All suffering comes from clinging on…
Whether that is clinging on to someone, who is lost or clinging on to someone whom we should let go…
Is it good to cling on to an ex who has left?
Is it good to grieve constantly for a partner who has died?
Is it good to fantasise about the sweetheart we never really had?
Is it good to yearn for the old days with a best friend who went their own way?
Most of us, most of the time, would say “No” to all of these. But all of us at some time will have felt the gnawing bitterness of a loss which was never our choice – or the hopeless wishing we could return a love – or the impending guilt for the pain we are going to bring.
Maybe we are the ones struggling to leave, but we can’t quite bring ourselves to do it, so we give ourselves a hundred reasons why or why not and drive ourselves demented with our own irresolution and uncertainty.
Both situations – not moving on and dithering over making a move – share one characteristic which has us hanging on procrastinating – we are afraid of the unknown.
The nature and extent of that fear is different for each individual in each situation, but if we have lost someone or are contemplating a loss, we grieve, and grief contains anxiety, anxiety about accepting that our world is now, or will soon be, different… and so we go on grieving – we don’t intend it, we just let it happen, because our grief, in a way, keeps us connected with what we know.
If we are the ones contemplating leaving, we stumble around in uncertainty, not wanting to cause pain. (Pain for them or pain for us?) But when we peel away our superficial excuses, again, we find anxiety. Will we be able to find ourselves again? What about that part of ourselves that we gave away to the ‘between us’ when it all started? Will we be able to make a whole person again from what’s left… perhaps left without that little bit of self-esteem we give ourselves if we can believe that we are someone who wouldn’t do the leaving?
Sure, there are practical things too, and the reasoning voice weighs in with “better for both of us” and “in a few weeks time…” and “everyone needs their space” and “we both need to find ourselves,” but the measure of the need to change is not the number of these ‘rational’ arguments we can give ourselves, but rather the level of our anxiety at the prospect of having to find ourselves anew, with that part missing, and carve out a place again in a new world. The higher the anxiety, the greater our stake in the person we are now and in the ‘between us’ staying as it is. But there again, the higher the anxiety, the more it indicates how important the question has become for us.
But does anxiety have to paralyse us?
Of course, in reality, the world doesn’t wait. Life goes on; however hard we try to keep our life as it always was. We can pretend that the loss hasn’t really happened, or that the change doesn’t really need to happen, but such delusion will open up a gulf of incongruence inside us which can only increase the stress we feel, eventually to the point where physically and/or mentally it is unsustainable.
Loss is painful but also productive
In the end, we can only live where we are… at this point and in this place where we have arrived. Each moment marks an arrival and marks the point from which we set out.
The imagery is both physical and metaphorical. We stand where we have arrived along the path, and in another moment, we will take a new step and arrive at a new point. In life too, the person we are with our history of experiences up to this very moment in our lives, this person has become who they are, with their unique combination of strengths and weaknesses and abilities and vulnerabilities, as a result of all that has happened to them so far, the good and the bad, and so in each moment can only be the person they are.
No other version exists.
And so the next step, with all the joy and the pain which has preceded it, and all the joy and the pain which will follow it, is the only step that can be taken.
It is a kind of fulfillment.