Perhaps it is the peculiar cold weather we’re having in Los Angeles, complete with an eerie fog shrouding the distant San Gabriel Mountains, that has brought this somewhat uncomfortable topic of transitions to my attention. Friday was the celebration of Mahasivaratri, a Hindu holiday commemorating Lord Siva. Siva is the third deity in the Hindu triumvirate: the destroyer to Brahma’s creator and Vishnu’s preserver. In other words, Siva destroys the world so that it can be reborn. I am also reminded of the solemn Christian tradition of Lent that approaches next week and the similar resounding concepts of surrender, sacrifice, and loss in the name of rebirth. So, then again, perhaps it is no coincidence that this topic is particularly salient to me this weekend.
When I’m thinking about loss, letting go, and transitions in this context, I’m not particularly referring to the mourning process of losing someone you loved. Although I suppose that process is similar in some ways, it also carries the weight of many other profound emotions and the larger context of often unexpected structural changes. What I’m referring to are the (somewhat) voluntary transitions that happen as a natural evolution of moving through life. These are the transitions that occur simply by being an ever-changing, ever-growing entity in this world. They are the products of the process of becoming. These transitions occur when we realize we have the option to walk away from the cycle of habits and relationships that stagnate growth and cause us pain.
I’ve found that the worst part of letting go of patterns that I’ve clung to isn’t always the loss itself, but rather the idea and the meaning the loss carries. The transition itself takes only a split second. It usually happens suddenly and automatically, and then everything is different. Like navigating a room in pitch darkness, scrambling around to find the light switch. There is anxiety there, and fear, and uncertainty. You may crash into things and get hurt. But once your fingers find the switch, the actual sensation of turning on the light elicits initial shock, and then perhaps even relief.
“Ah, here I am. I see everything now.”
Anyone who has ever gone through some sort of voluntary life-transition can tell you that there is death in that process. I’ve been through what feels like endless transitions over the past two years or so. And with each change, I feel a part of myself curling up and decomposing inside. It is difficult, the process of preparing to let go. There are days of mourning, filled with nostalgia and a longing for things to be as they were– the familiarity of it all, the lovely yet artificial taste of security. Bits of remembrance stick to you like tiny burrs after walking through the woods, and you have to remove them with care one by one: An unhealthy partnership enticing you to engage once more. A video of “friends” who don’t share your values, gathered together without you. An old drinking buddy still unwilling to acknowledge the repercussions of his actions. Each of these carries a distinct pang, a slight tugging, a desire to fall into established habits and patterns: Let me engage, even though it hurts me. Let me be invited, even though it hurts me. Let me take care of you, even though it hurts me.
Once I am actually able to release from these, the pain is gone. The doubt is gone. The fear and anxiety are gone.
What remains is something raw and tender. Something more grounded and clear. Something that guards the heart fiercely. Something that values honesty and has no palate for dramatic falsehoods. Something that knows when to create and hold on, and when to walk away.
I am not who I once was. I am something else entirely.