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Destroy, then Create

Updated: Jul 22, 2021


Every January my heart breaks when the gardener cuts down the rose bushes, killing whatever was blooming and leaving the branches looking scraggly and desolate. I have to look away when I climb the steps to my house, embarrassed and ashamed of the violence to something so beautiful, something that gives so much pleasure to so many.

But of course, I know deep in my heart that the roses will grow back, healthier, sturdier, and perhaps even more beautiful.

Creating something new usually requires us to let go of something old.

As Pablo Picasso said, “every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” In order to be creative, you have to destroy preconceived notions or ideas so that there’s space to think newly.

The same concept applies to other circumstances in life.

As my teenage daughter is learning, sometimes you have to let go of old friendships that have grown stale in order to allow for the possibility of new ones.

My son left a good-paying, steady job to go out and create a name for himself in the world of public relations.

And I have set out to de-clutter my life to have space, both physical and emotional, to focus on a new stage of my life. I hired organizers to help with the gargantuan task of getting rid of dozens of sets of mismatched sheets, coarse towels, some with logos from law firms past, countless pairs of black pants, suits from the times of shoulder pads, stilettos that I can no longer walk two steps in, and jeans from before the days of any stretch whatsoever. The number of black garbage bags filled with items to be donated was daunting. I saw my life unfolding as I held up dresses from special events from the past three decades, remembering both sweet and bitter moments gone by. It felt like I was destroying what had been my life.

When I looked at what was left of my closet when I was done, I wasn’t sure who I had become. It looked sparse, less unique, less me. The life I had lived was no longer visible. It had been cut down like the rose bushes, left bare and unwelcoming.

And yet, it also felt a little freeing.

Last Sunday’s New York Times Modern Love essay dealt with this topic. A songwriter and artist are about to be married and begin clearing away some clutter in their apartment. The bride-to-be refuses to throw out her decades-old demo CDs even though they are saved on their hard drive which drives the groom-to-be a bit crazy. The bride-to-be challenges him by saying “I bet you’d never get rid of a painting you made in your 20’s.” He responds by grabbing a painting off the wall, rushing to the balcony, and throwing it off. The act of destruction surprises and intrigues her and she is inspired by his comfort with letting go and his clarity that knowing that the less attached we are, the less we suffer. She writes “sometimes we must let go of all that is precious- our loved ones, dreams that never materialized, and what we made in and out of this world.” People, situations, roses, and lives all need cutting back to grow and reconstitute themselves. We must make room for the new in our lives, by letting go of what no longer serves us.

When things fall apart or we consciously dismantle them, we can lay a new foundation for the rebuilding we want. The beloved Pema Chodron shares her wisdom: “When everything falls apart and we feel uncertainty, disappointment, shock, embarrassment, what’s left is a mind that is clear, unbiased, and fresh.” I strive for that clarity of mind.

My daughter drove cross country last week and for several days it was torrential rain, making the trip more arduous and less enjoyable. But when she finally stopped after driving straight for 17 hours and got out of the car, a glorious rainbow greeted her, proving that good things can follow hopelessly challenging situations.

Psychotherapist and author David Richo reaffirm this message when he writes: “No matter how dark or destructive things become, we are aware of healing energy ever afoot that indefatigably renews and rebuilds what falls apart. Something keeps putting it — and us — all back together. This is why it is all right to fall apart.” We may not have control over the situations in our lives that leave us destroyed, depressed, beleaguered, in doubt, shaken up or blindsided. But we do have control over how we respond to those circumstances and how we move towards the rebuilding, the rebirth, the growth.

So, breathe deep and do whatever destroying needs to be done to allow for the new you. You will grow back even more beautiful.

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