Getting Light

How letting go can bring you joy.

Posted Jul 13, 2017

As signs of incipient mortality proliferate, one of my happiest discoveries is that there are things that had occupied a surfeit of my mental energies—worries, desires, goals—that are showing themselves to be less and less necessary. For example, I stopped going to the dentist. For another example, I no longer find myself anguishing over my unslaked need to be invited to do a TED talk. Nor do I worry about advancing my speaking career, getting appointed emeritus to anything, keynoting, arranging a world tour, a book tour, a TV tour… Sure, fame is fun (to a degree), but I don’t need it any more. Even if I did, it would take too long, too much effort before I could feel even a faint breath of incipient glory warming the back of my neck, so to speak.

When we were visiting our friends in Stroud (England)—our friends were living in a co-housing community—I met a woman about my age, Natalie, and somehow we got talking about what she was doing with her time. She said something to me like “getting lighter.” Which, eventually, I understood to mean that she was letting go of things (material and spiritual) that she no longer needed. She also told me a story about a friend of hers who said the same thing to her, about getting lighter, who, as he was nearing death, raised his arms, and it seemed to her that he was getting ready to float away. Truly float away.

For me, at this time in my life, it’s ambitions that I’m letting go of—ambitions for new accomplishments and ambitions for new possessions. I can hold closer to what has become truly important to me—people—a large part of them family, friends, colleagues, fellow travelers. And as I let go of these things and wants, my life seems to be getting lighter, freer. I am getting to do what has become, for me, now, most deeply rewarding: playing, making people laugh, and loving them, connecting with them, appreciating them, and, yes, loving them.

I remember when I first entered the hospital. I was clearly in another space—physically, emotionally, mentally, and, eventually, spiritually. My doctor had told me that I needed to get to the hospital as soon as possible, and there I was, in my backless robe, going through exam after exam, letting tube after tube of blood, exposing myself to an endless array of the higher-tech machineries of medicine. Wheeled from room to room by what I began to perceive, not as machines, but as genuinely kind, caring people. Professionals, yes. But deeply human professionals who were doing their best to comfort me at every level. And I came to let go of everything else, even fear, until I was, at every possible occasion, joking, appreciating, listening deeply, respecting each person for who they were and what they were doing, and loving, in fact, loving them.

By the middle of my stay, that’s exactly how I felt: light. As if I were floating. Not just physically light. But light of spirit. Light of heart. My whole self glowing in a kind of beautiful light that made everything seem so simple, so clear, so lovingly loving. As if I, myself, were becoming light.

And if I could wish those of you who have come, so to speak, of age, one thing—that’s exactly what it’d be: that kind of lightness, that kind of letting go, that you could become touched, warmed by, freed by that particular, penetrating, laughing, loving, profoundly beautiful light.

About the Author

Bernard De Koven is the author of The Well-Played Game. He writes on theories of fun and playfulness and how they affect personal, interpersonal, community and institutional health.

More Posts