CAST: A Primer on Letting Go, Part 3

The A in CAST stands for Accept. Accept what? Why reality, of course.

Imagination is a double-edged sword and is especially dangerous when heartbreak is involved. My wholly unfounded, but deeply held suspicion is that when people are at the peak of rejection they will either start rolling down one of two slopes: revenge or reconciliation fantasies.

Slipping into imagined conversations where you are able to get through to your ex, to fantasies where the glamour is lifted from their eyes and the suddenly are able to see you as they used to again is another way we protect ourselves from the cognitive dissonance of the situation, from the feeling of being whirled around like Dorothy’s farmhouse in the tornado. It is how we resist the reality of the situation: by imagining how it could be different or better yet, how it can return to normal but better.

Apology Fantasies

When my husband left, I was plagued with unrealistic apology fantasies. I really wanted him to be sorry that he left.

Of course, in the beginning I wanted the full romantic comedy scenario: Something happens to lift the veil from his eyes and he finally sees clearly how good our marriage and our life was, how awesome I am. He runs back to me (preferably in slow motion and in the rain) with an eloquent speech and an assertive plan to win back my love and my trust.

Yeah. if you know my ex-husband you know how ridiculous this is. But yet my brain kept going there. Wanting a grand gesture, a Hollywood epiphany. If only he could just see what I see, remember that our love was real too, he would be sorry and come back.

As time went on, and a series of jagged little cruelties turned that fantasy into a horrific farce, I began to dream of a deeper apology, an apology that would at least recognise how poorly he treated me, how I did not deserve the abrupt foreclosure of his heart, nor all the responsibility he saddled me with when he left our family.  

This apology fantasy was in real danger of making me a bitter, old lady because it was (is) just a watered- down version of a reconciliation fantasy. Though I no longer hope for the rom com ending even in my fantasies, I still want to be heard, still want to matter to this person.

Though a part of me is going through the motions of moving on—literally moving across the country, finding a new home, getting a new job, dating other people—there is another part—a small part of me, but still— that has hunkered down inside this dangerous fantasy and relives a fictional moment where J says he was wrong and is so sorry and we sit in the rubble of our past life and try to piece it back together into something new.

Why? Why would I do that to myself? Why would I not gracefully accept the reality of the situation and move on to more loving pastures, so to speak?

Oh yeah, right. Rage, Fear and Love. I can keep a piece of my love for J by imagining how it would feel to have him love me again, to have a true apology. And a true apology helps to quell the rage I still feel at the injustice of it all, and the fear that I was indeed not enough, not lovable, even if it is a make believe one in my head.

My counsellor talks a lot about how the voices in our head—the nasty ones that tell us we are too fat, too stupid to succeed, etc.—are parts of ourselves that are trying to protect us. Instead of trying to shut them out, a better way is to welcome them, listen to them, thank them for their service and then politely ask them to make room for the other voices. What is fantasy girl inside my head trying to protect me from? What is she resisting so hard? I suspect it’s simple: Reality.

On the Difficult Task of Accepting Reality

Though we are trying to protect ourselves from the pain of rejection, abandonment—the vast abyss the loss of love entails—we cause our own suffering by resisting the reality of it.

Your spouse no longer wants you. They do not love you anymore. They have left the relationship and there is no going back. It is a hard truth, and we try our very best to never face it. But it is like standing at the foot of a mountain with your eyes closed so you can keep on believing that it doesn’t exist.

When fantasy girl gets too loud in your head, have some compassion. Understand that she is just trying to protect you from the mountain in front of your face that you probably will have to climb. She’s just trying to help. Thank her for her service and then give her the day off. Then resolutely open your eyes, and accept there is a mountain in your face.

I found this definition of Wu Wei, or Not Making an Effort, on the School of Life:

“Wu Wei is a (Chinese) term at the heart of the philosophy of Daoism. It is first described in the Tao Te Ching, written by the sage Lao Tzu in the 6th century BC. Wu Wei means ‘not making an effort’, going with the flow, but it doesn’t in any way imply laziness or sloth. It suggests rather an intentional surrender of the will based on a wise recognition of the need, at points, to accede to, rather than protest against, the demands of reality. As Lao Tzu puts it, to be wise is to have learnt how one must sometimes ‘surrender to the whole universe’. Reason allows us to calculate when our wishes are in irrevocable conflict with reality, and then bids us to submit ourselves willingly, rather than angrily or bitterly, to necessities. We may be powerless to alter certain events but, for Lao Tzu, we remain free to choose our attitude towards them, and it is in an unprotesting acceptance of what is truly necessary that we find the distinctive serenity and freedom characteristic of a Daoist.”

I used to struggle a lot with the concept of “surrender to the universe” as it reminded me of the ridiculous optimism Voltaire lampooned in Candide— that whole notion that “all is for the best” in this “best of all possible worlds.” It always reeked to me of just a new age way of replacing the word “God” with “Universe,” not only an excuse to get out of hard work but hopelessly naïve, as if God or the Universe had planned out my itinerary on this life cruise and if I just sit back and trust in its goodness, I will be rewarded with an all-you-can-eat buffet and a choice seat on the Lido deck.

My daughter had a friend back in Montreal who liked to say that only dead fish go with the flow. I used to agree with her. The idea of going with the flow was in direct opposition to my sense of having to earn the space I take up in the world with a lot of grinding anxiety, exhaustion and flagellation, that if only I worked hard enough the universe would submit to my will.

That is until “the flow” became white water rapids and I had no choice. The universe was definitely NOT submitting to my will, damn it. And swimming against the flow was exhausting.

So now, I practise getting down with Lao Tzu and his “intentional surrender of the will based on a wise recognition of the need, at points, to accede to, rather than protest against, the demands of reality.” I still have to work for what I am given, but I will no longer resist the shit I cannot change.

This is a practice, of course. We are hard-wired to resist change,  especially change we don’t like. Reality can sometimes feel like a drunken heavy weight champion flinging wild punches at your head—facing it and risking getting punched in the face again is not easy.

Still, there is a peace to no longer resisting things I have no control over, one that feels calm and sturdy and resilient against storms, white water rapids and arsonists.

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