We need in love to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily–we do not need to learn it.
~Rainer Maria Rilke
Two weeks into spring, and the clearing out/cleaning up energy is in full force, breezing through both my inner and outer houses. It arrives like a strong wind behind my back, pushing me forward to let go of stuff that’s past the point of usefulness. You know: clothes that don’t fit, outmoded life structures, old magazines, fading relationships, a rickety garden shed.
To be sure, such spring cleaning pursuits are meaningful. A few years ago I read that when we fail to periodically sift through the inner and outer surplus, we fix ourselves at a certain point in time and stop growing.
No wonder the act of purging a stack of ancient papers or eliminating unfulfilling obligations gives hope and possibility.
So I’m pretty good at that kind of letting go. What makes it easier, I think, is that I don’t particularly want whatever it is in my life.
Truth is, I don’t love it anymore. Which means I can more readily bid it a fond farewell.
So long. Gotta go. See you around.
I wish it were always that simple.
It’s not, though, because there’s another kind of spring cleaning. Different from the gusty winds that sweep through my inner and outer houses with their mission of dejunking and tidying up.
This other kind shows up sometimes as a wistful breeze. Other times a dense fog. But however it appears, it’s always about letting go of things I love. Or could love.
A LOT OF LOVE
Some have said we can have it all.
Flash back 20 years, and I’d be the first to agree. Even now, I sort of agree. Just consider a woman who wants to have both career and family. Absolutely. Not always easy, but entirely doable.
Yet in the big picture of human life, I no longer agree we can have it all. And that’s because of one word: LOVE.
Both you and I have an abundant capacity for love. An endless supply. Many lifetimes of it, in fact.
I don’t just mean love of people. Undeniably, that’s a wondrous part of life. But love is huge. Infinite. It extends its embrace to places, ideas, things, animals, art, science. All of it.
That’s a lot of love to squeeze into one lifetime.
I know, because I’m always falling in love. Take places, for instance.
I’ve fallen in love with more places than I can remember. Bainbridge Island, Washington. Newport, Oregon. Door County, Wisconsin. Patagonia, Arizona. Minneapolis. New York City. Chicago. San Francisco. New England.
I could happily live in all of those extraordinary locations, not to mention the ones I’ve only dreamed about so far: London, Paris, Australia, to name a few.
Yet I know it won’t be possible in this one lifetime I get.
So now, when spring cleaning rolls around, I’m paying as much attention to letting go of love as I am to letting go of what’s obsolete and out-of-date.
LETTING GO OF LOVE
The irony is that to live a life we love, we have to let go of what we love.
I love to travel, but these days I’m sticking close to home to care for a sick cat that I love dearly.
I love my work with people, but these days I’m referring some clients elsewhere, in order to spend time learning about emerging loves: relationship coaching and dream/archetypal patterning.
I love writing plays, but these days I’m concentrating my energies on my love of writing a book and this blog.
I love swimming, but these days my love of walking takes precedence.
Now, you might say that this is temporary. That one day I’ll be traveling again. Writing plays. Swimming.
You could be right. Or not.
Long ago I sold everything I owned and moved to New York City to pound the pavements and act in plays. Turned out I did little of either, and two years later the dream changed: finish my degree, pursue a doctorate, and become a college theatre professor.
But again, the dream veered, and I found myself studying counseling.
Even so, I reasoned, I could act in community theatre. I knew how much fun that was. But it turned out that juggling rehearsals five nights a week with a full time job wasn’t so fun after all.
Still, I hung on to that love for a long time. I kept thinking I would get back to it.
Until I finally got it: my love of acting on a community theatre stage would never change, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t let it go.
Lately I’ve begun to grasp how much freedom there is in letting go of some of the things I love.
I’m learning to give the love its wings now, while it can still fly, rather than waiting until it becomes worn and withered inside of me.
And I’m finding this more meaningful, in fact, than cleaning out discarded sweaters or saying no to committee work that doesn’t suit me.
MAKING IT EASIER TO LET GO
I’d love to hear from you about this.
What experiences have you had letting go of loves?
How did it go?
And do you believe you can have it all?
Welcome back! I think that you had a good rest, judging by this interesting and reflective post.
