We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.
– Joseph Campbell
The last six months, or so, have felt very much like I am in a transition. A life transition that feels significant and necessary. I am not sure if it is spurred from the last three years, as I slowly start to emerge and process all that I, and the entire world, experienced during this time. Or if it is just the nature of where I am in my life. I am turning forty-five tomorrow and am noticing that my priorities and values are feeling different from past years. Whatever it may be, what keeps emerging is that what is most necessary and important, is a letting go. A release.
I, like so many, can hold very tight to the narratives that I have created in my head. The long-held ideas of how life is supposed to be, and how I am supposed to be working toward or making those ideas a reality. What my life is telling me right now, is that those ideas, those narratives, are no longer serving me. And not only that, they actually are holding me back.
Some of the decisions and changes I need to make, feel quite vulnerable. I am a believer that we should write/share/teach from the scar, not the open wound. So I am not quite ready to share what all those vulnerabilities are, but I also believe it is helpful to share about our process when we are navigating through difficulties and life transitions.
As I explore what this transition is and how I want to navigate and be with it, there are two poems that I have been holding close and referring back to often. The first is a David Whyte poem, To Break a Promise, which was shared with me by my friend Alex back in February during our Yellow group session. The topic we were discussing was seasonality and how there is freedom in accepting what is.
TO BREAK A PROMISE
by David Whyte
Make a place of prayer, no fuss,
just lean into the white brilliance
and say what you needed to say
all along, nothing too much, words
as simple and as yours and as heard
as the bird song above your head
or the river running gently beside you.
Let your words join
one to another
the way stone nestles on stone,
the way water just leaves
and goes to the sea,
the way your promise
breathes and belongs
with every other promise
the world has ever made.
Now, let them go on,
leave your words
to carry their own life
without you, let the promise
go with the river.
My favorite line is, “let the promise go with the river.” I am a very loyal person – to others and to myself (I’m a Taurus sun and rising – for those who care), so I hold promises very seriously. This poem reminded me that not all promises are meant to be kept. Sometimes promises can actually keep us trapped and stuck in the past. Sometimes, promises are meant to float along, down the river without you.
I decided to write it out so that I had a visual to return to when I needed it:
The next poem came to me by way of Tig Notaro’s podcast interview with Michaela Watkins. Michaela spoke about Cheryl Strayed’s response to Tomas Tranströmer’s poem The Blue House in one of her Dear Sugar entries, The Ghost Ship That Didn’t Carry Us. Her discussing it led me to seek out both pieces of writing…
The Blue House
by Tomas Tranströmer
It is night with glaring sunshine. I stand in the woods and look towards my house with its misty blue walls. As though I were recently dead and saw the house from a new angle.
It has stood for more than eighty summers. Its timber has been impregnated, four times with joy and three times with sorrow. When someone who has lived in the house dies it is repainted. The dead person paints it himself, without a brush, from the inside.
On the other side is open terrain. Formerly a garden, now wilderness. A still surf of weed, pagodas of weed, an unfurling body of text, Upanishades of weed, a Viking fleet of weed, dragon heads, lances, an empire of weed.
Above the overgrown garden flutters the shadow of a boomerang, thrown again and again. It is related to someone who lived in the house long before my time. Almost a child. An impulse issues from him, a thought, a thought of will: “create. . .draw. ..” In order to escape his destiny in time.
The house resembles a child’s drawing. A deputizing childishness which grew forth because someone prematurely renounced the charge of being a child. Open the doors, enter! Inside unrest dwells in the ceiling and peace in the walls. Above the bed there hangs an amateur painting representing a ship with seventeen sails, rough sea and a wind which the gilded frame cannot subdue.
It is always so early in here, it is before the crossroads, before the irrevocable choices. I am grateful for this life! And yet I miss the alternatives. All sketches wish to be real.
A motor far out on the water extends the horizon of the summer night. Both joy and sorrow swell in the magnifying glass of the dew. We do not actually know it, but we sense it: our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route. While the sun burns behind the islands.
And Cheryl’s response…
“Every life has a sister ship, one that follows quite another route than the one we ended up taking. We want it to be otherwise, but it cannot be: the people we might have been live a different, phantom life than the people we are…I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
As I stand in this place of transition, I often find myself feeling torn between which ship to board. I can imagine each route – both having their waves and their sunny days – but I have no idea which one might be the “right one.” Nor do I have any clue or idea if my assumptions of the route are true or accurate. They are nothing but thoughts. Narratives. Ideas. They are not real. They are not true. No matter what choice I make, there will be a sister ship with the choices I did not make. Not all my sketches will be real. So, as Tranströmer and Strayed so beautifully write, all I can do is release the thoughts, narratives, and ideas, and instead listen and make choices from my heart. Take the next right step. And trust that these intuitive choices were made for a reason beyond what my thinking and weighing and perseverating can offer me.
Transitions are FULL of letting go and releasing, so that we can move forward. So that we can leave the space of wondering and stuckness, and step into our next chapter. It might be uncomfortable, but life so far has taught me that all the best stuff usually is.
Release your long held narratives to write the new one.
Release past expectations that are holding you back from moving forward.
Release the ideas of how things should be in order to live into a life you never could imagine.
Release society’s old-school narrative of what a successful life looks like.
Release the stories that are not allowing you to live the life you want.
Release the fear that is trying to protect you, but is just leaving you stuck.
Release the life you had planned, to accept the one that is waiting for you.