Letting Go with Intention

Today I offer my initial reflections on our navigating a major life change and embracing the complexity of emotions this entails.

My journey through liminal space continues. The pace of our transitioning between continents is that of a snail. And for the time being, that still feels mostly okay, even as the days on the calendar whizz by, as they have been for many months, even years, now.

Our date for moving keeps shifting further into the future. And yet I have every confidence we’ll get from here to there.

My honey and I are working as a splendid team to sell many of our cherished mementos found and collected over the 38 years of our togetherness. He takes and processes the photos of each item; I create the collages, post them for sale, and negotiate with buyers; and he packs for delivery.

This part is all easy-peasy and we delight in being together and going through this process together—interspersed with the occasional squabble, of course (LOL).

In almost every culture, there are rites of passage and rituals for the significant events in our lives. Birth, school graduations, marriage, and death are probably among the most common ones.

Rituals, anthropologists will tell us, are about transformation. The rituals we use for marriage, baptism or inaugurating a president are as elaborate as they are because we associate the ritual with a major life passage, the crossing of a critical threshold, or in other words, with transformation.

Abraham Verghese

But there doesn’t seem to be a ritual for major moves, and certainly not for one like ours that involves divesting of almost everything we have accumulated and lived with for over three decades—and hey, not only things, but more importantly, deep friendships, networks, and communities.

(There are also the inevitable changes and emotions to be faced on the destination side, but those I set aside to think and feel—and perhaps write—about much later. Fortunately for me, there is no fear about that now to muddy further the emotions I feel on this end.)

As we handle our more sentimental pieces, we pause to admire them once (or twice) again and reminisce (or break our brains trying to remember) where we found or bought them. There are so many stories and we laugh often. Our love and abundant joy flow freely.

That is our own ritual. I am fully present throughout the process, and I can feel the complex set of emotions this progression brings on.

It seems to me to be vital to do this at our own pace, without stress, without rushing. In going about it intentionally like this, I can “let go” without denying or dodging my sadness over the losses, large and small.

We’re taught to think in binaries, to believe that something is either true or false, right or wrong, good or bad. While this kind of this or that thinking can be useful in certain contexts, it can also be detrimental to how we approach life and our own emotions.

Take, for example, this phrase “learn to let go,” which is a skill I’ve learned to do particularly well. It’s often seen as a wise piece of advice. And yet, even letting go needs to be approached with care and intention.

“Let go” implies (in part) that we’ll do better to move on from things that don’t serve us; that we don’t look back or dwell on the past. But what about situations where we need to process our emotions and work through our pain before we can truly let go? Sometimes, holding onto something for a little while longer can actually be the healthiest thing we can do for ourselves. And that’s indeed what I aim to do.

“Let go” also stands directly opposite to another common wise phrase: “never give up,” which encourages us always to persevere, no matter what, not to stop three meters before we hit gold. Yet it’s easy to think of situations where it’s actually sounder to walk away, to recognize that something isn’t working and move on. Sometimes, giving up on something that isn’t serving us is the bravest thing we can do.

Almost every common phrase contains within it the possibility of an equally true opposite. Life is rarely as simple as we’d like it to be.

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.

Niels Bohr

A binary either/or approach can be especially inadequate when it comes to our emotions. We’re taught to believe that we can only feel one thing at a time, that we can’t be happy and sad, or angry and grateful, or any combination of emotions at once.

But the reality—and certainly my experience of it—is that we’re wired to feel multiple emotions at the same time.

There are moments when I look at some lovely piece of vintage furniture we’ve lived with for a long time and feel sad, heavyhearted, to have to sell it. And still my honey can bring up a memory or tell me a story that has us both belly laughing, giving us joy in the moment.

Looking back in years, there were times I was furious with my honey about something he did or didn’t do; yet still I felt grateful to him in other ways. I’m reminded of this cute yet meaningful cartoon (I didn’t find to whom to attribute it):

I’m sure I’m not alone in this. These kinds of conflicting emotions are a natural part of being human.

So, what’s the alternative to binary thinking and feeling?

It’s a more nuanced and discerning approach to life. It’s recognizing that there are very few absolutes in this world, and that most things exist on a spectrum—in the long stretch of gray between the black and white.

It’s looking at ideas and thoughts as both/and instead of either/or.

It’s understanding that we can hold conflicting emotions simultaneously, and that this doesn’t make us weak or confused. It’s knowing that there are times to hold on and times to let go, and that this is a decision that we need to make based on our own unique circumstances.

