“I’ve let go of a lot of things,” says Sarah Wilson, who after a four month solo overseas trip is living out of her lightweight travel backpack and calling Airbnb home. “I’ve let go of possessions, I’ve let go of how a 43-year-old woman should be living.”
Interestingly, it has been through this process of shedding the expectations of how things ‘should’ be, that the journalist and best-selling author has found peace amidst the unruly.
“When we go through a rough time, when we’re unsettled, when we don’t know what’s going on we tend to grasp outwards for somebody else – our boyfriend, a new guru, a new self-help book, a new pair of shoes, a pill,” Wilson says. “We’ve evolved as humans to think the answer is out there somewhere.”
In her latest book, First, We Make the Beast Beautiful, Wilson detailed her journey from external clutching, an attempt to resolve the insurgency of anxiety and feeling out of control, to learning to sit with internal discomfort; to find beauty in it.
“It’s ironic, we get anxious because we’ve left ourselves and we’re unable to sit comfortably in our own skin and we end up collapsing in a heap and, what do you know, that ends up forcing us back to ourselves. It’s the trauma that can take us back to what really matters,” she says.
It makes sense. So much of what many of us subscribe to either doesn’t really matter or doesn’t work out the way we want. Our expectations become constraints and letting go is the only way to free ourselves up to flow with and actually enjoy what’s in front of us; to find peace with the imperfect.
But, of course, letting go, sitting with our own discomfort and not seeking external distraction, is terrifying, and often not something we do until we have no choice. But in that space, when we’ve experienced the trauma of things falling apart, the fear falls away because we see that we have survived.
There stops being the disconnect between how we think things should be and how things are. From this space there is not only potential for freedom but the potential to live a better life because we find the centre of our power in ourselves rather than grasping outside of ourselves or our situation.
“I’ve dived off into nothingness many times – I’ve let go of a job, I’ve let go of Cosmo or Masterchef or whatever it is – and I’ve dived into the unknown and every time I’ve been caught and landed somewhere better but people are so scared to do it because we fear the unknown, and that’s got a lot to do with letting go, we don’t know what’s going to happen when we release our fingers,” Wilson says.
There’s a huge element of risk that makes us vulnerable, raw and open, but that’s when the “good stuff” happens.
“You can’t go and buy the angel wings or the books that will answer it all for you, you’ve got to do it yourself. That’s what’s scary about letting go.”
While it doesn’t mean the fear – or anxiety – disappears, it becomes more manageable.
“It doesn’t spiral out of control as it used to – I have gone down to the dark depths – as low as I can go… and it becomes less scary,” Wilson says, adding it’s an ongoing process.
“I’m making some big decisions at the moment and jumping and letting go again… it’s finding the sweet spot. I’ve got a drive to create and be in the world so it’s a pulsing back and forward.
“I’m not mindful of my letting go-ness all the time – it’s only when things start to feel a bit shit that I start to pull back a bit. I reach out and grip – that’s the best reminder for letting go and softening and pulling back.”
It is an act of maturity, Wilson thinks, and a peaceful, more powerful to place to arrive – and return to when we find ourselves grasping.
“It’s coming in closer to the still spot within yourself: within life, within the universe. I call it sitting with ourselves, but more it’s sitting with the bigness, the wholeness of life.”
Sarah Wilson, along with psychologist Hugh Mackay and author Brigid Delaney, will be speaking about the act of letting go at the School of Life in Sydney on Tuesday 7 November. Tickets are on sale at www.theschooloflife.com