Thoughts on Letting Go and Letting God.
Last night, as I laid in bed waiting for my mind and body to sync and surrender to the life of my dreams, I received an awareness - a memory actually. It woke me up to something I already knew, but had forgotten recently. It’s surreal when you're suddenly aware of something you understand well, a lesson you’ve already learned in life, and somewhere along the way, you forgot its essence - its truth.
Saying “Let Go and Let God” is a practice I’ve used ever since becoming familiar with 12 step programs in the early 80’s. I find the idea of mentally turning something over that is creating stress in my life helps to ease the experience, after I’ve done everything I’m responsible for o know to do to create my desire outcome. I’m known to also suggest it to anyone I think might benefit from hearing it too. In the dark of last night, I realized I’d forgotten how to actually do it. There is a fine, but significant, line between holding an idea, a belief - and knowing how to practice or experience it in a way that's meaningful - and how it’s intended.
When an idea has merit, it resonates with us. We like the idea of it, and sometimes even attach it to our own repertoire. The problem is we can fool ourselves by replacing the idea with its true and intended purpose - the experience itself. I think I’ve been guilty of putting this idea on - like one puts on a brave face at the dentist, or a forced smile when entering a room full of people we don’t know - instead of living it. If this is true for me, it’s fairly safe to say I’m not alone.
When we adopt an idea as true for us, the thought can shift our consciousness to some extent - until we can live its truth. It gives us temporary relief or hope, easing the tension, but it does not change us or take us deeper, growing us from the inside out. There’s a big difference.
Letting Go and Letting God is not just an idea. It’s a practice. Thoughts and ideas help to frame a concept or create understanding. They lead to some of the best a-ha’s life has to offer us, but… they don’t have real meaning or life until they’re genuinely experienced.
The idea of letting go and letting God is far too easy to give lip service to. If we’re facing something we can’t control, an wasy way to deal with it is to say we’re turning it over, or in other words, putting it out of our minds.
That’s not Letting Go and Letting God. That’s avoidance and denial.
Letting God is an action. One with deep ramifications if we’re willing to go a little deeper into what it really means. It does not suggest we engage in avoidance - which is what many of us do, albeit unconscious. The act of letting God is all about trust. And surrender. We surrender the outcome - to our highest selves and to God as we understand God. Our highest self is the self beyond the ego, also known as our True Self. It’s my feeling that our True Self is directly connected to God somehow.
Letting God doesn’t ask us to “believe” in a religious God. We only have to trust that something greater than us knows more than we do alone. We have to trust there is some order within the universe that works things together for good, in the big picture or long run. For some, it’s the deeper, greater collective consciousness that is much greater than we are individually. Some of us call it something else. We do have to share an understanding there is something greater than us, however. Something that instinctually or naturally makes all things work together. Some might even call it fate.
I call it God, but I’m not sure our imagery is all that different here - if we share the experience of being connected to something more.
This leads some of us to another place where we are faced with the choice of walking into an experience of the holy and the sacred. It’s the place some call the Mystery, where we sense God - as we understand God. This is the Spirit that resides within and around us. Many people have known this experience since they were children - it’s often described as having a feeling of being connected or embraced by something good, or of light. Others just have a knowing, but it’s not experienced with imagery. For most, in one way or another, it’s the place we explore our spiritual journey in a deeper way, simultaneously touching the ancient and the future.
For those who do not choose to step into this mystery, it might be referred to as the Universe, or energy, or another name. I think this experience of the Divine, the Presence, the Universe has its starting point at the same place within for all of us. The only time I imagine this not true is in those who believe their primary voice - the inner voice that thinks or talks in our head - the one that is reading this right now - as all there is and they do not believe they are connected to anything beyond themselves. That’s ok too. It’s just very different from how I experience my existence.
Letting Go and Letting God is incomplete if we are simply telling ourselves to stop thinking about whatever is causing us stress or worry. The power in it lies in taking the power away from the ego and willingly surrendering it to our deepest self, our true self.
