The Magic – and Challenge – of Letting Go

Are you like me? When confronted with a massive life transition, I will hang on like a terrier, sinking little, sharp teeth in deeper and deeper until simple exhaustion finally forces me to let go.

I’m happy to report this terrier lets go far more easily these days. But only because I’ve learned what lies on the other side of that monumental letting go. So ... what do I mean by ‘letting go’? Letting go is recognizing that: a) Something doesn’t work ... then b) That something will not change on its own accord ... and finally c) A fundamental truth needs to be told … followed by action.

In other words, one must step out of denial and back into reality. A relationship I had a few years ago comes to mind. It was a classic case of the rabid terrier refusing to own the truth that there was no way the two of us were going to ‘make it’. All we were making was a mess, which we’d been making since Day One.

I was in denial about the following things: My avowed partner was not actually in love with me, although there was a great deal of ‘like very much’ going on. It was also not okay to walk around all the time on pins and needles, trying to be the ideal lover. I would never change enough to suit my partner, mainly because I wasn’t supposed to be with her.

Finally, I had to conclude that I could not think, manage or force this relationship to be anything other than it was. What I didn’t realize then is that letting go always, inevitably leads to something better. To quote The Best, Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright it is not yet the end.”

Life is nothing but a continuous process of letting go. We are constantly being called forth to let go of love, money, fame, glory, acceptance, children, health, youth, and so many treasured but unobtainable goals. It’s one release after another, until finally at the end, we let go of life itself.

And always, always, on the other side is the unknown. Which is exactly what we fear the most.

I was in denial with my faux-love, and denial is the most powerful of drugs – especially when it comes to letting go of a cherished ideal. So when she ended the relationship a few months later, I was actually relieved. I remember driving away feeling as if I was melting.

Finally someone had the courage to tell the truth, and the tension immediately lifted. The unknown had arrived. I had been thrust, once again, into the void.

Turns out the void isn’t so bad. I’d even say the void has brilliance to it. For it is here that we become formless, and so we can finally, slowly embrace the truth of all things. And in doing so, surrender to our path.

Recently I told a friend facing the void of retirement that it’s like dismantling a house. Down must go all of our dreams, our hopes and even our identity. It must all be taken apart completely, for only then can the dust and rubble be removed and the space cleared. Only then can the reinvention begin.

This process is usually not without pain and some suffering. But when we let go and the way is laid truly bare, then the sweetest transformation can take place. Then we can finally tell the truth, and begin to put the warm arm of compassion around our own shoulders.

We can walk away shaking our head, saying, “Good God, what was I thinking?” And then, slowly and with a great deal of self-care, we can begin again to rebuild, one tender step at a time.

So we listen to our heart as we create anew, this time informed by the wisdom of destruction. For destruction always leads to something better … but only if we let it.

There is no rush to reinvent, dear friend. Nor can there be. There can only be surrender to the beautiful path of life, which will always deliver us just to where we need to be. And so it is.

2. Eight Important Lessons I Learned When I Lost Everything

Was there ever a time in your life when you lost something very precious to you … and became better for it?

This was very much on my mind as I healed from a year of losing everything –- relationship, marriage, home, career, my daughter, who died of a medically unexplainable cardiac arrest, and then my mother, who simply died of old age.

In retrospect, I realize this total meltdown was an extremely powerful and necessary experience. I would even say my soul demanded it, for that is how it is with crisis and loss.

Breakdowns happen because something in our system needs it. The status quo cannot go on; we are being called upon – even forced – to grow.

When all of this came down in my own life, I was lost. I was living in a sketchy apartment building in which the super was a prowler and the hallways were always full of weed smoke. The flu I’d had for 6 months made no sign of stopping. I was struggling to keep my head above water in a toxic relationship. And I had blindly gone into a brand new business partnership I didn’t need or even want.

None of it felt right. And yet all of it, magically, was very right, because each of these experiences taught me something critical to my growth.

