Monday, January 29, 2007

The Power of Letting Go

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.” Hermann Hesse

[Retreat, continued]

I read a little, wrote a little then wondered what to do with myself. I succumbed to the TV screen and the implication of control by not having to share the remote. I could surf through channels, if I wanted to, or keep it on some sappy Lifetime drama. I passed quickly by anything that looked remotely scary – Cops, crime scene shows or CNN news. I ended up watching most of a documentary of how Oprah traced her African roots through genealogical research and DNA. You’ve come a long way baby, and I mean that in only the kindest, most admiring of ways. At any point in her life, or the lives of her ancestors, had a different choice been made, the story would have had a different ending.

I think that must be true for all of us. And since I’m doing some introspection, I think it is a good thing to realize that the decisions and choices I’ve made in the course of my life may have been right or may have been wrong, but they shaped the person I am today.

I fell asleep pretty easily, the door still open and the surf still pounding. All was quiet on the Eastern front until the wee hours of the morning when it sounded like a platoon of Worldwide Wrestling Federation hopefuls began practicing their moves in the room next to me. The shock waves through the wall and into my bed were not the same peaceful vibrations as from the singing Tibetan bowls. Mercifully it didn’t last long, or I found a way to sleep through it.

I awoke to the sun and surf and very real call of nature. Once out of bed, I peeked out the window and saw that the tide was out. It seemed to be calling me to begin the part of this journey of which I was most afraid - to walk the coastline of the land as well as that of my heart and see where it would lead. I was using Joan Anderson’s, A Weekend to Change Your Life as a rough guide. Part of her program is to get physical. It’s been awhile since I’ve been physical, yet the wide open beach looked like a perfect place to begin. In contrast, my emotions seemed almost too buried to get in touch with. Getting physical in an emotional sense was less inviting.

Before starting my walk, I wrote down the things that have been bothering me recently. In a random stream of consciousness style, I wrote the words - ANGER, FEAR, RESENTMENT, to name but a few. I repeated them over and over again until I was pretty sure those were all things that needed to be deleted from my life, adding to the list as the emotions came to the surface.

On the opposite side of the paper, I wrote a prayer asking that God take away my pain and replace it with joy and peace. Armed with a few talismans, my camera, a bottle of tea, and the note I set out. I hadn’t gone far when I realized I had crumpled the piece of paper into a tight ball and was holding on to it with all my might. Interesting.

My first encounter was with three homeless people, just waking up and blocking the entrance to the beach. They were very cordial, and I couldn’t help but think that the God who was orchestrating my walk, wanted me to see that there are others in a more depressed state than I. (I realize that that is a projection on my part, that these three could be very happy in their homelessness. The weathered faces, and smell of alcohol surrounding them like the wet blankets they had over their shoulders, made me think this was not the case.)

I headed straight for the water’s edge and couldn’t ignore the hundreds beached jelly fish bodies strewn from sea to shore. Looking as if they had been spit out in the ocean’s equivalent of vomit, red blobs of gelatinous fish matter littered the beach as far as the eye could see. It wasn’t the prettiest of views, and it was a little stinky in spots, but there was plenty of beach to go around. The sea gulls didn’t seem to mind. In fact, some were treating themselves to a jelly fish smorgasbord.

I couldn’t help but wonder if jelly fish contain venom to sting its prey or unsuspecting swimmers, why doesn’t that same venom hurt the bird who is eating it? I decided in my simplistic way that sea gulls are probably no different than humans. We often eat things that we know are going to hurt us, like cholesterol-laden prime rib or calorie-stacked-triple-chocolate layer cake. Even knowing the eating won’t be good for our bodies, we do it anyway. The key, I think is to do it in moderation, and let’s face it, sea gulls are probably not binge eaters.

My mind was on the fast track, probably trying all it could to keep me from the task at hand. I laughed at the metaphor presented by all the jelly fish. Clearly, the universe was in agreement that whatever has been keeping me bound up needs to be released.

As I walked I picked up a shell or two and it brought back memories of a recent beachcombing trip with my sister. Clearly I was not alone on this journey. The divine puppeteer was holding the strings of my heart and mind; it was my job to let the scene unfold. So I walked, remembered, picked up shells, wondered about the jelly fish, laughed at little birds bathing in the surf, and clung to my pocketed paper.

Gradually, my tension eased. I felt myself begin to settle down. I challenged myself to find a spot where there were no more jellyfish. This would be the place to toss my paper into the ocean. (Okay, maybe I wasn’t quite ready to let go; clearly there wasn’t going to be a jelly fish free zone for miles.) Since I already felt like I’d walked halfway to Amelia Island, I started looking for an area that had less blobs than the rest of the beach. Finally I settled on a place that looked as good as any other. It was time.

I took my shoes off. I went to the ocean’s edge, then prayed for help and blessing. I began to shred my paper into tiny bits. With each tear, I loosened the emotion attached to the words on the paper, and urged it to fly free. It was hard at first but it got easier. Partly because the time was right and partly because the water was pretty darn cold and my feet were freezing. I stood, there, however, until the paper was out of my hands, released to the sea, as if it was some kind of watery recycle machine. I know I’m not the first, and I doubt I’ll be the last person to give my pain and sadness and anger and fear, etc, to the mighty ocean. Gratefully, it’s big enough to take it.

As I walked away, feeling noticeably lighter, I looked into the surf and saw that little bits of paper were following me. At first it was hard to tell the difference between the paper and little white drops of bird poop, but the lines on the paper were still visible so I knew it was my own poop not a gull’s. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I picked up each returning piece of paper that didn’t want to leave my side. I kept tossing them back into the water, however, until they were indeed gone for good, churned and consumed by the waves.

Then I headed back to the motel. I kept no particular pace - was in no particular hurry. I felt as if I had rounded a corner. I was aware of wanting to write about my experience, but realized that even though journaling is a part of the experience, by thinking ahead to what I might write was taking me out of the moment. I need to learn to live in the moment - not in my history and not in my future. The here and now is what is important. I miss too much otherwise.

I am a little surprised that I did all this tossing away without tears. I expected to do a lot of crying. Perhaps I’ve already cried all the tears I have. Maybe the ocean provided the salt water baptism needed for my renewal; or maybe I’ll cry later. Whatever the case I walked away dry eyed.

Wondering what might come next, I heard the sound of little girls laughing. Has a prettier song ever been sung? If Beethoven had not been deaf, I think he would have written Ode to Joy after hearing a group of 10-year old girls, unfettered by self-doubt and self-consciousness, laughing and dancing at the ocean’s door. My inner child laughed with them, and my grown-up girl did too.

I don’t know what those girls were doing out there. I’d seen them huddled in a group earlier. Clearly they’d been given the go ahead to have some fun. Wanting to capture the moment, I asked one of the chaperones if I could take a picture. So he wouldn’t think I’m some kind of weirdo, I explained that I was on a personal retreat and the sound of the girls filled my heart with joy. He seemed to understand, and nodded a go ahead. I stood back, watched, listened, snapped a few photos and smiled, really smiled for the first time in weeks.
Merry ME

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