“Fall apart fast and die well”, she urged. All I could do was jot the phrase down in my notes and breathe.
In our session two weeks ago, my business coach, Christina Morassi, shared these six words with me which have been ringing in my ears ever since.
I’ve done a lot of falling apart in my lifetime. From convulsive breakups to volcanic career changes to multiple relocations. But have I done it all well? And why was my business coach of all people giving me this advice?!
Dying is essential to the process of life. This is simply the truth of being human. As my death and dying professor in college famously refrained, we all have 100% chance of dying one day.
But most of the time I don’t live my life friendly to death. As in, I don’t slow down or lean back when I think I can get something done, or at least not easily. It’s more like I live as if I am The Divine Herself. As if I am in control.
No wonder life keeps blowing me up.
When she suggests, “Fall apart fast and die well,” I’m learning that Christina is suggesting that I practice feeling the big feelings of wanting to grip on and choosing to let go without such a fight. Intentionally choosing practices that condition my ability to fall apart. As if making an offering to the force of death to say, “See, I am willing to be your friend. I am welcoming you now. You don’t have to violently thrust yourself into my path so often anymore.”
Though it’s so counterintuitive, I know well the risks of refusing to let go. Unless I soften when it’s time to soften, the fullest expression of my power and creativity will remain blocked. My body will stay constipated (this is not metaphoric). My sex will be destined to feel like hard work. And my fatigue will only deepen.
For the sake of getting free – for the sake of living fully and well – I want to die well. At this point, I’m clear on that. It’s figuring out how, when and where that is now the question.
I was coaching with a female client recently who is seeing me for couple’s counseling. After consulting with both her and her husband for a number of joint sessions, my gentle encouragement to her that day in our individual appointment was to stop trying to fix her spouse and to see if she could instead surrender to the man who he is. She looked at me like I had just suggested she stop washing her hands here in the state with the largest outbreak of the Coronavirus to date. Dumbfounded, she asked the most obvious question.
“Why in the world would I do that?!!”
I don’t blame her. I find myself asking similar questions from within my own painful relationship roadblocks.
I think of the decades long and disappointing struggle I’ve had with my little sister, my one and only female biological relative on the planet. We are just different. I imagine she wishes she had been graced with a more conventional older sister. I lament not having in her a greater ally to my creative and introspective spirit. But we got the sibling we got. And with our mother deceased and our extended family sparse and mostly populated by men, the question is, what are my values and how might I live them with the only sister I do have.
As the scorching truth of what isn’t changing in my life looks back calmly at my wish that it would, I feel physical heat rising in my body. This is far from an easy proposition.
Notwithstanding my fantasies about forcing the hand of every perceived unjust actor in my life to repent, one thing I have learned is that if I include surrender practices in my day-to-day, I might come closer to the dying well that my coach advocates. Instead of only practicing surrender at the cliff’s edge of turmoil, I have the option to incorporate dying well practices in lower stakes moments in my life.
Last week on the Sunday morning dance floor, I had an “aha” moment. For over ten years I’ve been dancing forms of freestyle dance designed to celebrate freedom of physical expression. On those dance floors just like last Sunday, I am not afraid to look silly or awkward or too sexy or too bold or too totally out of control. I’m not afraid to bounce and roll and tumble and stumble, to dance offbeat and to go deeply within myself in a space where others can see me. And that’s it, I realized. My dancing practice is actually my dying well practice. There, I am willing to die to my idea of looking good or even looking any particular way. It is there that I am practicing conditioning my dying well muscle.
As the music was slowing and the dance was winding down, I got yet another confirmation of my “aha” when Aletia, the dance facilitator that day and a dear friend, crooned this quote into the microphone: “Here instead of telling Ganesha how big your problems are, you can tell your problems how big your practice is”.
While I’m not Hindu myself, through my study of yoga I’ve come to immensely appreciate Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu deity considered both the creator and remover of obstacles. What Aletia’s quote offered to me was the reminder that surrender, dying well and letting go are practices. Like all my greatest superpowers, they aren’t something I can or should automatically be good at. They are powers because they take power to cultivate. Immense relief floods in at this reminder.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. Letting go and dying well is far from a one-size-fits-all offer. It takes discernment to know where and when it’s time for this potent practice. And it can be easy to confuse surrender – an act of exerting courage while taking exquisite care of the self – with acquiescence, a letting go of personal power and self value. Sadly, I’m afraid I have been confused in the past and thought I was surrendering when in fact I was letting myself be abused. No wonder surrender is hard for me now. I associate it with being hurt. I imagine I’m not alone here.
But there’s incredibly redemptive news on the other side of this caveat. No matter the past confusion, I am learning that if I can practice surrender safely, I can salvage my ability to discern when it’s time to let go and die, when it’s time to walk away and when it’s time to take to the streets, speak out and stake a claim for my voices in the debate. And this is a potent advantage for any one of us daring enough to die well. That we can build our power through our choice to release. And then activate from a place of enormous potency. Who has ever felt that “born again” feeling after a storm of grief has passed? It’s akin to the spring sprouts erupting from the frozen earth after a long winter of lying dormant in wait. Dying well means we can live well, source power from the elements of the death force and therefore the full spectrum of what it means to be human. I want to be on the team that knows how to do that.
What are your dying well practices? Community grief ritual is the most powerful, intentional dying practice I know and one I practice often. I recently implemented taking one day a week off of seeing clients for writing, time outdoors and stepping outside of scheduled time. Taking walks in nature when I just “listen” and follow my intuition rather than walk with a destination is another favorite, low-stakes die well activity. The final pose in a yoga class – Savassana or corpse pose – couldn’t be more perfectly designed for flexing this letting go muscle. Letting go of any addictive pattern is a potent dying well practice, one that will ask everything from us and show us much. There are countless others.
One thing I’m proud of is my weekly connection games night. It’s a place where I loosen my grip. In 2015 in Dallas I started my own version of the sex-positive games I had played in Austin and San Francisco but making it less sex focused. I called it “SpeakUP” because I teach people how to find their voices in community. SpeakUP is a night designed to bring people together. And though the prevailing model of healing leadership suggests that as leaders we serve but do not actually participate ourselves, I refuse to conform. I include myself in the connection. Even though some people still try to treat me like an expert, as much as possible I try to stay transparent about what I’m thinking and feeling even while guiding the room through the exercises. And every single week, something revelatory happens, mostly because I didn’t plan or try to predict. I let go and let something larger guide.
I don’t actually believe that falling apart and dying well can really be taught. Not in the way mathematics or sewing is taught. These capacities seem accessible only through transmission by those who are brave enough to embody their offering. I cannot convince my clients to let go. It’s such an awful prospect, who would say yes when really given the option? But I can live my own surrender despite my history of pain, lean back into a deeper knowing, and in so doing, I can meet my clients’ resistance from the place of my own liberation. Not because I never resisted. But because I resisted, discerned it was the right time to let go, and surrendered anyway.