letting go, opening up, digging deep

Looking back over the last ten years or so of my life, a major theme seems to have been one of loss and letting go—of people, places, pets, dreams, roles and images of myself. While some of the goodbyes were relatively easy to take in stride, others brought me to my knees and made me wonder for a time if I could go on. Still others I resisted with every fiber of my being, dragging out the ending with a painful grasping, so that by the time I finally let go, I was exhausted and, truth be told, relieved. All of them have made me who I am.

Michelangelo said that he saw a statue inside each block of marble and had only to chisel away everything that was not what he had envisioned. Perhaps this is the purpose of all of my recent losses and acts of letting go—to chip away at what’s not real or essential in my life, leaving only what’s authentic and important.

It’s so easy to lose ourselves in relationships, whether with family or spouses or children, or in jobs we hate. We take on roles that don’t serve us, we bury our natural gifts and ways of being in the world—all in an attempt to fit our square pegs into the round holes of others’ expectations and values and fears. We rationalize and tell ourselves that other things are more important than our own selfish wants and needs. Eventually, though, if we are to ever to live an authentic life, we have to let go of the things and people and situations that are keeping us from being true to ourselves.

Over the course of my marriage, I slowly lost touch with my true self, abandoning the creative, open, confident person that I had once been in my efforts to please my partner and save my marriage. Bit by bit, I stopped trusting the inner knowing that had guided me throughout my life so well—so well, in fact, that I had taken it for granted. By the end of the marriage, my inner compass was so covered up and distorted by doubt and fear and self-recrimination that I didn’t know which way to turn.  This was the man I was supposed to grow old with, I thought I knew who he was…how could I have gotten it so wrong? How could I trust my judgment ever again?

Although I’ve gradually been rebuilding my faith in my internal guidance system, my connection with it is still tenuous and easily shaken. I’ve stumbled many times in the past few years, hitting road blocks and challenges that have plunged me right back into self-doubt, leaving me in despair of ever getting my feet under me again, of ever feeling sure of my choices and my place in the world. In the end, I’ve finally realized that there is no quick and easy way of finding my way back to myself, and that each of the steps along the way is a vital piece in solving the puzzle of my life. All I can do is continue to work on letting go of the fear, remain open to the cues that the Universe provides, and listen closely for that still, small voice of guidance that I used to have such a strong connection with.

Not surprisingly, just as I’ve been letting go of people and situations and emotions that no longer serve me, I’ve also been letting go of things…paring down my possessions and reassessing what I really and truly need. I sold, donated or threw away a lot of things when I moved from North Carolina to Virginia, and I tossed even more when I moved from my rental house to the wonderful little cottage that I bought. I still make pretty regular trips to Goodwill and always feel better when I’ve released my stuff to be used by someone else.

I now have a smaller home and a smaller garden, which suits me just fine. I find that I’m content with less these days, that in fact I crave the simplicity of having (as turn-of-the-century designer William Morris so wisely advised) only things that I “know to be useful, or believe to beautiful” in my home. As I have “lost” possessions, I have “found” that I see and appreciate more the things that remain. With each item that’s removed, with each space that’s cleared, my environment expresses more clearly who I am. Achieving the same thing on a spiritual level is more challenging, but I’m finding my way with it.

The letting go has seemed endless at times, the personal excavation excruciatingly slow, but (on the good days) I know that all of the careful searching and sorting and sifting will yield treasures in the long run. Piece by piece, as I choose what to keep and what to release, I reconnect a little bit more with my true nature, and glimpses of the life that I’ve envisioned begin to emerge. It is these glimpses that keep me going.

I try to remind myself that when I let go, it allows me to move forward; when I open up, I’m able to receive; when I dig deep, I dis-cover what’s right for me. It’s a pretty big challenge, but the reward will be an authentic life that allows me to be true to who I am and give my best to the world.

Photo by Andrew Mitchell

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19 thoughts on “letting go, opening up, digging deep

  1. Letting go seems to be on a lot of people’s plate right now, myself included. I love what you say in this article and definitely relate.
    I don’t know that we ever reach a place where there is nothing left to let go of. My mantra at this time seems to be “take a breath and let it go.”
    Even breathing is about letting go.
    It seems the biggest thing to let go of is attachment…it’s not the actual article, person, place, etc. It’s the attachment to the familiar. Blessings, love and hugs to you.
    I live in Va. also.

    • Thanks, Brenda. I know that letting go is essential if we’re to continue growing and moving forward, and I’ve done a lot of letting go in my life, beginning with the loss of my father when I was 16. It just seems that there’s been a lot of it in my life these last few years…and it hasn’t confined itself to just one area of my life.

      And yet…it’s also a matter of focus, for in the midst of the losses I’ve faced, I’ve also had my share of blessings. Once, when I was going through a particularly stressful period, a dancer friend of mine said to me, “Breathe and sway, just breathe and sway…” Not always easy to remember when you’re in the middle of it, but it’s great advice, especially for a dancer. :)

      I seem to remember seeing somewhere on your blog that you live in Virginia. What part?

      Thanks for the good thoughts and good wishes. Sending the same back to you…

  2. You’re right the changes of getting back to your ‘real’ self doesn’t happen overnight. You didn’t lose ‘yourself’ overnight so it stands to reason it will take time. But it looks like you’re getting there and feeling good about things right now…good for you….Diane

  3. I agree with Brenda above, letting go seems to be a common journey many of us here are on. Perhaps this is why, and how, we found each other. It could be this age mid 40s – mid 50s, perhaps it’s the rapid shift in technology and how it’s effected our culture, perhaps it’s the economic changes the world has undertaken in the last 5 years, perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above.

