All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. – Anatole France, French poet (1844-1924)
The spiritual discipline of “letting go” is one of the most difficult to master. We like to hang on to our “stuff”. I have a recurring dream that I am climbing through an enormous obstacle course when I have the realization that I have left my suitcase behind. As I clamber back over the various obstacles to get my “stuff”, I keep wondering if I should just keep going and leave it behind. After all, it is really hard to traverse a bunch of obstacles carrying a heavy suitcase. You don’t have to know much about Jungian psychological theory to get the point of this dream: it is much easier to travel light!
This need for “lightness” is not limited to “things”. Our spirits need to hold our attachments to people and places much more lightly, too. If we carry every care for everyone we know all the time, pretty soon our backs will be bent and our spirits withered from the strain. When I went on sabbatical in March 2011, one of the first things I discovered was that I was carrying the burdens and expectations of lots of people.
For many years, I had simply done what appeared before me on the path without thinking too far in advance or paying much attention to how these activities impacted my own soul. My life has been mostly lived at the service of other people’s agendas. This was especially true of my entrance into ministry. After the extreme “dying” years of HIV/AIDS (I buried more than 250 friends and colleagues before I was 30), I was driven by the need to serve the broken, the ill and the oppressed, to somehow, single-handedly push back the despair of the world.
I developed a superhero-in-a-cape mentality for accepting ministry assignments – especially the volunteer ones! I neglected my body and health. My own spiritual practices became brittle and my soul was withering. Worst of all, I stopped taking music seriously. Sure, I was still singing and playing here and there, but I wasn’t furthering my craft and stretching my wings as an artist. I wasn’t using my true “voice”.
All of these realizations have been helpful, but the transition from “have cape will travel” to a new way of being in the world can be rocky. Some days – like today – I feel the sadness and challenge of being in transition and not yet really home.
So if this advent season finds you in tranistion: take heart! You are not alone! And if you are wearing a superhero cape, maybe you too might want to lay it down. If you need a bit of amusing encouragement in this task, check out this great scene from The Incredibles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M68ndaZSKa8