The Letting Go
“How do you want it to feel when this is over?” Lauren, my life coach asked.
“Like flying," I replied.
And thus began the process of letting go of everything that I didn’t want to take with me into the new year.
My journey to Letting Go didn’t come easily. It came at the hands of a lost job, the end of my marriage, a lot of wine to forget, countless tears on my pillow, and a continuous mask of happiness over what was pure broken-heartedness underneath. I’m incredibly well-versed in the art of the mask, the charades. So well-versed, in fact, that it was one of the top things on my list of things I knew I needed to let go of.
My list eventually would reach 25. One by one, I wrote them on a rock with a big, bold Sharpie: each thing that I wanted to release before the new year showed up.
Anything Without Value.
Violent, Volatile Emotions.
Fear of Failure.
Poor Posture, Poor Sleep Patterns, & Over-Indulgence.
Feelings of Worthlessness.
I take this pile of rocks and throw them in my backpack, along with a beach towel, a bottle of water, my hiking sandals and my iPhone. I toss the backpack and a beach chair in the back of the car and drive down to Poipu and turn left. After a short drive past the Grand Hyatt Hotel (awash with luxury and wealth and golf courses and oceanfront dining), the paved road comes to and end. Continuing forward means driving on an old sugar cane field road once used by farmers, with potholes and dips so large that if you close your eyes, you could easily mistake this path for the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland.
When my mother was still alive, we celebrated Christmas on Kauai in January one year. As soon as we touched down, my mother piled us all in the car and drove us along this path, one she had obviously taken many times before. We all thought she was nuts as we bounced around on a path that seemed endless, but her wild, adventurous spirit turned out to be spot-on.
In my economy-sized Mazda 2 rental car, I’m slowly navigating the dusty path, sharply turning the steering wheel after every rise to find the safest path through the next dip. Just as I’m wishing I’d rented a Jeep Wrangler instead, a large sedan comes in the opposite direction and the driver rolls down his window and waves me down. I stop and roll down my window.
“Hey. Yeah, so, it gets a LOT worse up ahead. We just didn’t think it looked very safe, so we turned around.”
“I know. I’ve been here before.” I’m trying to play cool even though I know there’s a chance that one wrong swerve will bottom out my little toy car and I’ll be stuck with a huge insurance bill.
“Well, okay. Good luck.” He rolled up his window and drove away, not knowing what he just missed. I press on, cautiously but with conviction. I know where I’m going.
The 3 mile cane road eventually leads to an open parking area where most of the cars belong to locals, undaunted by the drive. I continue along the left side of the path, and keep driving. The path finally comes to a dead end, and I park my car under the shade of a tiny grove of trees. I grab my backpack and head out to the inlet, where a long stretch of sand curves around to sharp, high cliffs. On the other side of the inlet, there are tide pools at the tip, surrounded by black lava.
There aren’t many people, but the ones here know the place well. Fishermen have cemented PVC piping into the lava rock, so they can enjoy a beer or some fresh poke while waiting for the fish to bite. One truck has backed up onto the sand, doors and hatch all open, a cooler in the truck bed. Island reggae music plays from the speakers for everyone to enjoy.
I grab my beach chair, and find a place in the sand to myself. For about an hour, I sit in contemplation. I stare across the inlet at the cliffs. I watch the surf pound against the edge, swirling up and crashing against the rock.
I know my backpack has those rocks in it. I know what those rocks represent to me. I know I’ve got to let them go.
Finally, I grab the pack and throw on my hiking sandals. I walk around the inlet, past the reggae, the truck, the locals, the fishermen. I walk up the cliffs and past a small boy, bare toes at the very edge, counting down the moment when he jumps off the cliff into the sea below. I stop to take a video with my phone, only catching the “…two….. THREE!!!” as he hurls himself off the edge.
Part of me wants to drop my backpack and follow him. I don’t, for fear that everyone will think I’m crazy. As I continue walking, I remember the rocks in my backpack that are preventing me from jumping off the cliff.
All the more reason I’m doing this, I think to myself.
I walk the entire stretch of cliff, taking it all in and analyzing the most appropriate place for Letting Go. I reach an area that is nothing short of stupidly dangerous - with sharp pointed rocks, slippery from the water, and I decide that this is the right place for me to be. I carefully lower myself down and sit on my sun hat, an incomplete cushion as a seat.
At the last minute, I decide that I want to document this process. That maybe one day, my two daughters will be in challenging paths of life, and they will want to know that their mother once felt this way, too. I document because I don’t know if my own mother ever had these moments. I document because it will force me to say - out loud - what I don’t want in my life anymore and why. I document because with vulnerability comes great strength. I set up my iPhone against a rock and hit record.
One by one I pull each rock out of the bag and explain, out loud, to my iPhone why I don’t want to carry this burden any longer. After each one, I throw the rock into the ocean. Some I throw harder than others. Some I carefully release, as if to say “You’ve served me in some ways, so I thank you. Now, have a careful journey in the sea.” Some I find myself not wanting to throw… I want to change my mind and keep them, but I don’t.
I throw all 25 rocks into the ocean. I stop the video. I sit still and look out at the vastness of the sea - the gracious way it swallowed my demons and didn’t spit them back up at me.
I cry, and I cry, and I cry.
I cry for all the mistakes I made this year. I cry for the hurt that I both experienced and caused. I cry for the end of my marriage. I cry for the emptiness that I have not yet filled with self-love. I cry for the brave little boy who jumped off the cliff when I could not. I cry to Let Go.
I had a good, hard, breathless, wailing cry.
And damn, I needed that.
After several deep breaths and a long moment of rocking myself in silence, I pack up my things and head back to my beach chair. Again I sit in contemplation, this time asking myself the question that my coach posed to me a month ago when she helped me create this ceremony. “How do I feel now that this is all over?”
Well Lauren, it’s not quite like flying. But it’s also not over. Here is what I've learned (because I know you will also ask me that question when we talk again): I've learned that I’ll have to let go over and over again. I've learned that life happens, and it’s not always pretty or wonderful or happy. Some of it really hurts, and the Letting Go will become necessary again. I've learned that this will be a constant in my life from this day forward. I've learned that I’ll probably have to let go of some of these things many times over.
How do I feel, then?
I feel more aware.
I feel awake.
I feel lighter.
I feel big possibilities now.
I feel forgiven.
I feel stronger.
If I’m being honest, I also feel a little bit lonely. It was a long road with those companions who are now at the bottom of the ocean. There’s an emptiness there that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s not sadness. It’s just space. And now I begin the work of getting comfortable with that space.
I pack my things into the car and head back on the bumpy road home. This time, the path feels much smoother. Maybe this is what flying feels like after all.