You know those gauzy, flowered, rainbowy memes with inspirational words about letting go? They show you the beautiful moment when you “Let Go”, and then you grow wings, start floating, have the sun shine out of your arse, and you dance off to the ‘happily ever part‘ of your life where there are soft focus wildflowers, pristine beaches with sunsets and unicorns. You know, those memes.
Yeah, I hate those.
I hate them. I hate them because they promote the idea that all you have to do Sweetie, is just Let Go and then your life, relationships, pets, kids, will be forever wonderful and well behaved, your skin will clear up, your stomach will flatten, and daisies will sprout wherever you place your perfectly pedicured bare foot as you stroll in your whispy white dress, with your long fabulous hair flowing behind you in the perfect breeze. It is also rumored that once you Let Go, you will find true love, probably on said daisy sprouting beach with the beautiful sunset and dancing unicorns. Puppies will love you. Friends and family will finally realize your true worth, how you’ve always been right, and how your version of every story was the one true version, and they are overjoyed to morph themselves to your new enlightened view of the world. I may be exaggerating ever so slightly, or maybe not.
Right. Except all of that is bullshit.
For more on the Social Mammoth read here, it’s awesome.
First off, Letting Go is really fucking hard. Letting go is not a one time activity that precedes you getting everything you want in life, you being happy all the time, and finally figuring out just what you are meant to do here. Nope, letting go is something you have to do over and over, (and over and over, and over… you get the idea).
Then, just when you’ve finally let go of the rock, the thing/comment/relationship/thought process and you’re standing there thinking, well this is great, now what the hell am I going to do? And then, as if by magic, something else pops up and you decide to pick that up and cling/carry/lug it around instead, or you look back down at the thing/comment/relationship/thought process or whatever it was that you put down and decide, well … really, it wasn’t so very bad, and you pick it up again and drag it around some more. Later, sometimes years later (and sometimes never) you realize that you’ve been carrying that thing (etc) again and you had no idea, and that was why it has been so darn difficult to get around, to do anything because you got this rock that you’ve dug your finger nails into and cortorted your body, mind, heart, and/or soul around to hold on to. Then you have to go through the process of unclawing your fingers, uncontorting your body/mind/heart/soul to put it down again – and that’s a scary thing to do. After you put it down, what then?
I love this quote. I use it often in my yoga classes, but the thing I like to add is that you have to keep right on walking into that darkness, that unknown, one step after another, and sometimes you find solid ground, sometimes you fly, and sometimes, more often than not, you fall on your face, get up and step again.
I love this scene from Indiana Jones, his Leap of Faith. There’s this terrifying moment when he steps out into nothing, and then finds the invisible bridge. Here’s the thing about life, Indiana Jone’s bridge appeared after that first step, for those of us not in a movie we have to keep taking the next step out into nothing, over and over again. It’s not a one and done kind of thing, you have to keep stepping out into the unknown, into the very thing that terrifies you. This is the letting go and moving on is part of growing up. He could have just clung to the cave wall because it was safe, and never even attempted to step out. He didn’t because this is a movie, and Sean Connery was going to die, and well, he’s Indiana Jones, and that’s what he does, but those of us walking in more ordinary shoes, in less dramatic lives will cling to the wall and not step out, even to save ourselves (or even Sean Connery), even if the place we are clinging to is awful, and painful. We cling because the known, even if the known is awful, is more attractive than the unknown, and that’s were we get stuck.
Letting go is not being apathetic, it is not weakness, it takes tremendous strength to let go. Holding on to resentments, justifying bad behaviours because of things you cling to, THAT is what’s easy, and also what’s childish. Withdrawing, running away, hiding, manipulating, sulking THAT is what children do. Letting go, and being right here, not rewriting the past, or scripting the future, but being right here, right now, being fully present whereever you are now is hard, really hard. Replaying the past or fantasizing about the future is so much easier. Having those conversations in your head with people, you know the ones where you sound really clever, and you ‘win’ whatever winning the conversation looks like to you. Those conversations where you get to say that really clever thing you’d wish you’d said, or unsay that nasty thing, or where the imaginary version of the person you’re fantasy talking to, starts doing and saying all the things we wish they would, and you know that all you need is for that to happen, and then you can be happy.
