Letting go is a big part of growing older. If letting go as we age
means experiencing terrible losses to us, then we’ll feel as if
whatever we are attached to is being snatched away as the years pass
by. The key to serenity is to let go voluntarily.
There’s a difference between letting go as a choice and succumbing to
the inevitable. For example, since we can’t do anything about global
warming, we become resigned and decide we might as well let it go—by
which we really mean we ‘give up’. Letting go isn’t the same as giving
up. Letting go is choosing to accept life on life’s terms, to freely
release attachments and enthusiastically embrace whatever comes next.
Perhaps the most difficult things to let go of are the intangibles. Our
sense of identity, for example—who we think we are, our value, our
‘worth’, what we consider to be the source of our power, and our
capacity to contribute. Charles Dubois once said, “The most important
thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for
what we could become.” If we are to have a chance of creating the last
third of our life as a possibility that’s larger than the prevailing
culture of aging (which assumes that the last years of life are mostly
about loss and decline), then we must set aside whatever we know, think
and believe based on the past and commit ourselves to the future as if
it we were just beginning our adult journey all over again.
go can best be understood as creating a new beginning, rather than
losing our the past. It really doesn’t have anything to do with whether
we remember or not. In fact, remembering can be considered a wonderful
bonus as we age. What letting go means is to have a different
relationship with the past—to be free of the past—to ‘have’ our past
rather than to ‘be’ our past. Of course, gaining this clarity and
practicing this capability of freedom from the past is important at any
age, but much more so as we grow older. It is so easy to ‘hold on’ to
what we’ve learned and believe we know. It’s scary to risk starting
over again: more comforting to be confident in what we’ve learned about
ourselves already and to stick with that. Yet, it is in the willingness
to let go of exactly what we think we know about ourselves that frees
us to create the rest of our lives anew.
I like to distinguish
between something being ‘finished’ and something being ‘complete’.
‘Finished’ is a function of the circumstances, like when the whistle
blows to mark the end of the hockey game. ‘Completion’, on the other
hand, is a way of Being. We can be ‘whole’ and complete at any moment
and in every moment. Most of us have experienced a lot by the time we
reach our middle years. To be complete with our lives means to let go
of everything in our past, to be present, to stay focused in the moment
and to create the future from right now.
It can be sad and
difficult for us when our children relocate and move on without us,
when our friends die, and when we retire and disconnect from our
networks of relationships.
It can be awkward to respond to questions like, "What do you do”?
can even be frightening to confront the necessity of relearning
subjects we thought we knew already or of tackling a new subject that
didn’t even exist when we were students.
But when we can let
go of our expectations that life should be different than it is, we can
also transform all of these things—fear, sadness, loss, isolation—into
a very rich tapestry. And one day, we’ll look back and discover that it
was when we let go that we began experiencing the best times of our