I see my True Self as the place within where God meets me. It is the place we sense a connection to all that is, to the mysteries of the universe and to the more that’s beyond my understanding. It is the gateway to the holiest of holy places, and where the deepest truths lie. This is the beauty of the mystery.
Like many women, my first thought upon waking and my last thought before I drift off at night, are often about my weight or how I want to be better in one way or another. Especially in regards to what I think is within my control or self- judgement because I’m not meeting my own standards. These are areas of my life where I’m disappointed or ashamed. Generally, I give myself a pep talk or envision how I can achieve it - and I believe myself in those moments when the world is quiet and the memory of who I am - or who I can become - reveals itself without distraction.
Last night was no different from many other nights in this regard until the words, let go and let God scurried across my mind. As it proceeded through my thoughts, I stopped it to think about it beyond the surface level. I felt into the words and what they really mean. There’s something so powerful about doing this, particularly when its something we say almost without thinking - even it the idea didn’t start out that way.
• I wanted to revisit the idea and experience of “letting God” and feel into it on a deeper level. What would it feel like if I did it in a more intentioned and meaningful way? Could letting go of certain thoughts such as those related to my weight, for instance, and giving up the control and judgment about my body along with the very real intention of being well and healthy in every way to God in a serious and sacred manner make changes I wanted? Could change happen at that levee even when I don’t understand how it’s happening? Change when I’m not making constant choices for or against my weight or health at every turn? Was there a deeper, more true self, that lived beyond my ego or understanding that had my best interest at heart? That knew how to move deeper within my soul to shape and mold my actions and behaviors to be healthier? Was this unknown behavior greater and more effective than using my own reasoning and will power? How would I know?
This reminded me of the difference between patients and clients in my alcohol and drug recovery centers. Some would walk in the door and stop drinking or using, never wanting another drink. Others would struggle with an ongoing compulsion to drink or use for years to come. We’ve all seen the same with people who quit smoking, or start a diet program. What is the difference between those who resist and enter into the struggle; and those whose compulsion is lifted and the journey is clear sailing without ever understanding why?
These people often attribute it to God or a higher power, but it’s safe to say this is because they have no other way to explain it. Is it possible that, at some level, they surrendered in a way that went beyond their ego - they let go and let God giving the idea the opportunity to live its fullest purpose.
This also begs the question, “Is there choice involved, or does it just happen?” I think it’s a little of both.
I was married to a man who was mean. Not once, but twice. Of course you are hearing yourself repeat the old adage, “Do it once, Shame on him. Do it twice, shame on you.” Yes. Shame on me. My eyes were not open, or at least the experiences I walked into the second time were far beyond my ability to see and better saved for another post, or book. Either way, it happened.
The first one didn’t seem to be able to control himself. No matter what kind of boundaries I created, words I used, consequences he faced - he continued doing it. Until one Christmas Eve.
This Christmas Eve nothing looked very different on the outside, other than we had a lot of people over at the house for a Norwegian Christmas Eve. We lived in a beautiful house right near the ski hill in Sun Valley, Idaho. Everything was white, and good friends were all around. In some ways, it was a perfect Christmas in a year that had been filled with struggle. He walked in to this beautiful party and approached me with his, by then, accusatory and shame inflicting look when something happened inside me out of the blue. I cannot explain to anyone what it was, or why it happened at that moment.
The things I then said were words no different than I’d said every other time. The situation not all that different from any other day. But this day was different.
As he began berating me, as was his pattern, I listened. When he was done, I looked up at him and something inside me had changed while he spoke. I’d been a broken, hurting girl for the last year. I felt helpless and wounded, not sure how to work through or change the pain I was feeling in this marriage. I had become weak inside, and begun turning in on myself, for lack of a better explanation. I wouldn’t lash out at him, particularly since his lashes were wicked and I’d do anything to avoid experiencing his cruel words and spirit.
