In the midst of a busy day doing countless things, our minds are being eased into letting go. It's happening all the time. Mostly without any conscious effort whatsoever. The things we were enthusiastic about or thought vitally important yesterday, today seem silly, irrelevant, of no merit or consequence. Such changes may have had some time for deliberation, but this is unlikely to have been a conscious tussle. We quietly out grow them, without any coercive urging word being spoken. We barely notice this happening. So, when we finally 'put away childish things,' its done with the minimum amount of fuss. In my early teens I was a huge fan of Marc Bolan and T.Rex. I waited with huge anticipation every new single or album release. Turning the radio up as loud as possible whenever I heard them broadcast. At the time, this was an extremely crucial, life enhancing, thing in my young life. I saw Bolan as a sort of musical guru whose every song was unadulterated genius. His overt camp posturing during the tinselled tackiness that was the Seventies Glam Rock era, became an early touchstone for my then barely understood sexuality. This the idolisation to some extent helped me approach, explore and expose.
It's in the nature of being a 'fanatic' that you surrender your critical faculty to the adulation. Wholeheartedly gazing upwards towards something or someone seen as greater. Was there a conscious moment when I stopped being a fan,where I decided that was it with buying T.Rex? I'm not sure there was. The fanatical edge of my idolisation waned incrementally over time. A number of lacklustre, and clearly naff singles undoubtedly dealt it repeated and severe blows. The godlike Marc Bolan demonstrated his fallibility and fell off his guitar amp.
When Bolan actually died in a car crash a few years later, I was quite deeply stirred up. However much I'd grown out of actively being a fan, he still stood for something. What this consisted of had shifted over the intervening years. Moving from idolisation, to disillusionment, to a nostalgic sentiment for a golden age now irredeemably tarnished or vanished. Was this mourning then for him, or for the ideal of godlike human perfection that he'd once stood for in my eyes? It was clear he was no genius, and my disillusion when it arrived was deafening. My belief in him had expired long before he did. His untimely death proved to be an additional and unexpected stage in my waking up. He wasn't immortal either, and neither was I. The death of a person or of an ideal, can highlight the imperfect and impermanent nature of everything you're left with. A solemn assurance that there will be further things to say goodbye to.
This variety of letting go lies forgotten whilst we loosen our bonds of love and attachment. What was once prominently placed in the foreground gradually fades into the background. Bright new things start to grab our attention. So by the time that we recognise we've let go of an old way of being, it has been gone quite a while. Recognition of letting go happens in retrospect. Its part of the conscious winding up phase of what has been until then a largely unconscious process. A process that wasn't necessarily kicked off by a prior decision to let go. They've left without properly saying goodbye, so we need to grieve for their newly identified absence - 'Oh I really used to love Marc Bolan.'
It seems to be entirely in character that letting go should happen quietly and imperceptibly. The human life cycle too, is subtle and silent. Everything within it is interlocked, is changing, is readjusting. It runs according to its own rolling agenda. A baby leaves the womb, that baby becomes a child, the child becomes a teenager, the teenager becomes an adult, the adult becomes a middle aged person, and that middle aged person becomes older and older until their body dies, and that body will become manure. Life itself is a seamless process of letting go and becoming. Of course there's always a possibility we might die prematurely of an unexpected disease or accident. The assumption is that our life will unfold smoothly without a hiccup, that it will have a reliable steady constancy to it. However, I know of no life that doesn't have its fair share of sudden swerves, diversions, obstacles and opportunities that arise unforeseen along the way. What has consistency and actively maintains our sense of their being a continuity, is the perspective we confine our experiences within. This deliberately mis-perceives reality as incrementally stable, flying in the face of its slow slow quick quick slow shifting style of evolution.
The delusion is ours, and ours alone, and is commonly ruptured by sickness, the symptoms of old age, or death. Only then do we experience what's really happening, and never liking what it is we see. We don't like gazing on the deathly palour of that face at all. Everyday life moves constantly through cycles of growth, degeneration and death. This is the stuff, the grist and gist, of life. Its what being alive is wrapped around. Humans are propelled unwillingly forward into an as yet unformed, unknown future. Frequently forced to let go of a way of living, to mourn the loss of a loved one, or even to die ourselves, against our will. We cannot stay the hands of death. So when we grieve, our grief is invariably twofold; we grieve for what has already gone, and for what is yet to go. But leave us it will.
