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