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

And so the downsizing and offloading continues. We carry on with the ritual: tending to the “stuff” and to my fluctuating emotions with care and self-compassion. We are neither gone nor have we arrived. And I’m making the best of being in this liminal space, even if it is damn messy.

Have you had occasion to develop your own ritual for a life transition? How do you handle a muddle of feelings?

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  • We remain kindred spirits, you and I. Every word of this entry resonates with me, at many depths of my experience and being. In particular, the very very strongly ingrained binary perspective is something I have been consciously shifting away from these past years. Very difficult, as it has been so strongly embedded in my life, but so very enlightening and freeing. You and I have many a long discussion to conduct when we meet again! I look forward to it immensely. Love to you.

  • Francisca, this was such an interesting and thoughtful post. And it resonated with me–as lately I’ve been divesting and donating and regifting. My friend Jorin told me something that I have used again and again. I was agonizing over getting rid of two heavy brass table lamps, because we had them for 40 years–they were a wedding present, but they were dated and not the look that I wanted anymore.. “If you’ve used them for 50 years, then they’ve served their purpose” she said. That was helpful for me.

    I am wondering where you are moving to?

    Cheers, Jane

    • It pleases me to no end when you and others can pick up on my ideas and add to them to make them richer! YessSS, we can thank our “stuff” for having served their purpose for us. Super! Our “there” is in your province, but hopefully closer to the sea. Thanks, Jane, and happy unloading. 🌸🙏🌸

  • Thanks for this post. Here’s my ritual for my life transitions…how I’m handling my muddle of feelings:
    I wait for clarity by embracing complexity in liminal space and choosing daily to persevere in trusting the Process (regardless of my muddle of feelings). As I focus on what needs to be done in the present moment, “the right way for the situation” always shows itself with clarity, timing and a solution I had not considered as an option. I’m always awed.

  • Love this deeper dive into your emotional world. I think “letting go” and “giving up” are not in the least equal. Letting go is an act of courage at times, or of passage and growth, for example, whereas giving up has a very different quality. There are times when surrender is a useful and productive action (I’m thinking of childbirth and other events when our body takes charge) but largely it’s on the spectrum more towards giving up.

    You have helped me clarify my own thinking about this stuff. I think many binary concepts can actually be marked along a spectrum and are thus related to each other, but not always opposites.

    My brain got some exercise this morning! Thanks!

  • There is a wonderful line in the film Magnolia: “We may be through with past, but the past ain’t through with us.” So wise of you, dear friend, to be having a cup of tea with your emotions as you go through the process of the past becoming through with you. 💜

  • Good morning Francisca. You and Lordson are brave in “letting go” of your precious mementoes. I love
    reading about your process, being in the space of being in the middle of a binary. And ensouling that space, by remembering, telling stories, and treasuring the memory of a found delightful piece of personal history and experience. I have no doubt that the photos that you take of each piece will have a written story connected to it, much like your travel photos which I marvel at in your capture of both beauty and travel information. May the objects be blessed as each buyer comes, and may they find “forever homes” that will also treasure them.

    • A lovely blessing, Rose, thank you! 🌸💜🌸 We just spent a couple of hours with a buyer who was picking some very personal pieces… It’s so hard to put money value on these sentimental items! So we take a few deep breaths and let go, let go, let go. Grateful for your witnessing…

  • Hi Francisca,
    I loved reading this piece. I love what you wrote, “Almost every common phrase contains within it the possibility of an equally true opposite. Life is rarely as simple as we’d like it to be.” As we grown older life becomes both simple and complicated, very Jungian 🙂

    It’s not directly related but somehow so, these lines in Sondheim’s musica, Into the Woods-
    “Must it all be either less or more,
    Either plain or grand?
    Is it always ‘or’?
    Is it never ‘and’?
    That’s what woods are for:
    For those moments in the woods…”

    Have a beautiful, thoughtful into the woods moment as you navigate this part of your journey ❤️


    • So glad this post resonated with you, Gayle! And the lines you quote are perfectly on point! So often it IS *and* –for those moments in the woods and beyond. 🌸💜🌸

  • Letting go is a great skill. I think some cultures do have rituals for moving on, especially nomadic cultures. Thanking the place one is moving on from.

    • Oh, you are so right, Jill! Hadn’t thought of the rituals nomadic cultures might have developed. I’ll look into that! 🌸💜🌸

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