Letting go comes in two flavors: “passive letting go” and “active letting go.”
One tastes like plain ol’ vanilla, the other Cherry Garcia: cherry ice cream with whole cherries and mega pieces of dark chocolate. Hmmm, well I know it’s nearing autumn and the temps are dropping as I write this, but I guess I’m craving a little TLC in the form of some Ben & Jerry’s.
“Passive letting go” is life tearing things from your hands, stopping you dead in your tracks or painting you into the proverbial corner. It’s being swept along in the current of life without any oars to help you navigate.
“Active letting go” is more proactive. It’s mindful. It’s awake. It’s (somewhat) exquisite even in the midst of the anguish that accompanies any kind of letting go.
Since I’m a big believer in being proactive – in having some control over where the river takes you, I’m focusing on the 5 things I know about this kind of letting go:
5 Things I’m Certain of (Well, Mostly) About Actively Letting Go
1. Proactive doesn’t mean not painful. There’s no getting around the pain, but sometimes it hurts more NOT to let go. Scratch the surface of any experience that involves letting go or saying goodbye to something or someone, and you’ll find pain cozying right up alongside it. That doesn’t change if you’re a teenager, a young woman, or a woman in midlife and beyond.
2. Hard leads to soft. Think about ripping off a bandage; dropping your 6-year old off at school the first time; watching as they close the lid on your mother’s casket before the pallbearers carry her home; the final kiss you share before leaving him standing at the gate; boarding the plane with a heavy heart. When you brace yourself for the letting go you cross an invisible, sacred line. On the other side, benevolence is waiting there for you, ready to wrap you in her arms and tell you she’s proud.
3. Teeny, tiny steps are just fine. But you can’t avoid the pain that accompanies letting go. It’s painful (which is why it’s the #1 thing I know) In varying degrees – from a flinch to downright crippling – the fact is it’s going to hurt. No way around it. So the question isn’t will it hurt, but will it hurt more or less if you take itty bitty little steps? As long as you’re moving forward it doesn’t matter how fast you’re walking.
4. There’s always more to let go of. You’ll never be done with sorting and sifting and jettisoning those things that no longer serve you. Don’t resist it. Instead, find comfort in the endlessness of it. Just surrender to it.
5. Acceptance is therapy. When you accept that pain is the twin to letting go, your wound will heal faster.
I’ve done my share of letting go, of purging: a 20-year marriage that ended with love, but that nevertheless broke my heart (open); a home filled with things I’d collected over the years with great care and intention; a friendship that became so small it stifled any possibility for growth. Boxes full of books and photos. An entire wardrobe of clothes that became impossible to wear as the weight of my illness made me smaller and smaller. Crampons and ice axe. A motorcycle helmet. Ambitions. My hair stylist.
I’ve surrendered to the endlessness of it, and in the process it’s softened me. I’m shedding still – taking in huge gulps of air and actively letting go. I’m not waiting until I’m ready to let go (I don’t like plain vanilla). I’ve waited long enough. Held on to “things” long enough. Longed for lightness long enough. For that sweet, soothing place just the other side of fearlessness.
Empty your closets and your heart. Often. Take deep, life-affirming breaths. Regularly. And move things over and out. Make space. Make space for what you truly need.