This night, when I looked up at him standing over me in his intimidating and angry stance, these words tumbled out in a calm and resolve I’d never had before, “From this moment on, you will never, ever talk to me like that again. From this night on, I will be free of your cruelty, your rage, your blame, your self loathing. It will stop now and it is not negotiable. Do you understand me?”
He looked at me with that patronizing, shut down look on his face, and replied, “Yes, I understand you.”
It never, ever happened again.
Until that moment, I did not have boundaries that said I meant it. Do I know why? I have no clue. Perhaps it was an internal breaking point. Perhaps it was my own rage that had surfaced finally, or maybe it was the opposite and it was my love for myself that had become strong enough to stand for me. I’ve sometimes wondered if it was the people in the house who I knew loved me, and in that moment on this Christmas night, I knew on some deep level that I was not alone no matter what happened. On some level, I knew I would be ok even if he walked out the door.
Or I’d hit bottom. And when we do that, something inside breaks open - this makes room for spiritual movement. I think it’s possible, even if it sounds irrational. What is spiritual transformation? It takes two most of the time.
I think he did actually leave that night and I was fine. I don’t fully remember. I know it took a couple more years for our marriage to end, and ending it was the right thing to do in this case. But it was never abusive in that way from that night on. The reason I share this story is to say that we don’t really understand why some things happen, or when we’ve learned the lesson fully. We may think we’ve done what we’re supposed to do, or we understand something in it’s entirety - but we don’t. We must be more willing to say we don’t know, or to allow ourselves to get to wherever it is we need to go to learn what we need to learn. We must be more loving and more patient with ourselves, and we should never give up on walking the walk and learning, receiving, opening ourselves - including our hearts - to what is here for us. It is an endless well of growth, understanding, love, compassion that wants to feed us throughout our life’s journey - if we let it. Sometimes this requires just accepting that there is so much more to learn if we release our hold on things, and continue in the practice of letting go and letting God. No matter how trite we think this sounds.
Breathe into the words let go and let God. Feel into what that means to you. Imagine the issue, challenge, problem, fear and hold it in your mind the way you normally would think about it. Now, imagine yourself releasing it into the abyss - in the direction where God might be, where you sense God to be.
Imagine releasing it with a trust and surrender that knows it’s going to a better place, and feel the hope that rises up within you.
Next picture your child who is being sent to the best possible place in which he’s guaranteed to love you the same when he’s done, and you know nothing that won’t serve you will happen, and he will make great headway to becoming who he wants to be and it will be one of life’s richest experiences for his life journey. Imagine what that feels like and release him.
Now come back and do the same with the issue. Feel what God feels like to you, and go to the place where you hold on to things = it’s usually near the solar plexus emotionally…take a breath from that place. In the out breath, release what you’re letting go of to God. Really feel it. See it go if that’s how you meditate. Imagine it still part of you but completely gone from your mind and consciousness. Know that God is shaping and molding it as you live your life the best way you know how. Every now and then you’ll have a glimpse of a memory of it, or a half smile creeps across your face when you notice you’re not fighting the donut on the tray at work, or the peace that has come from simply knowing all is well and you are gently, compassionately living your life as you love yourself and others.
Over time, will you see a difference that you can’t explain? Will I? I don’t know. But something tells me I will.
Letting Go is releasing the thought from being attached to our ego. The ego loves to suffer. This is its most familiar place because it gets to wield it’s power and control there. The ego has an embedded library of tapes in its repertoire. It is sometimes called our False Self, it likes to shape our idea of who we are. It creates the painting we would paint of ourselves, or writes the press release announcing our arrival. It is our idea of ourselves, our projection, an identity based in our story of us.
