Loosening and Letting Go

Once, a long time ago, I changed the strings on my guitar and was in the process of getting it back in tune.

I kept cranking on the tuning heads to tighten the strings, but before I could get all six strings tuned, a few of them would slip and go out of tune again.

I could feel the sense of panic tightening my chest. I’d never had that happen before.

Even worse, what I didn’t realize was that every time the strings slipped, the neck was actually curving forward a little bit.

All I could think was, “WTF?”

Also, “Shit, shit, shit!” because I had no idea how to fix it and no idea if I’d already ruined my precious guitar.

Thankfully a friend knew what to do. The first thing he did was to tune down all the strings until they were completely slack.

Then he adjusted the metal rod inside the neck of the guitar to straighten it back out.

Only then did he tune the strings back up.

*****

Sometimes, the only way to move toward your goal is to go in reverse.

Of course, going in reverse looks an awful lot (or exactly) like moving away from the goal, so you resist.

But if you continue to push forward in ways that don’t work, eventually you will cause damage. You’ll realize you’re exhausted and heart-broken. Or maybe depressed and cynical. Or ill and in physical pain because you’ve worn your body out.

It’s not easy to move away from your desired destination in the short-term so that you can get there in the long-term.

You need an enormous amount of trust. Trust that even if you have to take a detour, you can still get there. Trust that you can know the difference between a necessary course-correction and a backing-off out of fear. (Nothing wrong with feeling afraid, mind you, but changing course isn’t the best remedy.)

Trust that even if you never get there, you’ll get someplace else just as good, if not better.

Even deeper than that, often we’re unwilling to stop pushing because we’ve tied our self-worth to accomplishing our goal.

Rampant in our culture is the belief that racking up achievements is how we prove that we’re worthy of the space we occupy in the world. So not pushing means risking non-achievement, which means risking not being worthy.

So we hold on and keep pushing toward our chosen destination. The thing is, sometimes you just can’t get there from here.

*****

Loosening all your metaphorical strings feels excruciatingly painful. Initially it can feel even more painful than continuing to push forward.

How do you know it’s time to take a big step back? When it feels like stepping back would be a disaster, the end of the world. When you repeatedly catch yourself getting frustrated but tell yourself to keep trying just a little bit longer. When denial is part of your daily routine.

How do you go from pushpushpushing to being willing to let go?

Sometimes the transition happens out of necessity – burnout, depression, and fatigue are great catalysts.

Whether the catalysts are there or not, whether you’ve been pushing for a long time or not, you start by being willing to feel your emotions without dulling them.

Follow the threads of frustration, sadness, anxiety, anger, fear…they may point to some reality that doesn’t look the way you want. Or to some outcome you’re unwilling to let go of. It’s not about eliminating these emotions, it’s about listening. Your emotions are messages about what you want and need.

Then, connect with unconditional love. Imagine your heart filling with it. Imagine what it would feel like to experience it.

Unconditional love is what will make it easier to stop and heal if necessary, because you don’t have to do anything to be worthy. You just are.

From that place, it will be easier to see what next step will be best for you. Trust your heart – it won’t lead you in the wrong direction.

Letting go in this way doesn’t mean abandoning your dream. It just means learning to move toward it in ways that don’t cause damage. And in ways that honor your worth and who you really are.

8 thoughts on “Loosening and Letting Go

  1. kat

    I know all too well what the push, push, push brings, and I have “trophies” to show for it – a brain injury, pins and a plate in my leg and ankle, herniated disc surgery and a nice long scar up my back, and a scar on my face, along with torn rotator cuffs, and a bad knee.

    All three of the falls which brought these little reminders were due to ignoring what my body and my soul were telling me – to slow down, and in some instances, stop altogether what I was doing. Yet, due to some sort of misdirected sense of duty and “it’s the right thing to do”, I pushed far beyond the limits.

    My body made damned sure I stopped and slowed down. Each time encompassed months of recovery. Some times were better than others, due to the physical limitations that ensued each time. I discovered the internet at a late age with the ankle and herniated disc, and had a year to thoroughly enjoy the newfangled thing. With the flat on my face fall which was the last one, I got to discover the joy of massage, and being able to create artwork whenever I had the energy or the notion to do so.

    Now I have a very visible reminder on my face of what too much pushing can do, as well as the swelling ankle with each change of weather and season, and the never quite gone pain in my back. I am doing my best to make the “third time the charm” thing work, so I don’t ever again have to experience a total physical breakdown to make me stop and enjoy my life and what gifts there are around me.

  2. Victoria Post author

    @LaVonne – I needed it, too! xox

    @kat – Oh wow – what an awful lot to deal with. Wishing you so much peace and enjoyment!

  3. Tammy Renzi

    Victoria, the words “racking up achievements” really hit home for me. I was one of those who mistakenly believed that the harder and longer I worked, the better person I was. Teacher of the Year, team leader, mentor, literacy coach, blah, blah, blah. At the end of the day, I had to convince myself I felt fulfilled. My ever-expanding waist line and short temper proved otherwise. I chose work over my marriage on many occasions. My health tanked because I took an antibiotic I really didn’t need – just so I could go back to work faster! It took a near catastrophe and months of pain, but fortunately my husband and I took back our lives. We now run our own business, exercise daily, and enjoy a better life than I could have ever imagined. I love your message and hope people heed the call to LIVE! I look forward to reading more.

  4. Megan Peterson

    Wow, this is such a great post; I’m so grateful I found this. Thank you for laying out the truth that going (what appears to be) backward doesn’t automatically mean sacrificing the ultimate goal of moving forward. I really liked your line: “It’s not about eliminating these emotions, it’s about listening. Your emotions are messages about what you want and need.” Like a car banging itself into a road block in the hope it’ll go away, sometimes we really do miss the messages that are right in front of our eyes about changing course to find the better path. Excellent post; thank you.

  5. Kylie

    Such a wonderful piece, as always, Victoria. This is my favorite part, because it’s so true (and also so scary!): “How do you know it’s time to take a big step back? When it feels like stepping back would be a disaster, the end of the world.”

    You’ve got the smartness. :o)

  6. Sheila Bergquist

    I love this…it’s like being given permission to stop fighting. We are mostly told to push forward and be strong and get over it. You are so right that sometimes it takes stepping back. I’ve learned this the hard way but always feel like others are looking at me like I’m just being weak. I don’t care anymore…I know what I need to do. Thanks for this post!

    1. Victoria Post author

      @Sheila – I think we *all* need permission to stop fighting, you know? And it’s still a challenge to just stop sometimes. I’ve started trying to think of it as a practice similar to meditation, but instead of coming back to the breath when my mind wanders, I try to come back to that sense of trust that it’s safe to step back rather than push forward. Simple, but certainly not easy.

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