Letting Go

Have you ever loved someone or something so much that when you began to get messages from your internal guidance system that it was time to let go, you ignored the signals?  I know I have.  One of my most memorable experiences along these lines was associated with work that I loved.  I was working as a psychologist expert on television and radio – one of the most fun, rewarding, and “heady” periods of my career.  When my inner voice reminded me one day that I was a psychologist first, not a T.V. or radio personality, I ignored the voice.  I was caught up.  But the Universe has a way of getting my attention.  On more than one occasion external circumstances have conspired to get me to listen to the inner voice urging me to wake up, grow up, and change, by invoking what I call the “Cosmic Catapult”.  Without boring you with the details, after a successful nine-year run both my television and radio shows were abruptly and unexpectedly canceled.  I was heart broken.

I was very attached to the work itself, the people I worked with, and the celebrity associated with the work.  I had to release my attachment to all of this.  The thing that made letting go so difficult was the sense of loss I experienced during the letting go process.   What helped me get through the pain of letting go was something my father always told my brother and me when we were children.  Whenever we would go to him with a non-specific complaint, he would lovingly embrace us, give us a hug, and tell us we were having growing pains.  The beauty of this is that  I learned that it is okay to feel the sense of loss that always accompanies growth.  It’s like embracing the change of seasons with a loving hug.  I love summer, especially in Michigan where summers can be short.  I tend to release summers reluctantly because I know what’s coming.  I always hope that maybe this year, summer will last forever.  It’s probably because I spent a good deal of my childhood in California and Arizona.   At any rate, just as fall inevitably approaches, I somehow make the internal shift, accept reality as it is, embrace the autumn season and end up loving it.  I have to admit though I’m still working on embracing winter with a hug and loving it.  But that’s for another post.

Some philosophical traditions teach that non-attachment is an important practice that helps avoid the pain of loss that accompanies attachment.  I have tried to practice non-attachment as a way to avoid getting attached in the first place, but with little success and lots of frustration.  Through my practice as a psychologist and as a yogini I have come to recognize that “defensive” or “preventive non-attachment”, to avoid the feeling of loss, is impossible to achieve.  In other words, avoiding getting attached to summer because I know fall is coming doesn’t work.  Instead I have learned to enjoy my attachment to summer knowing that I have to release my attachment to it to receive fall.  It’s kind of like being a trapeze artist.  You have to release attachment to one trapeze in order to “fly through the air with the greatest of ease” to grab hold of the next one.  If you release attachment to the trapeze without embracing what’s next it’s not pretty.  Release is a process.  For me a more realistic goal, and one that I am able to achieve, though not always easily, is to accept the growing pains that come from releasing attachment to the old, familiar, and comfortable when it is time to do so, and to receive the new, whether it is a change of season, job, relationship, routine, lifestyle, belief, or even philosophical outlook.  I don’t know about you but for me letting go, no matter what the circumstance, usually involves a bit of fear, some sadness, as well as the excitement of anticipation.

During these periods of letting go I have learned to be careful to take especially good care of myself since I realize that I am most vulnerable during periods of transition.

On your yoga mat you learn that transitioning from one pose to another is a time when you are most vulnerable to injury.  As a result you learn to become mindful of taking good care of yourself during transitions.  Taking care of yourself as you transition off your yoga mat into the rest of your day is important also.  It might include something as simple as not taking or making phone calls immediately following a yoga practice.  I have found that giving myself a period of “alone time” to make the transition back into the everydayness of my life keeps me from getting my feelings hurt or from being hurtful and impatient with whatever is coming at me that I’m not yet ready for.

I realize that I am in a period of transition now as I approach a milestone birthday. I am having some growing pains.  Instead of clinging to the old, the safe and familiar, it is time for me to step more fully into myself and to offer myself more fully to life.  For me this means that I must honor the wisdom of my heart by being courageous enough to follow it.

I have a deck of Zen cards; a different inspirational messages appears on each card.  As I contemplated writing this post, I spontaneously pulled a card with the following wisdom from the deck that I’d like to share.

“Strive to always do what is right – not in the eyes of others, but in your own heart.  Others’ thoughts are transitory – one moment they will love you, the next they will not.  Act on what is right in your own heart, and there will be victory.”

It is impossible to avoid change and impractical to resist it.  Taking yoga off your mat, or therapy off the couch, means embracing change as an opportunity for growth.  Sometimes growth pinches like a pair of shoes you love that no longer fit.  It may be hard to get rid of them, but wearing shoes that are too small hurts more.  When you release what no longer serves, by recognizing you’ve outgrown it, you make room for something new.  And who among you doesn’t love getting a brand new pair of shoes that fit?



12 responses to “Letting Go

  1. Jason Parker Johnson

    Learning to embrace those transition periods is a key component to remaining in grace. I love this post.

  2. I think letting go usually involves some sadness as we release attachment to what is familiar and in many cases has been comforting. But eventually the sadness subsides and is replaced with a sense of joy and anticipation associated with what’s next. Thanks for sharing Dana.

  3. This post could not have come at a more appropriate time becaue my triathon season for me has ended.I have been in training for nine months, and I am so sad and beside myself as I end a work day – what will I do in the evening. I can’t keep up the pace of the training – I need a break. So I liked the trapeze example, but I am still very sad that for a few months training has ended – it fullfills the competition that I don’t have at work. So thank you Gail for remindng me that I have to take good care of myself during this transition – I do when I train – so why stop now.

    Thanks always Gail — Dana

  4. So poignant. I, too, feel that this speaks directly to me. The “trapeze artist” is a helpful visual. I have tried both (1) non-attachment to the present and (2) over-attachment to the past as a means of approaching situations in life. Neither has worked. To me, taking a “trapeze artist” approach means embracing whatever is immediately in front of you (with an eye on what lies ahead) and looking at every situation as a blessing from God. And when it is time to change course, the trapeze artist engages the detour with grace and ease. Thank you for the breakthrough!

  5. Another powerful sharing… The growing pains of life can be so challenging.
    As I was reading this month’s blog, I really thought you were talking directly to me!
    Great job1


  6. Tom Johnson MD, MBA

    I think that it is so very important to listen to and trust your inner self and follow your own heart. Now to be clear I am not talking about the little voice in my head that can sometimes create fiction and make up stories.
    Others will sometimes attempt to influence you with their transitory thoughts and yes one moment they will love you, the next they will not. When this happens it has been helpful to me to be only an observer rather than identifying with and getting involved in the push by others to influence me on what their thoughts are about what is the correct way for me to be. Letting go of the interference caused by mental chatter of others as well as within myself allows me to better stay in the moment and trust Following my heart.
    I am grateful for and appreciate your blog. No wonder the readership of your blog is expanding!!!!!!

    • It is so interesting to hear what we each are working to let go of. Your letting go, if I read you correctly, is associated with letting go of the mental interference of others. So subtle. So profound. Thank you for sharing and for going so deep.

  7. Beautiful post, Gail. We are all so pain-avoidant, and unable to accept the discomfort that comes from change and growth. I keep thinking that if I’m a “good girl,” nothing bad will happen. It’s so hard to shake that mindset, even though I’m 50 and I know better!

    • It is hard to accept the discomfort of growth until we realize that the discomfort comes from our resistance to it. Once we align with the fact that growth and change are a natural and inevitable part of life the pain of resistance transmutes into the thrill of possibility. Thank you for sharing.

    • I think many of us still secretly believe that if we’re really, really, good everything will go just the way we hoped it would without us having to make any adjustments to accommodate reality as it is.

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