Letting go of “Love”? This is a very interesting question. We were talking about this the other day, after considering the amount of time we try to control events and impressions within our lives. I like to call it “valuation”, where anything important in our lives, is controlled by the need for perfection or gratification. I also look at it from the perspective of “circles”, which repeat consistently in ones life. Like a turning wheel the desires, appetites and needs, resurface in time. Subtle differences may be detected due to physiological changes, but the appetite is the original. When I was young I was athletic and very much enjoyed sports, as I grew older my participation changed as my body changed. I was no longer the QB on the grid iron, but settled into the arm chair type. I still love the game, but also realise that I can’t perform like a young man any more.
Valuation or love of something is very much a part of life, we need to keep the interests, while modifying the performance. It is better to have many irons in the fire, yet not be consumed by over indulgence. Perfectionism along with adaptation are the keys. Stay interested but remember limitations. This goes for all the human centres.
As always, thank you for the cause for thought!
Thanks, Eso! I agree that many irons in the fire can be good, but too many? Not so much for me. Then I get overwhelmed. And sometimes, letting go for me is about limitations, but not always. I heard someone say once that by the time we’re 30, we’ve mastered many skills, but even though we’re good at them, it doesn’t necessarily mean we want to continue with them. That’s been a resounding truth for many of my clients. Actually, I’ve noticed that limitations sometimes spur us on to want certain loves in our lives even more, because we desire to get past those limitations and get good at the thing we know we could love. Isn’t that what learning is about? My husband’s learning the guitar right now, and is very limited. But he still keeps practicing! Hmmm, thanks for giving me pause to noodle that one around!
The more years I have, the more loves I have. I fall in love easily. With people, until and unless they prove me wrong. With books of all sorts, their authors, their characters. With challenges: new exercise methods, new paints and brushes, new art ideas. New journals and pens. New organizational methods. New stories to write. New outlets for my writing. New carpet. New places to visit. New tastes to savor.
Yep — I’m a lover.
Does any of it ever grow to old, the things and people I love? Oh yes… and that is where your story starts. Letting each love age, adding new, and learning how to sort and parse and move on.
I haven’t figured it all out yet. I practice the process of shelving, I guess you’d call it. And boxing up. And eventually, if I forget what’s on the shelves or in the boxes, and clearing-out time comes around, pitching or replacing.
Except for people. I don’t pitch them — ever. But they do get shelved, even as they enrich and grow me in some way.(Seasons, and all that…)
I hate to think I’m a pack-rat for old loves. Yet, metaphor aside, we have storage areas with shelves bending under the weight of some of what I have love doing…
Maybe the key is in having grown as a result…
Now I think I’ll go for a walk and give this some more thought…
Ah, Barb, I think there’s a song about us: “I fall in love too easily, I fall in love too fast, I fall in love too terribly hard, for love to ever last.” Imagine Sinatra crooning it. But like you, mine do last, sometimes to the point where those shelves are indeed slumping with the weight. Your comment makes me realize that part of my letting go is about simplifying my life, because I’m at a time now where I don’t want so much on the shelves. Thanks, Barb!
Wow. Another fabulous post, Patty.
This is really about the truth that you can’t do it all in life. When you reach a fork in the road, you have to chose one path. You simply cannot pursue both. And that is the freedom and the bittersweet nature of life, isn’t it?
After I finished my master’s degree, my advisors encouraged me to pursue a doctorate. I love research, identifying questions and designing studies to find the answers. I’m a good student, and certainly could have succeeded. But the truth is, while I was flattered and entertained this idea for a few months, it wasn’t the life I wanted. I didn’t want 4-5 more years of school and basically no income, I didn’t want the inevitable move to a college town to find a job (I love Minneapolis), I didn’t want to dictate the next X years of my life with my husband. So I let it go.
Such wisdom here. I will be thinking about letting go of things I love – as I do the spring cleaning of storing winter clothes, washing the windows, and airing out the blankets.
PS – I will most certainly buy your book when it comes to fruition. Keep writing!
Thank you, Eva! What a leap of faith to say you will buy the book when you don’t even know what it’s about yet (sometimes I don’t either!). You’re so right about choice too. And you’ve tapped into what I’m writing about on Thursday – that the tough part of choice isn’t so much about the decision to move from the path we’re on to a new path, but rather the reality that we are leaving so many potential paths behind.
