When is it time to let go?

I don’t know if you read the story about the Orca whale (Tahlequah) who’s baby died shortly after being born. It captured a lot of people’s attention (mine included) because the mama refused to let her lifeless baby sink to the bottom of the ocean. Instead she pushed her calf through the water, and continued to balance the baby’s body, as the whale pod traveled many miles each day to find food.

The story was intriguing for many reasons. First because we know Orca whales have more capacity for emotional intelligence than a lot of other animals. They show signs of what we’d consider more “evolved”; they seem to have deep feelings.
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We were captivated because it seemed clear to all of us that this mama whale was mourning the loss of her child. And she was not ready to say good-bye. This is how she handled her grieving process. Grieving takes time.

But what also made this story so compelling was that at some point, if she didn’t let her deceased baby sink to the bottom, the weight and burden of carrying the lifeless body was going to put the mama in danger. She would tire herself out. Holding on was keeping her from getting the food she needed to thrive. At some point, it would be a detriment to her survival. She was going to have to let go before it killed her.

1000 miles and 17 days later, she allowed her baby’s body to sink.

This got me thinking about us “evolved” humans, and the way we hold onto things that we once needed, even after they aren’t serving us. Hell, even after they are threatening our well-being. Maybe even our survival.

Is there an identity or a job or a relationship that’s holding you back? That’s keeping you from realizing your full potential for gratification and wholeness? It’s not necessarily a bad thing to hold on. Until it is. There must be this in between time. It’s a process, letting go. First, we have to mourn what was. And maybe even what could have been. It sucks to recognize your relationship isn’t what you hoped it would be. It’s friggin disappointing to learn the job isn’t all it was cracked up to be. We don’t allow enough of this. This awareness and acknowledgement.

Instead there’s a period of resistance, where we convince ourselves it’s working, if only we come at it from another direction, with a different attitude.

Oh, but it’s not.

Then comes the real discomfort.

You know it’s not working, but you don’t know what might work instead. What the new normal might be. And that is a pretty bewildering place to be. Of course, you don’t want to let go. Of course, you want to turn back.

And we’ll repeat these steps until the discomfort of what isn’t working gets so unbearable that we say F it. It’s a messy, but beautiful thing to get so sick of how shitty you feel, that you’ll try anything. Even the unknown. And then you either quit on what isn’t working (hooray!). Or you do something different (double hooray!).

And then…something miraculous happens.

Alanis Morissette puts it better than I ever could…

“The moment I let go of it
was the moment
I got more than I could handle
The moment I jumped off of it
Was the moment I touched down”

Life actually gets better! Lighter, easier, more natural, more fun, more interesting.

But like that Orca Whale, we have to go through this process of letting go, sometimes until we’re so tired, and depleted that our survival is on the line. Yet, like that Orca, humans are hard wired to survive. So you can do it, and you WILL do it. When you’re ready.

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