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Suzanne Braun Levine

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Good-Bye Self-Improvement, I Am Letting Go

Posted: 01/04/12 10:48 AM ET

My new book How We Love Now is out this week. The date was chosen because in publishing January is "self-improvement month." The thinking is that at the start of the New Year we want to repent for all the guilty pleasures we indulged in over the holidays. Which is also why we make resolutions -- to become better than we are. Oy, the guilt.

But Second Adulthood is about shedding that kind of guilt, along with many other emotional and psychological burdens that get in the way of inventing the rest of our lives. So I am proposing a new kind of resolution, a guilt-free and empowering resolving of unnecessary conflicts and contradictions that freeze us in place.

We are especially suited to moving on from either/or stress to both/and resolution, because we have reached a level of equilibrium in our lives that couldn't have existed before. Until now we lived with responsibilities, objectives and messages that often seemed irreconcilable forces: work and family; fat and thin; strength and accommodation. But, the pieces of our lives fit together better now.

Most important, in our relationships -- especially our partnerships -- we are staking out new more accepting territory. When I interviewed people about what I came to call the New Intimacy in How We Love Now, I found an important new dynamic: interdependence. It is not either/or -- independence or dependence -- but both/and -- a balanced and mutually trusting sharing of responsibility, support, tolerance, and devotion. As one partner in such a relationship put it, "I feel equal when I am with Grace. Our days aren't fraught with agonizing thoughts, such as 'Am I loved? Am I still loved? Are you going to leave me?' We have a calm and steady relationship. It's the way that it ought to be."

As we move through our fifties, sixties, and seventies, we are riding a wave of experience (wisdom?) and expertise at not sweating the small stuff. That makes us better at letting go of wants and resentments and regrets that have dogged us for so long. We are more comfortable with change and the insecurity as well as the possibilities it brings -- rolling with the punches. We see common ground more clearly, and we cherish the glass half-full. A perfect skill set for resolving conflict and contradiction and making peace with what is.

So, what do I want to resolve in 2012?

I want to make a better balance between worries about the future, which I cannot control, and the gifts of the present, which I can't control either, but I can enjoy.

I want to resolve the love/hate nattering over how my body is getting farther and father away from the ideal that it never measured up to in the first place.

Most of all, I want to free myself of emotions that force an either/or reaction.

A poem by an anonymous (it is so often thus) woman has been circulating among my friends. It describes a woman who managed to do that:

She let go of fear.
She let go of judgments.
She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.
She let go of all the 'right' reasons.
Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

And what did she get in return? The poem concludes with a vision:

In the space of letting go, she let it all be.
A small smile came over her face.
A light breeze blew through her,
And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.

I wish such a "small smile" of peace and reconciliation for us all.