    Have the words “transformational,” “authenticity,” and “living your passion” entered your day to day email, blogging and personal conversations? I have never been exposed to more coaches and mentors in the last 6 months as I have in all my education. Laura Hollick, Seth Godin, Christina Baldwin, Peleg Top, Christine Kloser, Michael Margolis, Sherri McConnell, Angi Sullins, Marie Forleo, Danielle LaPorte, Tyler Tervooren, Leonie Dawson, Heather Grey, Leo Babauta, Lisa Sonora Beam, Scott Dinsmore…seriously, I could go on. I’ve been questioning a lot these days, why all these “life-coaches” or “passion guides” have become so prevalent. Are there really that much more of them than 5 years ago, or am I just seeing them more clearly? Does my own journey of letting go bring them to me or is there simply more demand today for these mentors than ever before.

    To me, I believe these coaches have been EXACTLY where many of us are at today – in the middle of shifting our lives from outside in to inside out. And who better to coach us than one who has been through the same pain. I’m quite a skeptic, and analytical to a fault at times so I pay attention to this kind of phenomenon.

    I’m curious to hear what you think Viki.

    • I forgot to add one thing. Back in April I did a very impromptu writing exercise when I was feeling overwhelmed with the process of letting go. It’s helped be tremendously and I encourage others to try it. Simply start a sentence with “If I let go I…” then complete it…twelve times, as fast as possible. No editing, no precious writing, just excavate from the gut. I promise, it will feel great afterwards. http://creativemuse365.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/12-ways-of-letting-go-creation-133/

    • I’m traveling today and will respond at length later, but I agree that there is a widespread and rapid shift happening on many levels/in many areas, and I have felt that a lot of what has been happening with me is a part of that. More later. :-)

    • Have you read Martha Beck’s latest (Finding Your Way in a Wild New World)? She talks about—among other things—the joining of your art (anything that one has deep-practiced, whether it be playing the violin or woodworking or gardening) with your pain to find your calling…in other words, using your art/gift to help guide others through the same pain/experience that you’ve already lived through.

      I think there are more mentors/coaches out there because there are more people out there who are questioning the status quo of their lives and feeling called to a path that is marked by meaning and purpose and allows them to express their true natures (that shift from outside in to inside out that you mentioned). I think there are more people now who are no longer content to “settle”—to just collect a paycheck and call it a day—but they don’t know how to do it, and they need not only guidance but encouragement.

      In my own case, I’ve been feeling “called” to…something…for a couple of years now, but I haven’t been able to see a clear path ahead, which was never the case in my dancing/choreographing/teaching days. Then I knew what my mission was; now, not so much. I have a sense of it, but no specifics, nothing that would point me in a particular direction. Ironically, I seem to be able to help others figure their paths out, and my recent leaps of faith (though I’m still in the uncomfortable place of being in freefall) seem to have inspired a few folks, but I’m still “lost” when it comes to my own next steps.

      I, too, have my skeptical side, but I’ve long since stopped believing in coincidences. The challenge for me these days is to make sense of the synchronicities that have occurred in my life but don’t quite seem to fit together in a pattern that makes sense to me…yet. So I’m watching and trying to stay open…cultivating patience…and trying not to freak out! :)

      • I haven’t read any of Martha Beck’s work, but at your recommendation I will certainly look into it. I too agree that as Daniel Pink noted in A Whole New Mind, the right brainers are finding a more prominent place in our culture and that means artists, authors, creative thinkers of all sorts are confronted with challenges they never had to face before. It makes sense that coaching (another right brained profession) has also become much more prevalent. With so many inspiring leaders in life coaching and spiritual guidance I’ve been wondering if there is any type of online resource that rates/ranks them based on their specialty, expertise and geography. Imagine “1-800-Dentist” meets “Ask Angie,” meets “Rate Your Professor.” Every day I come across another incredible mind who I want to learn from and I need some type of means to sort everyone out…weed out the great from the good.

        • I agree that there are a lot of great people/resources out there, and I’ve felt the need to sort them out myself at times. However, I’ve always subscribed to the belief that the right person or book or video will cross my path when I need that particular bit of information or encouragement—it’s happened that way so many times that I’ve come to see it as an absolute truth (for me, anyway). Also, the person whose communication style rings my chimes might not resonate with you, so I think ratings would only be helpful to a point.

          Martha Beck is a case in point. I know several people who have dismissed her because they’ve only read her columns in O Magazine, which are usually humorous and probably seem like “advice lite.” However, I’ve read three of her books (Finding Your Own North Star, Steering by Starlight, and the one I mentioned above), and, although she uses a lot of humor to deliver her message (thereby being true to her own voice), she offers solid advice for those who are seeking to find their true path. She’s managed to combine heart-centered, intuitive guidance with practical steps in such a way that it doesn’t sound quite so “woo-woo”—by doing this, she’s able to reach people who might not be used to looking within and listening to their inner voice. In Finding Your Own North Star, she outlines four stages of what she calls the “change cycle” that still serve as a compass for me (oh, I’m in stage X…this too shall pass, and soon I’ll move on to stage Y). I’m actually getting ready to re-read this one, because I think it will be helpful given all that I’m going through right now.

          I’ll also be checking out the different coaches you mention above. I’ve come across some of them (Marie Forleo, Seth Godin), but am interested to see what the others have to offer.

          P.S. I love Daniel Pink. :)

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