Layoffs & LifeCycles | How To Let Things Die
I had just picked up my client, Dana, for a mini-retreat and the sky was crying. Halfway to Tulum, she asked me, “What problem do most of your clients have in common?” I listened to the sound on the roof and thought of the dozens of brilliant entrepreneurs I had worked with over the past 3 years and slowly responded,
“You know, most of us are so attached to our work that we forget to let things die.”
We hold on,
white-knuckling our businesses, our jobs, our projects. With our ego in the drivers seat, we race like crazy towards that next $100k mark, an upgraded home or car, a new website or any number of “growth indicators”. We’re obsessed with creating.
We cling tightly to life
it’s not helping us live at all.
hanging on t0 something not meant for me
Right out of college, I got hired by a huge design firm. I was so proud... too proud. I bounced out to Tennessee and straight into an office in downtown Denver. I had finally made it.
Three months later, I dreaded going to work everyday. My creativity was nonexistent. As I stared at a screen for 50+ hours a week, my heart was hurting, yet there was this voice in the back of my head telling me, “Keep going. Don’t give up yet. Just make it to the two year mark.”
I was so attached my concept of being a successful “designer”, of having a big girl, salary-paying job, of making it in CO, that the thought of letting it all go was terrifying.
It felt like a death. Death was bad,
and “quitting” was not an option.
Maybe it was my age or my “problem-solver” mentality that fooled me into thinking it was possible to control the fate of my already dying career, but once I got a glimpse of life without a paycheck, I tried even harder to “stay inspired” and turn the cycle around. I spent ample hours in solitude, committed virtuously to my self-practice, met with my supervisors, consumed countless motivational and inspiring books/videos/etc. I spent so much time and energy on “keeping my creativity alive” just to avoid the inevitable.
Things don’t just keep growing forever and ever… they actually die.
how death avoidance robs of us life
In the west, we avoid death as a rule. Upon speaking the word, we apologize to those who hear it, cover it up as something “morbid” and quickly change the subject. We do everything we can to keep ourselves “young”. We’re obsessed with health. We even pump corpses full of chemicals to make them look as “alive” as possible for burial.
But, death doesn’t have to be so scary.
Seeing this important cultural issue, Anita Hannig, an anthropologist at Brandeis University, developed a course called “Anthropology of Death and Dying” in which students observed this topic from a multicultural perspective. They learned that in Indonesia, “People ‘often speak spontaneously of themselves as being in the process of dying,’ ” and a group of Himali Buddhists regard dying as an art form to be learned. After the class, students shared about their experience. Many of them said that the class helped them make different choices and reprioritize their lives. One student noted, he was still fearful of death, “But this class helped [him] come to terms with that fear.” 
So if you’re tired of this vicious cycle and if you’d like to have less attachment to your ideas and more freedom to create, let’s consider the essential practice of letting things die.
how to let things die
Do the hard work of sitting with death to embrace life fully.
Love the darkness to call forth your best ideas.
Align with the lifecycle approach to experience peace.
The steps above put into practice will change everything; they are so counter-cultural, it will be no doubt challenging at first. I am here. We are here.
Sitting With Death
Almost a year later, my boss called me into his office and, like the death Gods who often come swiftly and discerningly, said,
“We have to let you go.”
My world went dim. I felt like it was all over. Tears filled my eyes. Internally, my Ego screamed, “Nooooo,” as my body experienced something else. A deep unexplained relief washed over me.
Thanks to my newly unemployed status, I had a lot of free time. I started meditating and thinking about death a lot. In savasana, my teacher, Rob Loud would often remind us that this pose(corpse pose) is “a practice in the fine art of dying”. I would lay down and imagine taking my last breaths. Sometimes, I was in soft green grass alone. Other times, my loved ones surrounded me with white light. I would cry sweet tears, breathe in deeply, slowly come back to a seated position, bow my chin, and say, “Namaste”.
As I existed the studio, imaging my own eulogy, I didn’t feel sad.
I felt more alive, more compassionate, more free.
Loving The Darkness
That’s not to say it was all smooth sailing. A few days after my layoff, I stayed up all night drinking wine with my neighbor. The next morning, I sauntered groggily out his front door and saw in my parking space across the street… well, nothing. My spot was empty… Not coincidentally, all of my favorite belongings left with my stolen vehicle, which included, but were not limited to, my brand new skis, my fancy Ray-bans, my $100 yoga mat, my favorite festival pants, and ALL, yes all, of my climbing gear(over $1000 worth).
Everything that I had built my identity around was gone… my job, my car, and all my favorite shit.
Thankfully, I had amazing friends who came over to support quickly. I’ll never ever forget you, Mary, Dan, Pat & Katie. It was a BEAUTIFUL mess!
The Universe had given me a chance to rediscover my truth, my essence. In those days, my ideas overflowed to a million notebooks, all of them unclear, none of them well-founded. Yet, I remembered from my time as a designer that the unknown was an important part of the process; it wouldn’t be this way forever.
Loving the darkness doesn’t mean becoming devil worshipper. It simply means, loving where we’re at 100% of the time, which 50% of time will be in darkness. That’s just how our Universe works.
Aligning With LifeCycles through Charting
A few weeks later, breakthroughs came, my girlfriend, Mary, gave me a book called, “Women Who Run With The Wolves,” which I consumed wholeheartedly. The book centers around a concept called the Life/Death/Life cycle. The author, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, describes it here,
“The Creation Mother is always also the Death Mother and vice versa… the great work before us is to learn to understand what around and about us and what within us must live, and what must die.”
Deeply moved by these words, I began to see my circumstance with new eyes. Cultivating a hawk-like view of the situation, the “why” behind it all became clear. I started making these little charts to understand what in me was living and dying. Just as I charted the cycle of the moon across the sky, it soothed my soul to know where I was in the cycle of my own life.
Here’s the exercise.
1. Make little circles(shown below) on a blank piece of paper. Each of these circles represents a life-death-life cycle.
On this wheel, life is the spark of creation which moves into a dwindling energy, followed by death. Then ,the spark in the darkness reoccurs and turns into something similar, but different.
2. Write under each circle one aspect of your own life’s energies/commitments/projects.
Such as: spiritual, children, family, work, intellectual, learning life, rest, economic, health, activism, healing, nature, friends.
3. After you’ve named each circle, place an X at your location in the cycle.
4. Journal on what is being born and what is dying.
5. Post in the comments below.
The spark in the dark
There is, of course, the other side of this cycle.
4 year later, I am so grateful for my layoff, because it gave me new life. Yes, I had to wait for a couple of week, drink wine, makeout with my neighbor, do lots of yoga, and after hours and hours of journaling, I felt a spark that exploded into the business I have now.
As you go forth into your own inspired SoulWork, please remember.
The spark is a divine gift. It will never make sense to you.
It is not something that you can plan for or manufacture. Yet, I promise, it will always be better than your wildest dreams. The Universe simply asks that we surrender to God, to Life, to the cycles of nature, and trust that new life will always come.
If you want to be truly creatively, have the courage to let things die.
In order to brim with ideas and overflow with inspiration, we must visit the galaxy where great things are born… Go into the darkness. I’ll meet you there.