It’s all about priorities I guess. You decide what you love the most and focus on that. The lesser loves might have to get left behind in the process.
Hmmm, yes, priorities are good. But I admit, Scarlett, I have trouble with them. All of it seems so love-worthy. Sometimes I wonder, how do you determine the lesser loves? Thanks for that thought!
Hi Patty, welcome back! You were missed.
I think it takes a lifetime of choices centered around love to get to a point when we must choose to let a love go to pursue another love. If we stay engaged in our lives, the eventuality of falling in love is expected. This may be a trivial example but I fall in love with restaurants all the time and a number of chefs have inspired me to let go of eating out so much so that I may create something delectable in the kitchen. I also think it’s more difficult to choose between a couple of good situations compared to one bad and one good. With the latter, the choice is a no-brainer if one’s well-being is prioritized; with the former, it takes a little listening from within and requires a healthy dose of maturity to pick one over another.
Having said that, I still think it’s possible to have it all. Perhaps not permanently and not all at the same time, but to have our wishes come true is, I believe, a reality for many. And I wonder if, at this level, the challenge is to balance having so much and giving something back. Maybe in having it all, it becomes less about having and more about giving, sharing and caring for others?
Aw, thank you Belinda. Missed you too! And oooh, I like that reframe. I can buy having it all if it’s not really about having but about giving. Yet, I wonder, do wishes come true? Is that a reality for many? I know lots of people who would disagree, those whose vision of the dream did not manifest at all the way they wished it would. But you hint at the impermanence of having it all, so maybe that’s the trick. To realize that having it all may be a moment in time, not a lifetime. Thanks for the conversation!
Do you think that it’s possible that instead of learning to let go of a love one rather learns to make peace with not having that love around anymore? I find the concept of letting go far more difficult than making peace.
Yes I know… I can be very complicated!
A beautiful post! Thank you!
That’s why I love you, Tracy, because you are complicated! And honest. It sounds like when you frame it as making peace, it’s much more comforting for you. I think we choose words that have personal meaning, and so it seems you have found just the right words for you. Thanks for sharing that.
You’re right… it’s not always that simple. What a coincidence you’ve written about this while I’m in the process of letting go of things I’ve been holding on to. Lots in my personal life has been holding me back but only recently I’ve been able to face that. I have been in spring cleaning mode too, just as you have. Making room for new growth and it feels wonderful.
It does feel wonderful, doesn’t it Davina? Especially this internal letting go. Very freeing. I can “hear” it in your words. Thanks!
Maybe we can have it all but I don’t want it all! I don’t have the energy and I love quiet, calm and alone time. I think we continue to let go more and more as we grow older. It’s a process that continues if we live to an old age. I think for me the most difficult was letting of my children. It top’s all other letting go’s. Even doing that seems long ago.
I love the places you mention and want to get to Patagonia AZ soon!
I’ve let go so much over the last 5 years and now have a simple life. I like it that way.
Yes, you captured it Tess! That’s it exactly. I don’t want it anymore either. And oh yes, go to Patagonia. Go when the hummingbirds are in full residence. I think that’s coming up, in May perhaps? Then come back and tell us all about it!
Another great post. I’ve never thought about it like this before, but yes I have let go of love. Or perhaps accepted that there are many things, places, people I love, but it doesn’t mean that I have to experience, be with them, all the time. All those things that I love make me who I am – they live in my heart and soul. I can reconnect with them when I need to through memory, photos, conversation… I love the Spanish sky and the blue waters of Fiji, however that does not mean that I have to live with them. I have been to Spain and cherish that time in my heart; I have not been to Fiji and maybe one day I’ll go, or I won’t and it will still be OK. I no longer have this deep sense of regret and disappointment upon realising that there is something or someone that I may never experience, or meet. Is that letting go of love?
Btw, you must try to come to Australia – you’ll love it! I know I do… 😉
Yes, yes, and yes again! “I no longer have the deep regret and disappointment upon realising that there is something or someone that I may never experience, or meet.” You said it perfectly. A huge part of it is acceptance that we do only get this one life to live. I know some people have a bucket list. I never wanted one. Rather, I want to be content with each experience I have, not always yearning for what’s next. Thanks Kate!
