"All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on."
—Henry Havelock Ellis
At certain times throughout our lives, we find ourselves at crossroads. Faced with difficult decisions. To continue or to cease. To cling or to abandon. To stay or to go. We choose what is worth fighting for. In these instances, we must notice the quality of our effort: When effort is required, is it is emerging from a deep, internal drive, or is it forced, not easeful? When moving through the challenge or mending what seems broken, is there possibility of fruit bearing at the other side?
Letting go is often one of the hardest things to do in this life. Letting go of ideas, hopes, work, people. Things we have cared for, tended to, envisioned for ourselves. We are creatures of connection, of attachment. Oftentimes we keep on keeping on with something that isn't aligned with our greatest good or intentions for self because we feel like we 'should'. Like others—peers, parents, colleagues, society, hell, even our own judging selves—expect us to. Because we think we have invested too much to give up. To release. To relinquish. Because we have become attached to the parts of our identities that have become, in our minds, inextricable from that thing. Yet we fail to realize that sometimes, releasing something from our lives (be it a person, a project, an expectation, a judgment, a story we tell ourselves about ourselves) is one of the most freeing things we can possibly do. One of the most vital actions to create space for whatever the great unknown will bring next; what we will sink into, encounter, find anew to fill ourselves up. What new opportunity, new connection, new compassion or love for self we will find. Ashes have the capacity fertilize our soul's soil and in rich soil, new things grow.
And yet. There is a flip side to this coin. The shadow side of release is running away. Burning as an act of avoidance. A refusal to do the work, pick up the pieces, to stand in the fire; to face the hard truths that may in fact be the things to bring you to and through your evolution. Sometimes, holding on is key. Staying when all the hurt and pain and fear in you wants to leave. To bolt. Wants to make excuses or cut ties or drown yourself in distractions. Showing up to meaningful people or projects or ambitions when they are challenging takes as much courage and vulnerability as walking away. The key is developing the presence, awareness and discerning muscle of intuition to know when to hold on and when to let go. And to trust that even when a meaningful thing seems broken, if you show up with compassion and integrity and a willingness to do the work, there is often great brilliance on the other side.
Kintsugi: the ancient Japanese art of mending what is broken. There is a beautiful metaphor here. In this practice, shattered pottery is restored by affixing pieces back together with a paste of lacquer mixed with powdered platinum, silver or gold. What were initially flawless ceramics, then fractured pieces of a thing once whole, become transformed: whole again yet different, polished clay laced with webs of lustrous precious metals.
This ancient practice of repair operates on multiple visual and philosophical levels. Highlighting the cracks with shimmering metals, it punctuates the history, the once brokenness of the thing. It draws precious attention to its evolution rather than attempting to make the object appear as though it was never damaged at all. Rather than negating its life and transformation, it makes them unapologetically visible.
Kintsugi. This tradition of mending by the weaving of gold also, counterintuitively, elevates the value of the once-broken object: it is made more beautiful, more precious, more valuable, because of the breakage and repair it endured.
There is no shame in feeling broken. Or in having once felt broken. Or in feeling something you worked to build has broken. Fissures let light in. Our healing and our relationships to our scars help make us who we are.
The founder of modern chemistry, a French nobleman and intellectual named Antoine Lavoiser, once said, "Nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything transforms." This is as true for the world on a molecular level as it is for ourselves, in our lives. The question is how we come to and facilitate the transformations. When do we choose to stay and work through a challenge, an argument, a situation, a project or a relationship that seems—or maybe in some ways is—broken? To embrace what emerges in our lives and hold it tenderly rather than negate or disengage from it? And when do we choose, from our place of centeredness and highest self, to let go? And in both instances, what do we use for our gold?
If ever you're feeling stuck or uncertain about a difficulty in your life, about whether to continue or relinquish, to stay or to go, sit with yourself and your breath for awhile. Simply sit. Let all of the anxiety of the situation fall away. Cultivate internal calm to the best of your ability. Tell yourself you are okay right now. And once you are feeling centered and grounded, just listen. Tune into your heart, your intuition. Notice how your body feels when you think about the difficulty or conflict at hand. Notice what emerges with as much compassion and non-judgment as you are able. Stay with the unfolding so that you can begin to identify what is necessary to move through it. Ask yourself what you (and the situation) need. More self-love. Deeper listening. More empathy, for yourself and for others. Patience. Trust. Vulnerability. Courage. Creativity. A shift in mindset. A release of judgment or expectation. Presence. All of the ways that we can fill our cracks with gold.
And know that on the other side, you will be shifted, changed, grown and transformed, even if in the smallest way. And always ever whole.