You only lose what you cling to.
~ Buddha

The most difficult part of moving on is accepting that the other person already did.
~ Faraaz Kazi

August 27, 2015

I have postponed writing this one for some time. It is fraught with so many issues that need to be untangled and I don’t know what or where all the strands of thread are.  The timing of this blog is a good one for me, though, as I struggled this past week  with letting go. I knew in my head that I needed to let go of a challenging situation but righteous indignation got in the way. The need to have the last word; be “right”; control the outcome. I can be “right” of course if I want to, but the cost may be high (sigh…).

What does it mean to let go? Letting go for me is about relinquishing. Relinquishing means I can move on and not get stuck in the quicksand of an encounter going nowhere. Playing it in my head again and again. As difficult as these situations can be and the enormous energy they consume, they are part of the broader work involved in life transitions. For relinquishing is essential to transition.

Transition – that murky cloud of uncertainty as we move from one life situation or stage to another is something all of us face throughout our lives. William Bridges, who  has written extensively about it, observes that transition is where creativity and opportunity lie.  But there is no algorithm for this process; no clear metrics to calibrate beginning, ending, or progress of any kind. This is a challenge for anyone I am sure but as one who loves lists, Gant charts, and a sense of order, I can find it difficult navigating transition – no matter how extraordinary the possibilities awaiting me.

I have always thought of transitions in terms of events: adolescence to adulthood; employment to retirement; children leaving home (and perhaps returning again). But many of the important transitions that require letting go are not always visible to the casual observer. And they all involve some kind of relinquishment. Indeed we may not even be aware we are in the midst of transition until something seems off or out of kilter. These are ones that involve an internal process rather than outward change – some kind of shift in how we view the world and our place in it. Transitions make for wonderful life lessons that enable us to peel away the layers to reveal who we really are. And they open up opportunities for a richer life. But they involve risk and that is why it is easier to stay with what we know.

I do know in my heart that it is not possible to embark on something new, including a new way of responding to situations, until the old has been relinquished or let go: a relationship; work; developmental stage and so on. Otherwise, we can end up carrying around a lot of baggage that crowds out any possibility of something new and ultimately holds us back. So how do we know if it is time to let go?  In reflecting on this I realized there are several areas in my life in which the little bell of “time to let go Audrey” rings in my head: my professional work life; my family; relationships; coming to terms with the fact that I can no longer do things I used to do with ease – to name a few.

The hardest one for me is changing relationships: children that are now adults and need to be treated as such; individuals that I once knew well, but with whom I no longer have much in common; becoming caretaker or “parent” to an ageing parent. It means letting go of assumptions; of expectations; of any particular outcome. Going with the flow and being willing to relinquish without abandoning. Knowing when to act. Recognizing there are many riches available to us despite what we may be losing. For example:

  • I can’t run as fast as I used to – but I can run (walking counts as a form of running).
  • I can’t multi-task very well – but I can focus well on one thing at a time and that is probably a good thing.
  • I may have lost touch with someone I was close to but look at the wonderful friendships I have!

I am still learning. Letting go doesn’t necessarily mean keeping quiet. Sometimes I get cranky and speak my mind because I have stayed quiet too many years. There is a middle ground though: a fine line between speaking clearly to protect your own boundaries and not being completely overbearing. If there was only one thing to let go of at a time then perhaps I could develop a systematic way of mastery. But life is not like that. And the biggest challenge is relinquishing the old parts of ourselves that no longer serve us and embracing new ways that perhaps actually reflect our true selves. In so doing, we may be better prepared to deal the with the larger transitions that life throws at us. How liberating!


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