Saturday, July 12, 2014

On Letting Go Vs. Staying the Course – How to Balance the Two?

Lately the theme of letting go and dealing with change and uncertainty has come up for me againThis is not the first time that I have dealt with this theme in my life and in this blog, and I doubt that it will be the last.  According to Pema Chodron in her classic book, When Things Fall Apart, Impermanence (the Buddhist word for the endless stream of beginnings and endings in life) is one of the three key jewels of human experience. 

I must admit that there is something magical about life’s continual evolution; however, I don’t let go of things easily, I don’t initially adapt easily, and I hate saying goodbye or giving up on a dream.   When I decide to commit to something, whether it’s something big like having a baby or something small like a weekly Biodanza class, I commit fully and give 110%. Some would say that is a virtue.  

Yet, if we cling too tightly to the familiar, we don't leave room for growth and change.  Luckily, life doesn't always sit and wait for us to let go.  Sometimes it forces change upon us.  In those moments, when life (or God) forces us to let go of one dream and close one door, it allows room for another one to open.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is well known for her theory of the grieving process – which is most applicable for men, women, and children who have lost a loved one or are experiencing a terminal illness but is also applicable to other situations which call us to let go or accept unpleasant realities. 

The Kubler-Ross model states that there are 5 key stages of grief or loss which often come in order but don’t necessarily have to – it is also perfectly normal for a grieving person to alternate between the 5 stages:

Denial – pretending that the loss isn’t really happening; ignoring the change that is coming or has already come.

Anger – feeling frustration that the loss has come to them; having angry feelings directed at oneself, at others, at God, at the situation.

Bargaining – the hope that one can somehow fend off the loss or grief by negotiating, giving something up, making an extra effort, or making a deal with a higher power.

Depression – starting to accept that the loss is coming or has come but feeling great sadness and a heavy heart about it; feeling the urge to withdraw, give up, or not go on any longer.

Acceptance – feeling a sense of calm and peace; acknowledging that the loss has happened or is going to happen but life is going to be okay.

While I have been lucky enough to avoid experiencing a major loss of a loved one or major illness thus far, I have noticed myself go through these stages while experiencing the ups and downs of life.  I seem to have the most difficulty accepting my feelings of anger and sadness.  Instead, I spend a lot of energy in my life denying that change is coming and doing everything in my power (bargaining) to plan ahead and try to fend away disappointment. 

For a while, my extra effort and planning seems to work and I am lucky enough to maintain a pleasant existence and cruise through life.   Life stabilizes, and I become more confident that I can control my destiny.   But then, just when I least expect it, changes come up, and I am humbled.  Life is full of examples.  For instance, I can make every effort to plan lunch with someone weeks in advance, but if they are sick or have a change in schedule on the day of, the plans fall through. 

In Sleeping Beauty, every effort is made by Princess Aurora’s family and supporters to
help her avoid Maleficent’s proclamation that she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into eternal sleep.  The kingdom's leaders had all spinning wheels destroyed; the family had Aurora raised as a peasant by three fairies in the wood; and Aurora was watched over closely for many years.  Still, it was not enough – as the princess snuck back into the kingdom on her sixteenth birthday, Maleficent created a spinning wheel and led Aurora to prick her finger on it just in the knick of time.

Life is like that sometime.  You do everything in your power to make something happen, and it doesn’t happen.  Or, you do everything in your power to prevent something from happening and it happens anyway. 

So what is one to do?  Give up or fight?

I’ve been reading several books lately about worlds very different from my own which provide perspective on this question. 

In Octavia Butler's book Kindred, the main protagonist, Dana, is called from modern day California back to antebellum Maryland and forced to work as a slave while she interacts with two of her great-great ancestors, one black and one white, who need to survive, connect, and procreate in order to produce her family line.   One of the key themes brought up in Kindred is whether the slaves in the book should refuse to accept their lot and run for freedom or accept their lot and do their work on the plantation.  At first, it seems that running away is the obvious choice, but after Dana sees runaway slaves brought back half-dead, beaten, and bitten (and after she runs away and is caught herself), she starts to understand  why accepting the status quo might be the safest choice for now – and why both choices require great courage and strength.

In Xinran's book China Witness, the author, a journalist, interviews numerous elderly men and

women throughout China who have experienced the dramatic changes in China from the
Japanese war through Liberation, the Cultural Revolution, and Reform Through Opening. 
Many of these interviewees were devoted to improving China or their lives, but experienced great personal hardship.  There is one story of a man in his seventies who is almost singlehandedly working to keep lantern making alive in his area of China.  There is another story of a shoe mender, whose dreams of attending university were dashed because her family was considered to have a “bad family background” due to a paperwork error that was not properly corrected.  That shoe mender went through the stages of grief and finally decided to make it her life’s work to put her children through university and graduate school by living a life without basic comforts and saving every dollar of her shoe mending proceeds for tuition money.  The courageous men and women featured in China Witness devoted their lives, relationships with their children, and every comfort in order to fight for what they believe in.