The times when we are uncomfortable are the times that we need to stay right HERE, as Pema Chödrön says to lean into the sharp points, be fully present with the discomfort. What we generally do when faced with being uncomfortable is dash for the nearest and easiest distraction, our phone, the tv remote, the car radio (see video and lyrics below), food, drinking, pouting, withdrawing, lashing out at someone. Again a child’s method of coping, the equivalent of putting our fingers in our ears and saying la la la la I can’t hear you. Grow up will ya?
… I hate this car that I’m driving
There’s no hiding for me
I’m forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real
I could pull the steering wheel
I have these thoughts
So often I ought
To replace that slot
With what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole
My car radio
And now I just sit in silence
I ponder of something terrifying
‘Cause this time there’s no sound to hide behind
I find over the course of our human existence
One thing consists of consistence
And it’s that we’re all battling fear
Oh dear, I don’t know if we know why we’re here
Please stop thinking
I liked it better when my car had sound
There are things we can do
But from the things that work there are only two
And from the two that we choose to do
Peace will win
And fear will lose
There’s faith and there’s sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive a
And I will try with every rhyme
To come across like I am dying
To let you know you need to try to think
Of course the idea of behaving like an adult is associated with being no fun, stifling, stunted, repressed, we are encouraged to ‘not grow up’ ‘find our inner child’ and while the innocence and the creative openness of childhood are great sources to draw from, the pitching a tantrum, sulking, pouting, lashing out parts of normal childhood delevelopement are not. Don’t get me wrong, I love kids, and am often accused of being one myself – “what are you, like, Twelve mom?!” But childish ways of dealing with frustration are not okay.
So put it down. Whatever that thing is that you are carrying, put it, the fuck, down. Tell yourself you can always pick it up later and see if you want to carry its weight again, that you don’t have to put it down forever.
Imagine you’re swimming, and your beloved thing to cling to is a large rock – it’s a metaphor, stay with me here. You can absolutely keep swimming and carry that rock of yours, but it’s hard work, and you don’t get anywhere fast, and if you really look you’ll see that all your managing to do is to tread water furiously enough keep your face far enough out of the water to breath. Fun, right? But that’s what we do, and we wonder why we’re not moving, we wonder why life is so fucking hard, why no one is behaving in the way we want them to, why nobody has even noticed our awesomeness. You’re treading water with a rock pal, that’s why. DROP THE DAMN ROCK, really, really. Let go. See what it feels like to swim without it. You can always dive back down into the muck at the bottom and wrap your arms around that rock again, sometimes you won’t even notice you’ve done it till you notice how hard it is to swim again, and then you have to let go all over again, but maybe this time it’s a little easier
The thing about letting go, getting back to my irritation with those sunset, wildflower, ocean memes, the thing about letting go is that is not a one time life event, credits roll, couple walk off into to sunset holding hands, life solved, and Boom you done. Don’t confuse your life with a movie, or worse yet and butterfly/unicorn meme. Letting go is something you have to do over and over again. You have to keep stepping out into darkness, into nothingness, with nothing but a little faith and a shitload of courage. Indiana Jones on that bridge. Life is movement, life is growth, standing still is stagnation and death.
Keep taking the next step, yes, I know it’s terrifying sometimes, Do. It. Anyway.
I know you don’t want to move, that want to stay where it’s safe and comfortable, , Do. It. Anyway.
I know you have absolutely NO idea where you will end up – Do. It. Anyway.
Put that shit down and walk (or swim, or step on invisible bridges depending on your metaphor of choice) dammit, keep going. It won’t always be this hard, sometimes, but not always, and the more you let go, the more you step out into nothing and see that the world does not actually stop spinning, that everything does not completely fall apart, that the rewards of moving forward far outweigh the risks of staying still. The more you do this the easier it will be to trust that things will work out, and it’s okay if you don’t know what that will even look like, it’s okay, really.
So while your embracing the openness and creativity and the possibilities of being child-like, be sure you’re wearing your big girl/boy pants and not also indulging in child-like tantrums, sulking and seeing yourself as the centre of the goddamn universe, and while you’re there, put that shit down, with love of course.