is all the magic and power in the world.

Why resist, dear friend? Why not just dissolve? For I can tell you right now with a smile and an arm around your shoulders: Not only do you deserve it … we all do.

We truly do long for your gifts.

So will you just surrender?

 

How I Stopped Being a Wounded Decision Maker

CrossroadsNearly my entire life, I’ve made decisions based on one thing: how I felt in the moment.

Turns out to be a bad idea.

Back in my early twenties, when I was starting out as an advertising copywriter, I chose to work for an abusive jerk in one of the most notorious hack agencies in New York. It was the place that invented that American icon, Madge the Manicurist.

I also ignored an invitation to interview with Ed McCabe, the grand circus master of creative boutique agencies. He was the guy every young writer wanted to work for, but I blew off his entreaty.

Why?

I didn’t know how to ask for help.

At age 20, I thought I knew all the answers — I didn’t need no help, no how. “All ad agencies are alike,” I told myself, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. So I chose rashly, with no preparation.

Thirty-two years later, I was still making the same mistake. Fresh out of a 25-year marriage and newly out as a lesbian, I was in no mood for circumspection. I dove headfirst into a love affair with a rank abuser.

A month later I came to my senses and walked away – only to return to her a month later on an impulse. A friend at the time advised me against it.

“That scares me,” he said. But I ignored him. After all, I always knew the right answer … right?

Wrong.

In recent years I learned to make decisions slowly and with a great deal of thought. The bigger the decision, the more thought goes into it. It’s starting to feel like an act of Grace.

Conscious decision-making has taught me that I am not alone. That it’s best to get feedback from trusted friends. I’ve come to think of these wonderful advisers as my personal ‘board of directors.’

Friends talked me off the cliff of compulsively overwork when it was time grieve my daughter’s death. Others advised me to walk away from a potential abusive relationship, which allowed me to run towards the woman I was really suited to.

Still others kept me from blowing a chunk of my retirement fund on a painting I adored but really couldn’t afford.

In the end, the choice has always been mine, but I made it with eyes open and all the options on the table. So conscious decision-making has saved my bacon again and again.

Here’s the part I really love: this zen-like approach to decision making is fun. The pressure is off. No longer must I be the swashbuckling hero of the moment, swooping in to make a big decision with no forethought or research. No longer must I save the day the way I used to as a child in an alcoholic family.

I can take my own sweet time. I can make my choice when I’m damn good and ready, and not a moment sooner.

Not surprisingly, the woman I am partnered with now is a beautiful decision maker. She vets every choice thoroughly, turning it over from all angles. She’s truly open to not seizing every opportunity, but exploring the downsides as well.

Still, at times, it can uncomfortable to peel myself away from a rash decision. The old buzz of pheromones and the thrill of the adrenal rush still beckon.

But I’ve learned to stop and reflect before I choose. Because I know that on the other side is excellent self care, which is far more sustainable than the sugar rush of a fast choice.

Do I still honor my instincts? Absolutely. It’s just that now I know how to sit with them.

My big takeaway is this: The world will not end tomorrow if I don’t act today. Turns out you and I can act in good time, slowly and consciously, and so enjoy the warm glow of satisfaction from a decision well made.

May you choose well and slowly, my friend.

Hell, you may even find it fun!

The Value of an Excruciating Relationship

love_for_music__by_this_is_the_life2905-d3g1hwhOnce, for sixteen months, I marched straight into the desert but somehow couldn’t extricate myself.

I fell so deeply in love that I couldn’t see how bullied I was … or what a gelatinous ball of mush I had become.  I got to see graphically, up close and personal, exactly how far I could go for love and acceptance.

In this relationship, I chose the role of victim and spent night after night on the couch crying my eyes out … yet still I couldn’t leave.

Today I regard this woman as a profound teacher. Because after I walked away licking my wounds, I began the most intense personal growth of my life.

But then desperation can do that for you.

We choose the role of victim because we know it intimately.

Oddly, it’s comfortable. We choose our abusers because we know them somehow, too. Meeting this particular girlfriend was a landmark event for me. I was immediately captivated by her charm, her smile, her wit, her intelligence. In my eyes she had it all.

Yet in the months that followed I disappeared emotionally as she became more and more controlling. We had this deep soul connection, a shared humor that wouldn’t quit, and a true appreciation for each other. Yet at the same time, we also had endless drama, manipulation, and torment. We were in lock-step with each other, creating our suffering together through some silent, mutual pact.

By the end I was pretty much inert and would do anything she suggested. I had lost myself completely and began making crazy choices. When April came I even considered not paying my taxes for the first time in my life. I had chosen an unstable person to be with because I, myself, was unstable as well.

What I see now is that I was needy.

My marriage of 25 years had just ended and I was grieving. The trouble was I didn’t know how to grieve. Instead of holing up and giving myself time to go through the process, I decided to pretend it wasn’t happening. Little did I realize how vulnerable this would make me.

Exploitation is what often happens to needy people — or sensitive, creative, talented people who are trained from young childhood to perform for others, as I was. I was reminded of this by the new Brian Wilson biopic, Love & Mercy. In it, Wilson, a true sensitive genius, was prey to an abusive, vindictive father, and then an equally abusive, seriously crazy psychoanalyst, Dr. Eugene Landy.

Wilson was both terrified of Landy and yet unable to leave. I can relate to that. I convinced myself that leaving my girlfriend would prove my undoing. I believed there would never be another onr like her, and that I was supremely lucky to have her in my life at all. When it ended, I felt both anguished and relieved.

This is how growth happens, in painful splats and weary staggers forward.

Three years later, I have emerged whole. I no longer need people in my life who disrespect or use me. And I’ve found a love that is right, whole and complete. What is really remarkable about my current relationship is that there is no drama. It simply doesn’t exist. Instead, there is deep acceptance, deep listening and a truly profound joy.

Turns out that’s what real love is all about.

By simply listening to myself and allowing myself to let go and grieve, I became whole. I stopped dating for the better part of two years and progressively became more accepting of myself. I started to trust my own capability, and forgive my mistakes. I found satisfaction in a quiet life, and fulfillment in the process of grieving.

I stopped being the scooped out artist who waited for others to define her and give her value. I started speaking up for myself and became my own fierce advocate – which was incredibly uncomfortable at first but then, remarkably, became fun.

And I did not do this alone.

I found all kinds of groups to guide me through this process – grief groups, 12-Step groups, friends, family, mentors, coaches and a good therapist. It turned out there is no valor in forging a difficult path alone. And there is great wisdom to be gained from a group conscience.

Now I have dissolved back to joy, for that is how it feels. The brittle, artificial structure that propped me up for so many years is gone, no longer needed. I am clean, whole and strong once more.

This is the value of hitting an emotional rock bottom and enduring the pain of finally, sadly telling the truth. For then there’s only one way to go.

If you’re paying attention, that way will be up.