Let go to let in
I heard a remarkable story from Sharmila-di, a woman who was brought up in small village on the banks of the Ganges river in West Bengal in India. She told me that every two years or so, the Ganges floods, breaking the fragile banks on which the even more fragile bamboo huts of her simple farming community perches. I listened with alarm and sympathy as she related how the floods carry away not only their huts but also all of their few possessions- pots, pans, clothes, and simple furniture. Seeing the concern in my eyes, she broke into her characteristically huge smile and said “Don’t worry, it’s actually no problem at all! The river carries away our stuff downstream, and we just collect other pots, pans, clothes and whatever we find floating our way from villages upstream. How does it matter? A pot is a pot, a sari is a sari!” We broke out together in laughter, and I rejoiced in the simplicity and depth of her wisdom.
A few months ago, the time came for me to let go of my pots and pans and much more. This time it wasn’t the Ganges that flooded but the current of my life that felt like a raging river.
Over the last eight years or so, I had established a life in Germany with a small apartment, a wonderful hand-crafted kitchen made by a friend, and a few pieces of mostly second-hand furniture. The beautiful little apartment perched on top of a hill overlooking the lush green fields of the idyllic German village, close to a town where most of my dearest friends lived. I had every reason to remain there for the next decade or so, except that my life had a very different vision for me: to go back to India and follow my calling of transforming a barren plot of land I own to a space for fostering creativity and entrepreneurship in the Santal tribal children I love. This land came to be by a series of miracles, and it’s located right next to a tribal village school I’ve been volunteering on for the last four years.
There were actually three things calling me to go back to India. One was to work with the Santal community, and foster self-confidence and creative expression among the children and women. The second was to coach and facilitate social entrepreneurs, who have the potential to transform society and the environment. And the third was to hold retreats and journeys in the Himalayan mountains with people from around the world, who yearn to reconnect with nature and find inner peace and clarity. The force of my callings was so strong that I decided to LET GO – to sell or give away almost everything I owned, to dissolve the Dãna Coaching business in Germany and start from scratch in India, and to move far away from my beloved friends and partner.
Rather than feeling sad or scared, I remember feeling freer and freer as I owned less and less. We had advertised online that we were giving away things, and it gave me incredible joy to watch friends and also complete strangers gratefully take away furniture, books, CDs, clothes, kitchen utensils, spices, and much more.
Right around the time my material possessions were disappearing one by one, something amazing started to happen. In the midst of all the chaos of packed boxes and scattered clothes, I recieved an email from someone in Jharkhand in India, asking me if I’d hold a workshop on leadership and self-confidence with Santal tribals who live in remote villages there. I’d never been to these villages, but knowing that this was fully aligned with my calling, I said yes. A few days later, I got another email from a social entrepreneurship organisation in Delhi asking me if I could facilitate a workshop for them. Again, totally amazed at how aligned this was with my wish, I said yes.
Knowing that both of these projects were on a pro-bono basis, I started wondering how I would make an income in India. I remember looking up at the sky one day and saying in my mind, “Thank you so much, whoever you are, for giving me all these amazing opportunities. But I do need some funds to live off of and for starting my project with the Santal people. Where’s the income going to come from?” I didn’t ask this question out of fear, but simply out of curiosity. Exaclty two hours later, the answer came in the form of a phone message. It was from a dear friend of mine, who has a mountain guiding company in the Himalayan mountains. He said a corporation in Mumbai was keen to hire us for holding a workshop for their clients in the mountains. I could barely believe my eyes…and I gratefully said yes, I’d love to do it.
Could all of these be coincidences? Were these the pots and pans floating down the river towards me, in response to all that I had just let go of? I cannot answer this question with any level of certainty. All I can tell you is that each time I’ve let go: of relationships that no longer served me, of furniture I no longer needed, of a job that no longer felt right, or even of a strongly-held opinion that caused me more pain than joy, life almost instantly sent me something remarkable my way. It’s as if I always have to let go in faith to let the magic enter my life. It’s like life is trying to shower me with presents, and all I have to do is make space for them.
So I invite you to take a moment to ponder: what do you need to let go of so that life can let in the magic it has in store for you?
p.s. the photograph is of Sharmila-di, doing what she loves most: cooking for others and being in loving service. She is a constant inspiration and a spiritual teacher to me.