Retiring into Renaissance – Letting Go of Who “I” Am

Retiring into Renaissance – Letting Go of Who “I” Am

Retiring into Renaissance – Letting Go of Who “I” Am

The more I lean into retirement-Renaissance (July 1, 2022), the more well-intentioned, sincerely interested friends and colleagues ask me, “What’s next?” And some day (Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise) there will be a next, new beginnings, a new chapter.

For now I subscribe to the wisdom of William Bridges’ Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes: that all new beginnings begin with endings. In his classic guide to “strategies for coping with the difficult, painful and confusing times in your life,” endings begin with the 5 D’s: disenchantment, disorientation, dis-identification, disengagement, dismantling. (And then the neutral zone, the limbo, then the new beginnings.)

Six months into my own process (I announced my retirement to my clients and many of my teaching sponsors July 1, 2021) I’ve discovered I’m not at all disenchanted with the three pillars of my professional life: which still continue for now: private practice psychotherapy with clients, teaching clinicians and folks interested in personal growth and self-transformation, writing my books and my weekly blogs. If anything, I’ve renewed a quiet pride in the wisdom and encouragement I’ve been able to transmit and facilitate in others over many years now.

There’s a little bit of disorientation as I slowly, steadily remove myself from the stressing and scrambling for marketing/promotion,  my “position in the pecking order” as my friend Chris Willard says, that has been especially intense during the shutdown of the pandemic and the (a privilege, but still) reliance on Zoom-the internet to work at all.  

The disengagement and dismantling are still to come. My friend Gordon Berg, who retired a few years ago, wisely advised me the other day that retirement isn’t a light switch that you turn on and off. It’s more like a rheostat that you use to brighten or dim your focus.

It’s the dis-identification that has been the deep work. Identifying – noticing and naming – and then dis-identifying with – letting go of layer after layer after layer of identities, belief systems, paradigms that have guided-shaped-filtered my thinking for decades. Who am I if I’m not traveling down the road to Esalen to teach? Who am I if I’m not being invited to teach anymore at all? Who am I if I’m no longer so invested in the creative flow of preparing to teach? 

I’m still as busy as ever in my professional life for now. I still see a full load of clients; I’m returning to teach in person again at favorite venues: Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, February 4-6, Psychotherapy Networker Symposium, March 10-11, Cape Cod Institute June 27-July 1. And still many https://lindagraham-mft.net/calendar/webinars. The rheostate will really kick in July 1.

But I am dis-identifying with the “me” that has driven so much, that has needed to be contributing, or  to be recognized as contributing. The “me” that had become strategic and competitive, even while I thought I was still being authentic and creative.  The “me” that is reassured by a full calendar and at bit at sea when there’s nothing on the calendar at all.  (I know! I can go work out at the gym!) At least as my friend Andy Dreitcer says, to “take it all seriously, and hold it all lightly.” 

I’ve never doubted the wisdom of this choice for me to retire. Some days now I feel like I put on my work identity like I put on my work clothes and take it off again at the end of a work day. I am truly beginning to nestle into an emerging freedom and ease of simply being, being content, as Ram Dass said, to plumb the depths of the present moment. 

I’m also guided by a practice I learned long ago from my mentor James Baraz and teach everywhere I go: 

What Story Am I Believing Now?

We all tell ourselves stories all the time to make sense of our experience. We create narratives about the events of our lives that we string together into a coherent identity, “This is what I experienced that tells me who I am.”

Now I’m paying close attention to those stories as they run through my mind. “Oh, yes. I’ve thought this for a long time. It’s been useful. It is a thought. It’s one way of perceiving myself, creating meaning. No need to throw it away. Just step back into a larger awareness, a larger sense of being that can include this, but knows I am not only this. Or that this characterization of myself will evolve, change, disappear over time.”

For a long time I was inspired by something I learned from Stephen Levine who may have learned it from someone else: “The work I do is me; for that I came.” Now I’m leaning into the larger sense of beingness that fuels that work, that fuels me, that is me, and that is everything beyond me, too.