Patty, I feel I’ve been at the cusp of letting go of a particular love for so many years now that it’s… well, it’s made me sick.
My love of cartooning is the thing I’m talking about here. I would be the first to say that I’ve tried everything I could to make a successful career of it, all to no avail. Perhaps it was never meant to be.
Thing is, unrequited love turns to regret, then a bitterness that twists the knife every time my guard is down. Ugh. 😦
I have thought often about walking away and exploring other things. It’s the thought of leaving what I thought was my identity that stops me. Or maybe it’s just me.
Thanks for writing about this. Maybe I’m right about what I think I need to do. Maybe I’m not. Maybe I’ll turn into a golden mongoose. Good grief… 😛
Oh yeah, I can feel the knife twisting, Tony. I’ve been there myself. The only way I could work through it was to write my master’s thesis about it. And that did help. But still, it’s the hardest thing to let go of that kind of creative love. We do pin so much of our identity on it, so who are we without it? A big empty nothing? But, “there are a lot of other lives out there.” Those aren’t my words but I’m writing about them on Thursday. And if we do wait too long to explore those other lives, the bitterness you speak of settles deep in our bones. So I say go explore. I’m not big on giving advice, but I do tell my clients you can go a long way exploring before you ever have to make a firm commitment or say a permanent good-bye to that which you love.
Oh God, I’m always falling in love with places, too–Sun Valley, Idaho, Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico, LA for some strange reason, Nashville, Gatlinburg. Not sure what it is
that draws me so to some places and not so much to others.
I always tell myself to hold the things I love lightly in the palm of my hand.
Oh you’ve reminded me, Charlotte. I also love Portland. And I’ve never been to the South but I’m convinced I would love Beaufort. But most of all I love the sentiment you’ve left here, about holding love lightly in the palm of your hand. Words of wisdom for all of us. Thank you!
You were able to paint this beautiful vision using only words to describe how love must be let go so as not to wither. It isn’t easy, it seemed more natural for us to hold on. But there is indeed a great release when we learn to let go. In letting go, we allow our old self to die so that we can be born anew 🙂
Beautifully said, Joyce. You’ve captured the archetypal spirit of renewal that lives beneath the act of letting go. Thank you for that!
I find it helpfull to take the most simple and logical route.
The simple truth is that our time and energy are limited
therefore we have to limit the things we love so that they fit our space.Pack in too much and it becomes hard to move,we could even become completely immobilised.
We need breathing room. Your point of – cleaning out the inner and outer surplus so that we don’t get stuck and stop growing – really turned on a light bulb for me.
Hi David – Welcome, and thanks so much for visiting my blog. I think you’ve touched on something very important: when we are trying to do it all, we can become very stuck and end up doing nothing. I’m actually writing about that tomorrow, so thank you for giving such a great lead-in!
Hi! What an intriguing post. I’m looking forward to the one about making letting go easier.
I’ve been reading some pop philosophy recently. Galen Strawson suggests that people tend to be diachronic or episodic… by which he means that diachronic people see their lives as the story of a single character (‘me’, past, present, and future). Episodic people think of their lives as episodes (duh) lived by the person they used to be then, a different person now, and probably a different person again in the future – not such a strong identification with their past selves.
If this is true, then I guess episodic people will find it easier to give up past loves (and hates, and unhappiness), whereas diachronic people will see past loves as still being an integral part of who they are now and much more difficult to give up. A difference between ‘acting is in my blood’ and ‘I used to enjoy being an actor’?
On the plus side I reckon that diachronic people can have a much stronger sense of purpose and meaning in their lives (its their story after all, and all stories have a plot and a happy ending).
Whichever type you are, I believe that if you want to change how you feel now, you have to give up your ties to past feelings. After all, you wouldn’t try to move a carpet with the furniture still standing on it, would you?
Wow, that is fascinating. I’d never heard of diachronic vs. episodic. I wonder which I am? When you speak of purpose and meaning I can relate to diachronic, if it is the big picture. For me that would be creativity. A constant in my life for a long, long time. But through that I filter many more episodic interests, curiosities, etc. Maybe it’s possible to be both? Thanks for sharing that idea!