Ageing brings its own distinctive forms of letting go, turning aside or putting down. Usually prompted by our physical condition or mental agility deteriorating. Getting older ushers in unwelcome challenges, arriving like a smelly tramp at a genteel tea party. Initially, it might start with small departures from an established life style. We aren't prepared to stay up dancing or partying till dawn, because the tiredness and bodily aching that follows becomes a greater deterrent. Physically demanding activities gradually drop off the list of things you like to do at weekends. Quieter, gentler, less exerting, more sedate activities start to have more appeal. We have to stop doing things, not because we want to, but because we can no longer do them. What is doable starts to trump our desires.Once I entered my fifties, physical ailments that had previously been niggly, but manageable, began to significantly affect the quality of my daily life. An occasionally troublesome back, now quickly rose to a throbbing discomfort if I stood for too long, or walked too far without a break. Hip and shoulder pain causes me to turn restlessly in bed or wake in the early hours because they're too sensitive to lie on any longer. The texture of my sleep becoming more frayed at the edges. Osteoarthritis inflames and damages the joints in my hands. This stiffens the dexterity and weakens the strength of my fingers. Simple tasks like opening jars, turning anything that's stiff or requires force, holding weighty objects, fastening shirt cuff buttons, keeping screws in place whilst you screw them in, painting walls with a roller, doing delicate paintwork or sawing wood, all are becoming difficult to execute without there being a painful consequence. Gradually this wears out the spirit that wants to carry on regardless. We become exasperated, if not exhausted, by the effort to just keep going.
I can't let go of these ailments nor the pain they cause, they are how my body is. Our horizons tend naturally to narrow anyway. As we get older we refine our objectives. Yet what we are, and what we have been, is so tied up with what we are able to do. So each embodied deterioration requires another readjustment of what I see myself doing, not just now, but also in future. Redefining what makes me, me. Pain imposes its own constraints. Previously straightforward desires are reconsidered in the light of a possibly painful outcome. Taking off for long treks in the hills or along the coastline, moving or lifting heavy objects, or creating detailed things using ones hands. These are either going to happen less frequently, or just not happen at all. The moment for them is on the wane.
I've losing personal control here, by small degrees. The ability to direct my life in whatever way or direction I wish is being frustrated. When I was younger, I had abundant energy and power with which to take charge of my life and circumstances. As I age, those same life and circumstances seem to be starting to take charge of me. There is still an element of choice, but its more in the realms of when I will have to surrender to the inevitable. When fighting them off uses too much energy, then I'll let them win. Through such small relinquishings I hand over my power and destiny to conditions and circumstance. This is a reluctant parting, one tinged with regret. Letting go of the things that I've loved doing, existentially hits right at the core of my being. My sense of who I am is being rocked. I'm having to bring something to an end, accompanied by the sort of mental states I normally associate with a premeditated murder.
Though this experience of ageing saddens me, I am becoming more resigned to it. There is no doubt much weeping and gnashing of teeth, some 'raging against the dying of the light' yet to be done with. It bears its own vein of poison - poignancy, because it matters not one jot how much I rage against the deterioration of my physical capabilities, there is nothing I can do about it. No magic wand can reverse this. The osteoarthritis slowly damages joint linings, that lining is irreparable, affecting what a hand can do. Hands cannot be replaced, relined, and their sensitivity and control regained. The usefulness of my hands is being 'malevolently' eaten away from the inside. I'm left impotent, holding the redundant remnants of desires and aspirations, that can no longer be fully fulfilled. Even my self-pity and hankering has to be let go of. But lets be honest here, such concerns will vanish anyway when my mind eventually goes gaga. Dementia has one benefit and one benefit only, in that I really will be past caring.
It would be tempting to be cynical or bitter about this, but so far I've resisted such slippery slopes. I have, however, found myself experiencing regretful melancholy and yearnings for things I've not done, and now will never do again. Dreamy ideals that I've had to abandon. Though physical disability is undoubtedly a major limiting factor, its not alone. It has a world weary companion called – I can't be bothered with all this any more. As youthful energy and enthusiasms tapers off, the range of things I wish to put time and effort into, also dwindles. I want a cleaner life, cleared of useless clutter, paired down to the essentials, somewhat radically simplified.
I no longer want to put huge effort or initiative into making things happen either. I've been there, done that, enjoyed the successes or endured the failures. I don't necessarily have the need to do it one more time, or start again from scratch on a new venture or career. Time, energy and ability is running out for such things. These are the sort of aspirations or dreams, that in old age we let go, turn aside and put down, and for their loss we silently grieve. There's been no great insight into them, we may not have even out grown them necessarily,nor a mature perspective been arrived at. We've just given up wanting to try.
Life contains many of these 'little deaths', where one becomes resigned to letting go of something we previously have loved. Its similar to the end of a long and passionate love affair. At the close of any romantic relationship a decision is taken to part, but the letting go the sense of intimacy takes longer. The love and attachment we've felt, and indeed may still feel, doesn't drop away in an instant they tend to linger and mope. It may be many months before you realise you're no longer in love with them. No longer grieving for the loss of their love. No longer feeling betrayed or hurt by their leaving you, for someone or something else. The tumble of emotions you were once engulfed by, does eventually evaporate. Letting go, as a process, is similar to this. Yet whilst we were weeping inconsolably for what was absent, we were unaware of what was present. After the grieving is over, is the time when you're emotionally freed and fired up to move on, to see everything anew. The benefit of letting go is in the feeling of release. The liberation from bondage. What was shackled is now free.