Letting God creates imagery of a childhood memory when I rescued and cared for a sick bird in our Brooklyn walk-up 4th floor apartment, and walking and its release it into the wild at the golf course down the street. The golf coursea 7 year old growing up in Brooklyn knows. The bird is ready. It’s been loved and coddled and healed - and is ready to return to its native home. My little hands pick it up tenderly from its shoebox bed and give it a little kiss, whisper a few things to it like I hope you find your mother and siblings, and I’ll miss you….and as I open my hands to his freedom, he tries to stand on his legs that are wobbly from being nursed back to health. He practices his stand a few times, and spreads his wings tentatively looking out at what’s beyond these small fingers that have cared for him, and he knows the only true and real place he belongs is in that open air where he can be his true self, and live out his purpose - no matter how comfortable its become in his new home. He instinctually knows what his truth and his purpose is.
That’s what Letting god feels like. It’s taking something that you’ve handled, managed, controlled, coddled - until there’s nothing more you can do - and you surrender it to its proper place, its true home. It is here that your true intention can be worked out within the power that is beyond your understanding.
Do you remember when you learned how to drive? I do. I was 30 - much older than most people I know. It wasn’t due to being timid or late development, but rather, to city living. There was no need for a car on the upper West Side or in Greenwich Village of New York City. Besides, it was financially prohibitive. When I got in a car with an instructor at almost 30 years of age, many things seemed counter intuitive because, by 30, I had learned how to think critically.
One instruction that was counter intuitive was being told to keep my attention ahead of me on the road.
The concept is…Do not look right in front of you when you’re driving. Keep your attention ahead on the road, as opposed to directly in front of you. If you look down at the road immediately in front of you, you will not be prepared for what comes next.
This makes sense now - after almost 30 years, but at the time, it made little logical sense. It had to be experienced to be understood. I had to feel the movement of the car in my hands. The speed of the vehicle, the reflexes that responded to the turns in the road, and the harmonization required of my brain, hands, feet, and outside influences - including sound. This, like learning to ride a bicycle, is one of the first truly holistic experiences of our lives - one we experience in ways we cannot explain.
If we tried too hard to make it work, more often than not, we’d screw up. I learned this the hard way one Saturday morning in Greenwich, Connecticut traffic. The instructor sat in the passenger seat, and probably because of my mature age, didn’t seem overly concerned when he told me to drive down the middle of town towards the Interstate.
I felt that anxiety well up inside my stomach like one does before we have to do anything that we know we are not ready for. I told him I didn’t think I was ready for this, but he said, “Don’t underestimate yourself. Of course you can do this.”
He probably assumed I’d had a fire engine or one of those Tonka cars when little. I hadn’t.
I proceeded down the street and was doing very well. I even surprised myself. I stopped at every light, signaled coming in and out of parking lots, accelerated just as I should. When we neared the expressway, he told me to make a right turn at the next light. Filled with a newfound confidence, I proceeded. I made the turn and the next thing I knew, the instructor was screaming at the top of his lungs at me and had my steering wheel in his hands. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening.
After he stopped screaming, I pulled over to the shoulder shaking. When he asked me what happened, I wasn’t sure what to say other than, “You told me turn and I did. The problem was the car just kept turning and I didn’t know what to do.”
The memory of recalling this story thirty years later still brings up the fear mingled with confusion and shame remembering this experience. The instructor had not taught me how to come out of a turn - or the importance of recovering from a turn in order to continue on the straightway. Of course, this is obvious to anyone who has ever driven anything - even a Fisher Price toy fire engine at age 4, but it was not obvious to me.
When I asked him how to turn the wheel and is there anything else I needed to know before I attempted it, he said, “No. That’s it.” I believed him.
When we think we know what we’re supposed to do, we are still not in control. The truth is, we are never in control, or rather - our egos are never in control. Even though they confidently tell us otherwise. And stupidly, we believe them.
There is great wisdom in covering our bases by doing all we know how to do to be accountable and responsible. There is an equal amount of wisdom in asking questions to best assess what's unfamiliar to us, or to prevent any other unintended consequences. But it stops there. In most circumstances, that’s the best we can do. All that’s left is to Let Go and Let God.
Letting Go is the control/ego part, but the Letting God operates on a deeper level and we have choices as to how much freedom we want in this experience.