I think things have their time and place. Knowing when that time and place is can help us to let go of the things that no longer fit our lives. We should count our selves lucky when we must choose between doing two things we love. it is much better then choosing between things we hate.
Very lovely point, Quinn. If it’s a choice between loves, we can be very grateful that we have so many loves from which to choose. I prefer to approach it that way these days too. Thanks for the visit!
In my experience, if I want to feel any peace and appreciation for my life at all, I have to let go of things many times in my life, sometimes over and over again. If not, resentment creeps in and soon, I am wanting to blame everyone for unfulfilled dreams in my life; from my myself to my husband, child, parents, teachers, etc. Resentment is an acidic poison that disingrates beautiful things into a sad ugliness of misperception and lies.
I also think that we can many times have a narrow minded view on ways to love something/someone. We need to broaden our ways of love. We may not be able always travel, enroll in that class, etc, but when we love something, there is always a way to honor that love. Even if it’s simply admiring it for what it is.
Yes, absolutely, Angela. “There is always a way to honor that love.” That’s what I’m talking about tomorrow. I love what you say about admiration of the love. That hits it for me. A letting go, and then perhaps admiration from a more distant perspective. Wonderful. Thanks!
Letting go for me is more about letting go of expectations. I have an easier time letting go of my daughter – letting her live her life and travel that path – than I do love relationships of my own. I am working hard to let go of her dad right now – not necessarily the relationship itself but the man that I want to believe he is as apposed to the man he might actually be… so it is that expectation is the more difficult for me to release. I love him and yet I have to love the man he is and let it all go.
I look at it as an adventure – the choices, the letting go of dreams, the changing paths. It is greater lessons and opportunities. Doors might close behind me… and yet look at all the doors that open to the front and the sides!
I have never wanted it all – rather choosing to believe that I already have it all in that I have or will have all that I need. Life unfolds, and I love my life.
What a beautiful post Patty. Can’t wait to read your thoughts on Thursday.
What a wonderful way to frame it, as an adventure. It reminds me of a story of climbing a mountain. How you often can’t get to the top without letting stuff go out of your pack, lightening your load. But that allows you to reach the summit and see the big vista in front of you. The beautiful adventure of life still to come. Thank you!
I love these reflective posts in which you share your thoughts and experiences so generously and insightfully. And, no, I do not believe we can have it all—or if we do, it may mean that somebody else will have less.
If I’m a mother with a demanding career, for example, my children will surely experience less of my time and attention than if I were an at-home mom or one with a less-involving job. (Beverly Sills once noted in retrospect that, “Somebody pays for a career like this.” She herself appeared to believe that her kids had paid some of that price.)
Supposing, however, that I insist upon staying home with my kids. That means that my husband will bear the lion’s share of our financial support and, in so doing, will forego a great deal of time with his children and wife. And I for some years will forego the stimulation that a satisfying career would provide.
I’m not arguing either position: circumstances always alter cases. Still, this particular example illustrates the way that our lives so often resemble both a delicate balancing act and a complex sarabande danced among competing choices. To preserve the balance, sometimes we give things up that we love.
This was a beautiful post: thank you again.
Thank you, Lynda, for delving deeper into this. You’ve so perfectly illustrated that when we make a choice to do ANYTHING, there are always other choices we must leave behind. That is the essence, the truth, of not being able to have it all. And I adore this sentence: “our lives so often resemble both a delicate balancing act and a complex sarabande danced among competing choices.” Poetry!
Hmmm…interesting topic! When I clicked on the link I thought your relationship had broken up! Maybe I’m projecting, since mine just has. And so for me, letting go of love means something very different. I guess I’ve been musing about the infinite nature of love, and how letting go of something – in this case a relationship in a form that wasn’t working well – doesn’t mean actually letting go of love, it means love takes on a new form.
I wonder if you’re talking about the time aspect – spending time doing some things you love more often than other things because you simply don’t have time to do it all and do justice to your life while doing it all. And no, I don’t think we can ‘have it all’, we have to make compromises and shift priorities.
But changing your priorities doesn’t mean that you stop loving the things you’ve moving on from, right, just that you focus more on other things that you love.
In my case, I feel such astounding, deep, unconditional love for the man I’m trying to let go of, that for me it isn’t letting go of love but more letting go of the expectations of what love looks like. Letting go of the plans and hopes that were a part of our love. But our love isn’t gone, just changed, and I suspect the things you love aren’t unloved now, the love has just changed form.
