Let Go Before You Think You Should—For Best Results Use Joy

I throw like a girl.

The ball just never gets very far down the field. So when I saw people at the dog park in Mill Valley flinging balls that  arched gracefully into the air and sailed far down the field, I thought, “Well, here is my dog’s salvation.”

I bought one, took it to the dog park, placed the tennis ball in the Chucker’s claw, pulled my arm back and let fly. The ball landed with a thud in front of me.

My dog was not amused.

As a last resort, I read the instructions on the packaging. The secret to graceful flinging was right there in black and white. “Let go before you think you should.”


Well, that has deep meaning.

I was going to write a post about a month ago about people advising others to “Just move on,” from a disappointment, betrayal, loss, or trauma. I find that really annoying. Because, truth is, people do move on. They wake up, their feet hit the floor, they go to work, they buy toilet paper, they go to bed, then wake up the next morning and do life all over again.

What doesn’t happen, and what moving on doesn’t accomplish, is resolution. Life after a life-changing event is not the same, and the ground beneath your feet doesn’t get stable just because on the outside, your everyday life looks the same.

This has been a strange decade for me. It included a tremendous amount of loss. People died. People fell out of my life. I had to move away from Mill Valley, which is close to the ocean and sheltered by Mount Tamalpais—a physical place to which I felt spiritually connected—back to my hometown, a physical place to which I feel no spiritual connection.

Returning threw me into the white water rapids of my past. I thought I had calmed those rapids. But really, I had just given myself time to gain the strength I needed to navigate them.

Writing became my way to navigate the rapids. My writing took on a new depth. I learned how to rewrite. I learned how to love rewriting. I discovered that finding the right word, while arduous, was the way through.

I learned about endurance and that I am resilient.

It’s been over a decade since I learned that essential life instruction in the directions written in black and white on the Chucker’s packaging:

“Let go before you think you should.”

I have thought, well, yes, if only I could learn to let go before I think I should. And then it occurred to me just the other day: that’s how we let go. We always let go before we think we should.

We move on, but grief, betrayal, anger, sadness move on with us, and, blindside us when they arise to remind us that something has changed for us. We are not the same as we were before whatever life-changing event pitched us into change.

And then one day, Aeschylus says it’s through the awful grace of God, we manage to find our footing on the path change has put us on. There is no resolution, closure, justice, or erasure of trauma that gets us there. I think it is simply that we realize we are on life’s path and decide it’s the path we want to be on.

Let go before you think you should. I think that might be what faith is to me.

I learned one other life instruction from product directions. It was from a giant bubble wand—one of those big hoops that make long, giant bubbles. Those bubbles look particularly magical to me.

The directions said that you could use any liquid dish detergent, but for best results, use Joy.

Following your Bliss – the Path of Joy and Sorrow

I attended Bliss last night – the annual fundraiser for Maitri, the hospice run by the San Francisco Zen Center. The facility primarily serves people with end-stage AIDS, but it was where my friend George spent his final days last year. His life was ended by a sarcoma.

George had been a Maitri Board member for years.

The event was held at the Presidio in the Golden Gate Club. What a place. No longer a military post, the grounds that overlook the Bay and Golden Gate now is home to wonderful creative endeavors, including Industrial Light and Magic. Acres and acres of creativity, beautiful architecture, and a forest of native trees.

What a place to celebrate the work that Maitri does and the lives that have passed through its facility.

Taiko drums greeted guests on the patio as they entered the event. But these were not traditional Taiko drummers. I call them the Taiko Drum Crones. There was such joy in their performance. A Gamelan orchestra performed, then provided the music for Balinese dancers, who told a story with their hands, their feet, their body, and their eyes.

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George died five months ago today. Maitri certainly provided the house of shelter for George’s pilgrimage towards death. Their attention to the aesthetics, including their providing nourishing food that was pleasing to the palate as well as to the eye, is a reminder that we are living even as we are dying.

It is to me what compassion for being human is about.

George’s passing happened in the fast lane. It barreled down that road at lightning speed – a bare 15 months between his diagnosis and death.

Now, five months later, life continues. The lilacs that burst into bloom in my garden are already fading. They have had their moment in the sun.

A few days ago it was cold and rainy. Today the air of the blue sky is somewhere between spring and summer. It is a gentle day.

Life is change. Follow your bliss.

I used to wonder what my bliss was. I thought it had to be something big. The dictionary defines it as profound happiness.

So much of my life has been spent measuring the value of what I was doing by whether I was being nice enough. And nice meant making people happy and keeping them happy.

Which is, of course, an impossible task. Happiness is fleeting.

I don’t like that word happy, or happiness. It seems so limiting to me. For me it does not embrace sorrow, and I don’t think you can experience true joy if you are not willing to also embrace sorrow.

Joy leads to sorrow and sorrow leads to joy.

I saw that last night.

And so, my bliss is found in the answer to the question that wall keeps insisting that I answer before it will let me pass: what do you want to do with your time and your life?

Having the faith to follow your bliss – well, that is a challenge. But then, so is life.