Another lesson learned was in 1976, when I took a temporary job running the cafeteria for the PBS Arts and Antiques Auction at the end of my college semester. The cafeteria was open 20 hours a day, and the camera crew, producers, writers, auctioneers, etc., were my primary customers for the 10 days it aired. One of the PBS cameramen, Frank Pallizzato, became a dear friend over the years, and he took me under his wing. I was getting about 4 hours sleep a night during these 10 days, and I’d panic on the way to the studio each morning. Frank gave me sage advice that I’ve remembered anytime I stress on the way to work since then. He said, “From the minute you leave the house until the moment you arrive at your destination, do not worry about being late. Nothing can change that you left late now, your trip is out of your hands whether you’re driving in traffic or on public transportation, and you will get there when you get there either way. From now on, just enjoy the trip.” And I always have.
This is another way of giving up control. An hour or more commute on the way to work stressing about being late is an hour of every day wasted with negative energy. Instead think about the wonderful new time management tools you can implement to be more efficient, or read a book you’ve been dying to find time for, or count how many Florida license plates there are on the Interstate, but probably the best idea is - Sing when you’re in the car alone. Why not?
I learned something else on this assignment in a simple cafeteria. Working hard with a positive attitude, and being genuinely interested in people pays off in big ways. By the end of these grueling 16-20 hour days in 120 degrees under the lights, coupled by the high humidity of New York summers, these people became my friends. They were even kind enough to pass a hat on the last day since I was earning minimum wage with no overtime. They wanted to help me accomplish my dream of going to California and Colorado when the gig was up. I’d grown up traveling and living between NY and Europe, but had never been west of Pennsylvania. My father died suddenly a year before, and I’d been forced to leave college, not knowing what was ahead. These two weeks shaped my life in countless and unforeseen ways. Eventually, I became a producer; an exec at the leading PR firm in which PBS was a client, and later, called the West my home and my muse. I became a photographer whose tag line is “Shooting the American West." Who could’ve ever known that time with these people, in this venue would shape so much of who I was to become? It’s awe(some) and wonder(ful). Actually, its damn powerful.
So, you see, Let Go and Let God because what awaits you is, more often than not, more than you can probably dream. If your rational mind or your ego gets in the way, you may limit yourself only to what you can conceive of. That is definitely not good enough for you! You are so much more than your dreams.
Unless, of course, you’re psychotic. ;)
Letting God is not about having a right belief, or a belief at all. Not a religious one anyway. It’s about trust. It’s about trusting that something beyond your understanding or knowing, has the capacity to integrate and create more from what you have to offer it than anything you can do by your own means.
Sure, black and white religious people will scoff at me and these statements, but I stand by them nonetheless. Does it really matter with we can name it? Or does it matter that we are participating with it?
If your son jumps into the outfield in the third inning, and the team is behind - and catches a fly ball in a spot there was no coverage - did he influence the game? Of course. This is no different. We are all part of a whole, with many influencers adding to the eventual outcome of our choices. How to predict what will happen, or how to control the outcome are both beyond our capacity. But we can move forward in integrity. We can release our need to control it and trust that God - or whatever word make you comfortable - has it handled.
We are a reflection of the earth in this sense, or of nature. The complexity required to keep the earth spinning on its axis sustaining life requires complexity beyond our understanding, and the self correcting nature does is also outside of our biological control. It does what it does, and sometimes we figure it out and sometimes we don’t. But, in the end, even some of what we assume to be bad because we judge it as so in our limited capacity to understand the big picture, turns out to be good. Even in our advanced stage of understanding science, my guess is we haven’t scratched the surface.
This alone, for me, is the reason I believe in what’s beyond me - even if I don’t know which version of the story is true. What I know is true - for me - is this surrender to what’s beyond me fills me with wonder, awe, hope, excitement and the privilege of growing in the mystery of the holy and the sacred…one step at a time. Whether it’s all true or not, I wouldn’t want to spend my time any other way. Who knows what lies ahead? ;)