Linda Douty

author of How Can I Let Go if I Don't Know I'm Holding On?

Linda DoutyYour new book How Can I Let Go if I don’t Know I’m Holding On implies in its very title that self-awareness is crucial to spiritual growth. Why do you think we live in such a way that we are disconnected to our true selves?

Unfortunately, most of us seem to grow up allowing others to tell us who we are. We are totally dependent on exterior approval and slowly begin to see ourselves through the lens of others. If it's a good, loving, accepting lens that encourages us to value ourselves, then fine. However, what is mirrored back to us is often filtered through a judgmental lens, and we learn to be harsh judges of ourselves and others. Over time as we become increasingly invested in the opinions of those around us, we begin to behave in ways to ensure that approval—it makes chameleons of us. Something in us says, "Show me what you want me to be, and I'll be it!"

When we look at ourselves clearly, what will we see that needs letting go?
That totally depends on our particular barriers that are blocking the expression of the true self. Maybe a toxic relationship, an erroneous notion about the nature of God, an old grudge, an attitude of judgmentalism, a pattern of griping and worrying. There are many layers to the letting go process. But we must be willing to look at  our barriers, not those of others. As human beings, we often prefer to play the "blame game."

Isn’t it something of a paradox that we must intentionally practice letting go? How is letting go and waiting for God different from doing nothing and ignoring a problem?
Letting go is a participatory process, not a passive one. Our task is to have the courage to identify what needs to be released, THEN be willing to work with God to let it go. It's hard to let go of something until you know what you're grasping. It's also impossible to let go unless you're sincerely WILLING to be free of it. Sometimes we have an unspoken ego investment in holding on to what ails us. Once we make the commitment, we watch for ways that we can cooperate with God's guidance. For instance, if we say we want to let go of our resentment but we continue to talk about "what a rotten thing they did," then we are not participating! We are reinforcing the negative pattern.  We must have response-ability—that is, engage our God-given ability to respond, rather than react.

What happens when we don’t identify and let go of the things we grasp too tightly?
There's a familiar old adage that tells us that "...insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result!" When we aren't willing to let go, we risk remaining in the same patterns of misery—stunting our growth, and limiting our ability to be truly loving.

We are so conditioned to grab control, “go for the gusto,” just do it.” Success, we believe, comes to those who never give up, hold onto their dreams, practice determined persistence. What do you say to someone who fears that they will not get what they want if they don’t have an agenda for their life and dogged determination to see that they follow it through?
The truth is that control is an illusion. When we open up to a larger dream, we dare to believe that wonderful verse in Ephesians 3:20,

Now to him who is able to do
immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to Christ's power within us...

This doesn't mean that we sit idly by and wait for God to rescue us, it means that we open ourselves to possibility and pay attention to ways we can cooperate with divine intention. When we can see only our own rigid plans and narrow agendas, we often miss the greater possibilities.

What about the person who fears that in giving up their strategies, plans and paradigms, that their identity will vanish as well?
Of course we fear losing ourselves. But again, the Bible has some reminders for us.. "H e/she who loses her life for my sake will find it...." When we lose the false, adaptive self—that self that has evolved in response to the demands of our culture and ego—then we find our true selves. When we have come to view ourselves only in terms of what we do and how well we do it, or what we have and how much there is of it, we are disconnected with our essence.  That's the slippery slope that I describe in the book—PRODUCE AND POSSESS.  Opening ourselves to our core where the spirit of God dwells can feel scary and uncertain, but it's the only journey worth taking.

You mention many different and unexpected ways for God to work within us—through exercise, listening to music, viewing art, using our imagination, looking for signs in nature. What takes these activities from the secular realm into the spiritual?
I agree with Brother Lawrence (The Practice of the Presence of God) on this one...he was a monk whose duties were predominantly lowly kitchen chores, but he asserted that anything done to the glory of God could be a prayerful and sacred activity. It is that intention to open ourselves to God, to deepen our connection to God, that turns a seemingly secular activity into a holy one. When viewed in that inclusive way,  it reminds me of that wonderful quote, "We are not so much human beings on a spiritual journey as we are spiritual beings on a human journey." All is spiritual.

Your book is very honest about your personal experience with divorce and your feelings surrounding that separation. It’s as if you are shedding a protective covering. Why did you feel that was important in your writing?
Someone told me once, "Never waste your sorrows." All we have to give each other is a sharing of who we are. This includes mistakes and foibles, as well as victories. It wasn't easy to admit some of the things I've discovered about myself, but it led me to a life-changing epiphany: God truly does love me, warts and all. When that finally felt real to me—not just a lovely idea, but an actual reality that I could feel in my bones—it gave me a sense of freedom and peace that formed the foundation of my life. My life isn't perfect, and I have hurts and struggles like everyone else, but somehow it has ultimate meaning, and I am "blessed to be a blessing" as the writer of Genesis tells us. My task is to somehow contribute to the love in the world in whatever way God leads me.

Maybe I'm just trying to say that I believe that God helps us pick up the pieces of whatever mess we've made or whatever tragedy life deals us and sets us on the road to healing. But we must be willing to remove the roadblocks.

Copyright ©2005

How Can I Let Go When I Don't Know I'm Holding On? by Linda Douty
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