I’m declaring from the outset that I’ll be talking about The Universe. To clarify: on the woo-woo spectrum, I am above Bertrand Russell (who once said that there may well be a teapot orbiting in space, but until someone proves it to him, he won’t believe it) and many notches below people who speak to plastic spoons and believe the spoons speak back to them.
Okay, so I once worked on a very silly film (called The Guru), which had a very wise line in it about how we can be so intent on following our dreams that we may not realise our dreams have changed.
While I am more than happy to talk exhaustively about letting go of Stuff, I think it’s even more critical to let go of who we are and what we want.
I’m not saying:
• we should never strive to be kinder or wiser or braver (we always, always do), or
• we should never be motivated to aim for higher goals. Far from it.
I mean that if something no longer serves us, that we have the courage to face it.
Letting Go of Who We Are
I don’t mean letting go of who other people think we are. I don’t even mean letting go of who we think we should be. I mean letting go of who we are.
‘I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be.’ ― Albert Einstein
When we’re young, we accept change, evolution, growth. I watched my young niece go from her ‘Princess’ phase of choosing everything pink and sparkly, to then liking all-black, to now loving all things purple.
Who we are is fluid. The problem is we think it’s rigid.
The older we get, the more committed we become to an idea of ourselves. And we often believe it’s set in stone, for life. But why?
I think we can be profoundly rattled by change.
Change can speak to our worst fears because so often we equate change with loss. It’s as if what’s familiar will be gone, and in its place will be a gaping void that makes us feel violently vulnerable.
And when we sniff fear, our natural impulse is to try to control it.
So, we invest heavily in who we think we are. And we continue to perpetuate and reinforce this in a thousand ways by the choices we make every day. This traps us further, making us believe that is who we are. When, just maybe, it’s not.
This is why midlife crises happen. A whiff of mortality combined with the awareness that we are stuck in something that’s hardened around us; something that doesn’t speak to the truth inside. And there is that damn light at the end of that damn tunnel, getting brighter by the minute.
So, before we give up everything to go live in an ashram, let’s figure this one out.
Here are three from me:
- I thought I had to suffer to be an artist. I didn’t. I’ve been more productive while joyful than when I was under Churchill’s proverbial black dog.
- I thought unpredictability (with jobs, with countries, with life) made me adventurous. It didn’t. It just made me stressed.
- I thought my highest priority was independence, but it’s not. Love trumps independence.
Once again, I’ve had to get out of my own way.
‘Holding on is believing that there’s only a past; letting go is knowing there’s a future.’ ― Daphne Rose Kingma
Letting Go of What We Want
For many, letting go of what we want is even more scary than letting go of who we are.
Because it seems so close, but just out of arm’s reach: get to this place and then we can be happy, at last. For example:
- When I meet the person of my dreams, I will feel settled/worthy of love/complete.
- When I get out of debt/own my empire/have children, I will feel satisfied.
- Only after I lose 50lbs will I truly like myself. Until then, my life is on hold.
We think we’re being disciplined and motivated. But that’s not how it works. Because what do these have in common?
They spring from fear.
We worry about taking our eye off the ball. Our grip – of what we want, of what we think we need to do to get it – tightens. We lose perspective. We believe that something outside of us can make us feel better inside.
And, more tragically, we give up our own power, our sense of self. Instead of being centred and grounded, we leak our power through clenched fists.
Holding on is really about control. Letting go is about faith.
So, this is where the woo-woo part comes in (sorry to call it ‘woo-woo’ – I use the term strictly affectionately).
Control is very masculine; it’s very ‘deliver the goods first and then we’ll talk’.
Faith is much more feminine, in tune with nature. It’s more ‘I’ll plant the seeds and trust they will grow’.
Besides, has it actually worked trying to control everything? Or, at least, has it delivered without a lot of angst and turmoil? Oh, I know, I used to love the thrill of achieving the impossible, too. But my adrenals gave out from all the drama, so no more tea or coffee for me. I’d recommend avoiding the same fate.
There are times when, no matter how strong and positive our intentions are, we sabotage them. This is not an accident. And we don’t do it because we are our own worst enemy (though we are often tougher on ourselves than anyone else ever is).
No, we sabotage ourselves because we make the stakes too high and all-important. We make the thing more important than ourselves. How stressful is that?
Deep down, we don’t want to be fuelled by sadness, anger or fear.
We want to be fuelled by hope, love and faith.
Faith when we don’t know the answer, or even the question. Faith even when it’s darkness all around. Faith that everything will work out for the best, or – rather – that whatever happens, we will make the best of it.
The minute we stop grabbing, panicking, reacting to fear – we are transformed. We feel grounded. We trust the universe to take care of us.
‘The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from that fear.’ ― Aung San Suu Kyi
Fear clutches. Love releases.
To re-wire ourselves, we’re not required to re-tune the message. There’s a far simpler, more elegant solution: let go.
I would go so far as to say that the more we’re clutching, the more we need to let go.
When you’re feeling at the end of your tether, don’t try harder. Do the opposite – stop trying. Let go.
Let go of ever meeting The One or believing your life is incomplete until you do so.
Let go of ever having the money to live the kind of lifestyle you envision you deserve.
Let go of ever losing weight, or the belief you are unworthy until you do.
Let go of ever being less stressed or having more time for the things you love.
Let go of expecting someone else to change or make your life better.
Let go of believing you know you who are.
Let go of thinking you’re not enough.
‘We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.’ ― Dalai Lama XIV
- We have to believe that we are truly fine in ourselves, without attaching ourselves to the outcome of our dreams.
- We have to let go first and create space, so the universe can deliver what we truly need.
- If we aim to be our best, most noble selves, then the universe gives us plenty of opportunities to rise.
- All said and done, often the very thing that eluded us finally happens (but let’s not wait for it! It’s always when we least expect it); like couples who were desperate for a baby, only to stop trying and then get pregnant. Or we receive something unexpected, which turns out to be perfect for our needs right then.
How To Let Go
1. Go where you most fear. Where the promotion never happens, or the true love, or the new life. How bad is it? What’s the worst that it can be? That nothing changes, right? Well, we already know we can handle not changing! We’re fine any which way.
2. This is a real cliché (sorry) but it does work: be grateful for what is already in hand. The simplest way is to make a gratitude list at bedtime every night. Go on, I dare you to stop at five, or even ten.
3. And then let’s just get on with life. Let’s not wait for anything. Let’s have faith to let it go.
‘When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.’ ― Tao Te Ching
‘You don’t actually think that you can outsmart getting hurt?’ Watch Diane Keaton learn in Nancy Meyers’s film Something’s Gotta Give.
Listen to the Bellamy Brothers and Let Your Love Flow.