Letting Go—Allowing In—MOVING ON: Unleashing the Process of Transformation

Letting Go and Allowing In: A Summary

The final sentence in the first issue in the series was: “’Being too eager to fill the space (after letting go of something) blocks the space.’ This results in a fascinating dilemma: if we try too hard to find and latch onto what comes next, what comes next is likely to look like what we had before!” 

The final sentence of the last issue was: “Letting Go. Allowing In. Janus/January. Look both ways, then let something go. But let your fear and uncertainty have their time. Wait. Don’t rush. Don’t push the river. Wait for the new thing to appear. When it does, celebrate what has gone before, and welcome the unknown future with courage and strength, giving it your all.”

Moving On and Moving On

There’s moving on, and there’s moving on. 

After high school, after college, after my tour in the US Navy, after Seminary, after my LIOS grad-school faculty days, after our start-up business (Concern for Corporate Fitness) went belly-up, after leaving Spokane for Seattle, I ‘moved on’. Maybe I stayed in contact with a few friends from each of those important life chapters, but not many. When I look back, it feels like I turned my back on THAT (old) chapter to embrace THIS (new) one. It makes sense. There is less emotional baggage to be sorted through, less grieving, less ‘holding on’. ‘That was then, this is now’, as the saying goes. 

But at what price? 

The cost of operating this way has been brought home to me in a wonderful way recently as a handful of Navy buddies from my four years on USS EATON (DD 510) have started re-connecting via FaceBook after 45 years. Officers and enlisted men, now communicating in a way that was not possible aboard ship, we are finding out what happened to ourselves during the time we were not connected. The ease with which I have connected with them—and the emotions I feel—even after so many years and so many other life ‘chapters’, tell me that, while I may have ‘moved on’, some part of me stayed with them. I was not holding on. But they were still in me.

The Brain Research: Gone But Not Forgotten

There is evidence, e.g. from neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield (d. 1976), that leads some to conclude that every life event may be ‘recorded’ in the brain, even if we are not aware of their existence ‘in there’. If this is true, then nothing we experience is ever actually left behind, but carried with us in a kind of memory bag, available to our conscious mind when jogged by something in the present moment. Case in point: after Skyping and exchanging emails with my Navy buddies, entire scenes have returned to me that I had not remembered at all. They were gone, but not forgotten. 

So, Moving On apparently does not mean having the things we have Let Go Of disappear completely from our memory. Apparently, it means we take those things along for the rest of the ride! As we Let Go, Allow In and then Move On, we take trace elements of what we are leaving behind with us. Perhaps it is a blessing that we have the capacity of leaving, of walking away, of ‘letting by-gones be by gones’. Perhaps what feels in hindsight as a callous thing—turning our backs on a life chapter—is a necessary ingredient in facing and stepping into an unknown future.

The First Step is a Victory

Dr. H. George Anderson, my favorite professor at Seminary, told me that ‘faith is moving ahead without ever having enough data, or knowing how things will turn out’. I still like that. These days I would probably say it’s ‘trusting the unfolding’. Letting Go means letting go of some concept or, even better attachment we have about the way things ought to be. As long as we are Holding On to that personal 

concept of reality, we will be at war with they way things are and how they ‘want’ to unfold. To paraphrase the quote from one of the French Existentialists: ‘In a fight with reality, bet on reality.’ 

A coaching client recently described the situation with her (new) in-laws who lived in a lifestyle that was far from comfortable for her. The in-laws ‘fed the grandchildren junk food and the house looked like a disaster area, with trash on the floors and dirty sheets on the beds’. It was a tough pill to swallow for her, but she saw that the first step in transforming her relationship with the in-laws was to Let Go of her concept about how they ought to be and her attachment to having a lovely, easy-flowing, comfortable time with them, and Allow In exactly the way they were. When I suggested this to her, there was a long silence on the phone, and then she said, ‘Wow. . . I feel so much lighter, John! It’s as if a load has been taken from my shoulders. . . It’s not going to be 100%, but I feel like I am ready to love them just the way they are! Thank you.’ 

Sounds like Moving On to me.

Stepping Through the Door of Transformation

In a chapter called ‘The Role of Chaos in Creating Change’ (in Many Facets of Leadership, edited by Marshall Goldsmith), I laid out the hypothesis that both pain and possibility were necessary for true transformation to take place. Pain, I said, can get you TO the door of transformation (‘This is NOT working!’), but you must be able to see—and want—a possibility on the other side to move you to take the step THROUGH that door. The catch is that the next part of the process is chaos. Moving On means a time of not knowing exactly where you are headed nor exactly how to get there–while you are in motion!

Oh, dear. . . This is NOT how we want to live our lives. . . We get rewarded— and paid—for knowing, not for not knowing. But, if what I am saying is correct, this is precisely what comes next. Once we have let go of the old ‘chapter’ of reality and embraced the possibility of something completely new, we must walk along a kind of zig-zag path of wandering—and discovering (or often stumbling across) the next chapter. Over time, our old habitual patterns connected with the former chapter drop away, and the new one becomes familiar.

The kind of internal ‘work’ it takes to step through the door of possibility, embracing reality as it is without knowing how it will turn out, is itself a victory worth celebrating.

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