The Art of Saying Goodbye
These last two weeks have felt like I've been in the longest and most emotional break up of my life. Over and over again, I've had to say goodbye to the people and places that have filled my heart will such joy these past few years. I am part of an incredible team launching a new studio in New York City called FitHouse. It is such an honor and a joy to do this work, but it also means I have to part ways with the studios that have been my home. Even though we will still be in the same city and many of the people who made the other studios my home will join me on my next adventure, there is this feeling that something very special is ending. Goodbyes, even when they mean writing an incredible next chapter, remind us that nothing lasts forever. Things change, people change, feelings change too. The mind knows that. Somehow the heart forgets. It forgets and is reminded with every pang of missing the familiar. Those pangs can be as casual as a memory dancing across our consciousness or as visceral as feeling like you've forgotten how to breathe.
Historically, I am a bad goodbye-er. I am an incredibly emotional and sensitive person. If I actually make it the to part of saying goodbye, I'm probably swimming in a river of my own snot and tears and can hardly manage to say any words or pull any thoughts out of the mess that is my mind. Alternatively, I might shut down because of the overload of feelings and thoughts. Neither one is a particularly good method to communicate to another person or group of people why they matter and how they have changed my life. But goodbyes are necessary. They leave behind no questions. No what if's. No gray area. Goodbyes are final. They provide the closure necessary for writing the new chapters, at first timidly and then boldly.
There are many types of goodbyes. Some of them, you can anticipate and try to prepare for (though often that doesn't work because how can you prepare for the absence of a person or place or institution besides having it not be there? The heart can never know that until it is reality). Some of them happen in a flurry of emotion and tension and heartbreak and hurt feelings. Some of them are sweet and simple because they are not actually goodbyes at all, they are just until-I-see-you-agains. Goodbyes happen between people, places, ideas, institutions, old versions of the self, old version of other people. No single goodbye is the same. And so the ritual of goodbye is an intricate ever-changing dance.
To begin, you must take one step. And then another. And then another. If the dance is a long one, drawn out over weeks or months, let your heart feel the ups and downs of reality sinking in. Be all there. Breathe there. The goodbyes that are hardest happen because we care the most. It takes such strength and courage, perhaps even recklessness, to turn the last moments of togetherness into ones of joy and smiles that reverberate for the days or years of separation to come. Even if there are moments of tears and tiny heartbreaks, commit to caring and showing up because this is where the magic happens. This is where the joy appears. Every moment of fully being and breathing is a reminder that this was worth it, that it meant so much, that both you and the other are changed because of it.
Like a well choreographed ballet, goodbyes mean moving as an ensemble, as a duet, and as a solo. Sometimes, you are meant to create a shared experience. In those moments of improvised togetherness, you find a beat and a way of relating that works. The next moment of togetherness will be completely different and you have to be brave enough, knowing that what worked a breath ago will not be the answer now, to try something different. Other times you must find your own voice outside of the relationship to others. Inhabit this life and your feelings by yourself. These moments of aloneness teach you how to exist in the beats after goodbye.
Just when you think you've learned the steps, they start to change. The heart feels its overwhelming feelings and the mind wants to protect it. Like a mother instinctually protects her child, the mind can't bear to see the heart torn open. So it does the work of creating distance. It fills that space between with all of the reasons to run away. So the heart in its gentle way reminds the mind that these feelings mean that the capacity to love and care is equally as strong. What a gift! Every time you choose to stay instead of run, the goodbye fills with more love. Every time you choose to feel the bigness inside and honor it, the goodbye fills with more meaning. In those moments of choosing to stay, feeling both the good and the bad, the goodbye becomes more sweet than bitter.
Suddenly, probably too soon, the dance is over and all that's left is the echo of a song and the ghost of the steps that you navigated from the moment of decision to the moment of goodbye. There is the space of a breath, one final chance to run and keep forever in your heart the question of "what if". What if I said everything? What if I put all my cards on the table? What if I held the gaze of the goodbye just a second longer and realized I could stand even with the weight of all of the complex feelings and thoughts on top of me? Does it seem machoscistic to continue to forge those moments of connection even though you know it must come to an end? All things must. The alternative is living a muted experience: no joy, no heart, just barely moving through the patterns of life. And so for the final time, if you choose to stay, you find the absolute beauty in caring deeply.
With gratitude, look back on the moments that led to this one. They were filled with meaning. They were filled with the truest version of being alive. It is so rare in life to find a person or place or group of people that touch your heart so deeply. The version of you the exists today was molded by their kind words, and their honesty, and their joy. The version of them that exists today was shaped by you. Honor them with gratitude. Honor their light by moving forward in your authenticity. And, when those pangs of missing the comforting familiar come, because they will in the vastness of the unknown, remind yourself that these feelings mean it was real. These feelings mean it mattered, what you created together mattered. That can be enough. This is what makes parting ways the sweetest heartbreak.