It wasn’t until everything began to unravel that things started to feel better -- even though the circumstances were heinous. Into that void of nothingness I walked willingly, mainly because I had no choice.

Even in my grief, I could see the integrity of what was happening. Here are some of the realizations that landed then … and still resound every day in my life.

1. You are not alone. Whether you know it or not, you have all sorts of supportive friends around you. I found this was true even though I had few when my breakdown began. If you seek them, they will, indeed, show up. Supportive friends make the ride so much easier. In fact, they are critical.

2. It’s OK to be in the Void for a while … The Void, while scary at first, is an enormously creative place. If you can tolerate the stillness, eventually life returns. Ideas drop in. Joy arises. Feel free to stretch out and hang for a while. It’s a great place to heal.

3. You don’t have to know the answers right now. Or ever, really. You just have to know what you know right now. Also keep in mind that you will, indeed, be fine. This has been a particularly important lesson for this ‘information storm trooper’, who has spent her life actively chasing information and knowledge.

4. Grace happens when you least expect it. Again and again I have been surprised by the incredible generosity of others, which always magically arrives at just the right moment in ways I couldn’t even plan or hope for. This grace seems to be linked to being in the flow, the enjoyment of life. Reminder: God wants us to be happy! So go with the flow!

5. We won’t get ‘there’ by striving (wherever ‘there’ is.) Instead, what if life was like a great take out delivery? You decide you want Chinese, you make a call, then sit down to watch TV. Suddenly at just the perfect moment the doorbell rings and in comes steaming Moo Shu Pork. While having goals and ideas is commendable, pushing doesn’t work. Making the request and allowing it to be delivered does. Again … a vote for going with the flow.

6. You are whole and perfect just as you are. Yeah, we all have rough edges. Every day I say a prayer asking that my character defects be removed. Meanwhile, this is what we’ve got to work with. So let us accept our various scars and wounds, and all those messy character traits that make life hard sometimes. As long as we do our best to do no harm, and to show up honestly and in good faith, the rest truly will be taken care of. Don’t forget your innate perfection … it’s a key to letting go.

7. You truly have everything you need right now. It may not look like it, but I’m here to vouch for this fact. My own breakdown meant two years of living extremely simply, which became an unexpected delight. I discovered low cost pleasures like consignment clothing, my dumb phone and camping. And even living with a dear friend. More importantly, I found I was liberated. I no longer did things ‘just for the money’, and began to tune into the true pleasures in life. Then, when I started to need money, employment showed up again … right on time. For this is the flow of life. If you can push past your fear, you will see you do, indeed, have enough right here and right now.

8. Freedom is the point. Janis Joplin wails, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” But personally, I felt richer than I ever could have imagined during my breakdown. While I didn’t have much by some standards, i.e. a house, a mortgage, or even a family nearby, I truly appreciated my life and I was able to wake up each day feeling taken care of and fulfilled … even when I was grieving.

So yeah, there’s an end to the rainbow if you follow it. And ironically it’s about seizing what is here and now. That’s my invitation to you in this moment, this hour, this day, my dear friend. Enjoy!

A Pep Talk for Anyone Who Needs to Let Go

Question: what do you long for? What, in your heart of hearts, do you know you could have if only … If only … what? You won the lottery? You had more time? You didn’t have this blasted [INSERT PERSON, PLACE OR THING] holding you back? If so, then it could be time to surrender -- but only if you are willing to let go. And I do mean completely.

Here’s the catch. It's damn hard to let go. Most of the time, we think we are all powerful, wielding credit cards, cell phones, tight schedules and big demands. Yet behind all of that posturing is our fear. We are afraid the ghost of our suffering will catch up with us, that bad memories will bombard us. Or that we'll run into that former lover, the one we'd do anything to avoid, in the Safeway .

We fear we will lose our steely grip on control and be brought to our knees by our circumstances. We are afraid that by losing everything, we will crumble to the ground and die.