Thanks for the insight, as always!
Yes, you’re right Melissa, there is definitely a time aspect to all it. More apparent to me nowadays since I’m on my meaning making quest this year. And yet, there is still a sense of letting go too. I can’t articulate it very well. I think Angela captured it in her comment about admiring the love from a farther distance. There’s something both sweet and wistful about it, and perhaps the love itself morphs into another emotion, or as you say it changes, and right now I can find no appropriate words for that. But I really love that you’re making me think about it. And I’m sorry to hear about your own letting go experience with the relationship. That can be so very gut-wrenching.
No, I don’t believe a person can “have it all.” Giving a little attention to myriad things doesn’t accomplish much, I don’t think.
Some things we choose to give up. Other things simply let us know that we haven’t a choice in the matter. Those are the harder ones, I think.
I think you’re right, Shay. It can be very hard to accept the message when something is telling us we don’t have a choice but to let go. In my experience, especially working with creatives and artists who were not able to make a living that way, there can be a fierce desire to hold on to something that is already gone or never was. Like clutching our fists tight when nothing is there. When I was writing my master’s thesis there was a great book I read about this: Finding the Muse, by Mark Freeman. It helped me to work through it myself, as well as with others.
Hi Patty — speaking of meaning-making, the two different reactions I had to this post before and after my tae kwon do lesson are pretty remarkable — the first time I felt depressed and said “yeah, I’m trying to ‘have it all,’ aren’t I, and it’s never going to work,” and now with all the adrenaline in my bloodstream I’m like “damn right I can have it all!” I guess this is a helpful lesson that I should never think of myself as too consistent or rational!
Fascinating Chris. So does this mean there is a middle ground between the two that you are seeking?
Hmm, you made me think about my recent post about having it all. I had to consider what I meant by “all.” My all is everything that I want and is very specifically tied to my goals.
The more I write, the more I’m amazed by the variations of specific words. “All” in the context you set is very different to the “all” in the context I wrote about a few days ago. It’s so weird how that can be. It’s like each key term has to be boxed within a very specific context. In the unboxed context we would never be able to have it “all.” Even the richest person on the planet couldn’t own everything, and nobody can live everywhere. I had a similar experience with the word “fact” the other day.
One thing I’ve discovered that I had to let go of was friendships. As I progress through life, I find that I outgrow some friendships, and others just aren’t convenient any more. It’s impossible to keep making new friends and also keep all the old friends. At some point we reach a limit and must let go.
“Yet I know it won’t be possible in this one lifetime I get.” You’ve always got the next lifetime to come back and choose another favorite place. 🙂
You’re so right, Eric. Much of it is semantics, and since we’re all writing, writing, writing, to each other all the time, we never get a chance to actually sit down together and hash this stuff out and have a conversation in real time. Oh, how I’d love that. So can you start coming over to my house on Friday nights and we’ll have a philosophy party? And just invite a few others? Ha! But wouldn’t it be great? And leads into what you’re saying about friends. You’re wise to understand that relationships do fade, but with my online friends I do so yearn to have face-to-face conversations.
Wow, another lifetime to live in all those other places? But what if I come back as an ant? I guess then I will be a very well-traveled ant!
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Patty, wonderful post, especially, “Lately I’ve begun to grasp how much freedom there is in letting go of some of the things I love.”
Letting go here in Japan of some of the things I love has been my contemplation and my action, and I have just let go again of some beloved perceptions as I emerge from a dark patch in my life over the last several days.
It’s interesting, about one month ago I decided to do something totally new and participated in a flea market at the lakeside. Letting go of a lot of stuff I found that some inner stuff was let go, too. There were monkeys frolicking all day long in their enclosure and watching them I thought about the prisons our stuff creates, and what happens when we hold on or let go.
After that something quite traumatic unfolded, and dropping by here today after a period of silence I am delighted to find your post, Patty – perfect timing. It feels like a new, unburdened day – Catrien Ross.
Thank you so much for sharing that, Catrien. I like those serendipitous moments, when we find something that is so in tune with where we are. Sounds like a real time of transition for you. So I just want to say my thoughts are with you, my friend.
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