Illustration by Holly Lindem
During the first half of my life, I was lucky enough to live in a series of beautiful places, and I spent a lot of time painting pictures of my surroundings: the majestic Rocky Mountains, the colorful marketplaces of Asia, the Charles River in Boston. Then I moved to Phoenix, and my artistic enjoyment took a serious dive. I tried to warm to the desert landscape, really I did, but for me it had all the charm of a broiled litter box: endless beige flatlands broken by occasional mounds of volcanic rock that looked—I must be frank—like scorched poop. Before I knew it, I was in full-on mourning for something so basic I'd never imagined losing it: the simple joy of living somewhere I loved.
Any kind of ending can leave us feeling "deserted," as if our lives have gone barren and dry. It doesn't take moving, divorce, or a loved one's death; we can feel bereaved when a friendship wanes, or our knees get too creaky for racquetball, or we quit a bad habit. When my clients are lost in the barren landscape of endings, I'm always tempted to quote the Rilke sonnet that begins, "Want the change. Be inspired by the flame / where everything shines as it disappears." But because I'd rather not get punched in the mouth, I try something else instead.
Ending the Struggle with Endings
It's natural to dislike saying goodbye to things we care about. Who wouldn't want to preserve the beauty, the vibrancy, the fun of things they've loved? Of course, these are the very qualities we destroy by refusing to let go. When we try to force a defunct relationship to continue, or stay in a job after we've outgrown it, it invariably turns hateful. Denying an organic end point is like trying to animate a corpse.
The option is to stop struggling and let the ending happen, to go into the desert and let the grieving—the searing waves of sadness and anger—come. The deserts of our lives can seem unlivable. But if we stay awhile, something unexpectedly comforting happens. "Every happiness," writes Rilke, "is the child of a separation / it did not think it could survive." Conversely, any sorrow can be the parent of a joy we've never imagined. Don't believe me? Try the following steps.
1. Relax into Ending
Though the concept of letting go sounds great, it's a delicate art. You can't successfully try to let something go, because trying is at odds with releasing. Fortunately, our subconscious minds already know what to do, if our conscious minds are willing to suggest doing it.
Right now, consider something in your life that's ending (this might be all you think about, or you may have to ponder a bit, but you'll find something, trust me). As you hold this fading thing in your mind's eye, inhale while silently repeating the phrase, Let it happen. When you exhale, think, Let it go. Keep at this for several minutes. When you feel emotions like sadness or anger begin to flow, you'll know it's working.
Practice this meditation consistently and you can strip most of the trauma and drama right out of your world. I once met the housekeeper of an Indian yogi who owned a collection of gorgeous natural crystals. One day the housekeeper knocked over a display case, smashing many of the irreplaceable stones. When she apologized, profusely and in tears, the yogi smiled and said, "Those things were for my joy, not for my misery." Such is the ease with which a practiced mind embraces endings.
No one expects instant equanimity from you, but as you repeatedly think, Let it happen, let it go, you'll begin heading in the right direction. Relax into the bittersweet mix of emotions, and go on to the next step.
Next: How to focus on a present happiness
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