Yet when you have nothing, when you finally let go and truly fall apart, then you are set free. In that moment, you learn the truth: that all of this resistance and suffering you’ve cooked up is unnecessary. Then you start to see that you can have anything you want … if only you will allow ourselves to trust the Universe to bring it your way.

It just seems like it’s impossible to let go. But oh, my friend, it isn’t. It isn’t impossible at all. Ranier Maria Rilke wrote: “Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.”

This is the hard part. If we can just relax into that receptivity and stop the incessant striving and pushing, then we invite in flow, God, and serenity. And then life can finally, truly turn our way.

Perhaps for you that critical surrender means letting go of a treasured client or contract you’d wanted forever. Without that guaranteed source of income you think you will never make it. You believe you will simply dissolve, and cease to be the glorious You that you keep trying to be.

Ah, but friend, what if … What if the Universe has something better prepared for you that you can't even fathom? Can you let go and surrender into that infinite possibility? This is when your heart opens, your love for the world expands and you are finally set free.

When I gave up my 23-year marriage, my big showcase home, my identity as a nice straight lady, and then, subsequently, the woman who I thought was the love of my life, I began to surrender and truly fall apart.

For a while I roamed around, staying with friends here and there, not sure exactly what to do. Then, incredibly, my 22 year old daughter Teal suddenly died. And so, in a curious way, I was reborn. Yet, believe me, I still tried to hold on and avoid the sinkhole that was my ever-expanding grief. I launched a business only eight weeks after Teal's death because I was afraid to stop. When that and a subsequent business both quietly dried up ... well, then I had to let go even further.

By then I was retreating frequently to my beloved spiritual retreat. a hippie haven north of the Bay Area where clothing was optional, and you could float around in the meditation pool for hours gazing at the evening stars under trees laden with figs. Then my spiritual retreat center suddenly burned to the ground in a wildfire. If I wasn't free before ... well, now I was. Like seriously. Thus the big lesson became detachment, and taking each day as it comes.

But here's the punch line: I. Truly. Am. Happier. All I had to do was let go. Completely.

Unbidden, an abundant writing contract landed in my lap. Then a new speaking career was launched. Out of the blue, I got a call from a literary agent asking me to show her my memoir when it's done. Then I found the true love of my life, as well, and not long ago we married. Today, I am busy, productive, balanced and at peace. And I live in the day to day contentment of real bliss.

There is something unexpected and sweet about living in this state of non-attachment. The usual supports are gone, and instead unusual taboos are being lived. The minute you stop striving, you fall out of step with the pushing, frantic, driven world you once occupied.

This is when you realize you are made of unique and beautiful stuff. You discover you are loved and supported in ways you’d never imagined. And that you are far more creative than you ever realized. In that ultimate moment of self-reliance, devoid of all your usual props, you can finally know what you are made of ... which is mostly love.

You are not your judgments, your hurts or your long list of to-do’s. Nor are you your self-criticisms and your relentless drive for perfection. No, dear friend, you are nothing more than your big, beating heart. The degree to which you can know and live this love is the degree to which you will set sail and honor the path you have been given.

There is no valor in holding back in the name of practicality. Do that thing you have been given to do in the small of your heart –- the one that propels you forward with an ‘if only …’. That is where the magic is. If it means some carefully constructed structures must dissolve as you face your worst fears, then so be it. On the other side of all that loss is simply freedom.

You will survive. In fact, you will thrive; I can promise you that. That dream of yours is like a great beam of love waiting to pour out into the world and light your path as it lights others. Perhaps it won’t always be straightforward and easy, that path. But it will take you where you want to go if you let it. And in that divine consciousness is all the magic and power in the world.

Why resist, dear friend? Why not just dissolve? For I can tell you this right now with a smile and an arm around your shoulders. You deserve it. In fact, we all do. So will you just surrender?

Want more soothing words and ideas from Suzanne Falter? Read Suzanne's book, The Joy of Letting Go. 4.7 stars on Amazon.