As I reflect on the many stories of great courage that I have read lately, I find myself wondering – how does one balance these two different energies – of fighting hard for what you want or a cause that you believe in and of letting go and accepting what life brings you?  Is persistence and determination a virtue?  Or, it is it just a sign that you are stubborn and unwilling to change? 

The world needs people who will commit to groups and causes and stick with them – otherwise there would be no consistency or stability in life.  I believe that loyalty and faithfulness are virtues.  Staying in one place can be a positive choice.  But, if you are standing still and everyone else is moving around you, eventually your space or your group is going to change anyway – there is nothing you can do to prevent that from happening.  When the winds of change start to blow, how quickly do you welcome them in?

Anyone who has been trying to conceive for more than a few months will soon be inundated by well-intentioned stories of people who finally had a baby once they stopped trying to do so.  There are many varieties on this theme.  Some planned a long vacation; some stopped fertility treatment; some took a break before moving on to the next phase of fertility treatment; some started adoption proceedings; some gave up the dream of having a child altogether.  Having been trying for more than a year now, I am well familiar with these stories and this encouragement to “Let Go.”

I believe that there is some truth to these stories and that the concept is a good one.  But, what does that look for me?  Our fertility doctors say that I do not ovulate on my own, so every cycle I need to manage several medications over the course of my cycle.   Also, science and my doctors say hat there is a peak fertility time during the month to get pregnant, so I dutifully take my temperature every morning and faithfully time intercourse during the right times.   So....given all of those constraints, what does letting go look like for me?

Deep in my heart, I feel that I am meant to be a mother.  When I think of forty or fifty
years ahead of me having never raised a child, I find myself unwilling to accept that possibility.  I know that my husband would be alright with that, but that is not a life that I want to live.  Our doctors say that there are many more things that we can try and that we are only in the early stages of our fertility journey.  There is also the road to adoption available as an option.  So giving up on trying to have a baby doesn't seem like the right approach to me - at the very least, it seems like a premature approach.

Lately, I’ve revisited the No Doubt song, “Simple Kind of Life,” partially written and sung by Gwen Stefani when she was about my age.   She says:

I always thought I'd be a mom
Sometimes I wish for a mistake
The longer that I wait the more selfish that I get
You seem like you'd be a good dad

Now all those simple things are simply too complicated for my life
How'd I get so faithful to my freedom?
A selfish kind of life
When all I ever wanted was the simple things
A simple kind of life

When I listen to the song, I hear the same longing in her voice that I feel in my heart.   In her words, I hear her doubts and her desires about embarking on the very difficult journey of parenthood.   Yet, I am encouraged because the song was written over ten years ago and Gwen now has a loving husband and three lovely children.  Unlike in my own life, I can fast forward into the future and know that ultimately her dream came through several years later.

If I could trust that God (or an angel out there) is looking out for me and that I will become a mom someday, would that allow me to let go and enjoy the last of these lovely unencumbered, newlywed days that I am experiencing now? 

I recently read a book about adoption titled, Carried in Our Hearts: The Gift of Adoption by Dr. Jane Aronson.  The book contains numerous stories about families and their paths to adoption – from the moments that they decided to do so to the moments that they welcomed their new children into their lives. 

A running theme in the book is the idea that for each parent, the child that ultimately came into their lives was meant to be theirs all along.  In fact, some would say that the child chose that family when it came into this world.  There is a quote from the book (p. 241) that says, “When the time is right and the children are ready, it will all fall into place and not before.” 

Another mom, Sarah Edwards-Schmidt, reflects (p. 65), “…we have little control in life, other than in the way we choose to go about tackling problems.  It is the grace and good humor we can bring to the process that saves us.”

I know deep down that I must make peace with uncertainty and learn to relax and let go.  While I know I am experiencing legitimate hormonal challenges, many of those challenges can be improved through stress reduction.  Also, whenever I do get pregnant, that is the just the beginning of a long path fraught with much uncertainty.  Risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, birth defects, medical problems, accidents, financial problems – you name it, parents experience numerous ups and downs throughout the course of their pregnancies and children’s lives. 

If I want to be the kind of parent that I would like to be, I need to learn to relax and roll with my continually unfolding life. 

In The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, the
authors encourage readers to continually ask themselves, “What is the One Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?"  They assert that by steadily focusing on that one thing, you can set up a domino effect of actions that will eventually lead you to your dreams. 

So…what is the One Thing I can do right now to help me achieve my dreams of becoming a mom, raising a family, becoming the most self-actualized person I can be, and experiencing all the life has to offer?   What is the one part of the equation that I do have control over in this maze of uncertainty?

The way I see it, the one thing I can do right now is RELAX and learn to embrace uncertainty with faith and trust.   Not as easy task for me, but very worthwhile.  If I keep working on relaxing and am able to achieve success, the benefits could be lifelong.  So, consider that my new quest!  

In the meantime, here is a video of the Simple Kind of Life song in case you are interested – may you all have a relaxing rest of your day or night!

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