I’ve been wanting to write about letting go for some time. However, something kept holding me back. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to say because, the truth is, letting go is not always easy for me. It’s not always difficult, either. The more I thought about it, the more I thought I wanted to write a post about it, because sometimes writing posts on specific topics gives me a place to explore the topic more deeply.
My general idea about letting go is often defined by it’s opposite concept: holding on. I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to give up. I’d say I’m more the type of person who likes to keep trying. I will think a thousand ways around a problem in order to find a solution. It’s in my nature to analyze in order to understand things. Nevertheless, I also understand that sometimes there are things that can’t really be understood, and we need to make our decisions and choices with nothing more than intuition, a deep trust in the universe. I think that knowing when to let go is a little like that.
There’s a balance between holding on and letting go, it’s a dance we engage in constantly throughout our lives. From the moment of birth, we form our first attachments; we also grow and change, establishing a cycle of learning how to let go. As we evolve and move through different stages in life, it is necessary for us to leave the past behind in order to step into our future. Sometimes we hold on to things, even if these very things are preventing us from moving forward. Sometimes we hold onto these things especially for that reason, because we are afraid of change.
We repeat this cycle throughout our lives. When we are born, we do not know how to walk. At first, we do not even crawl. We are dependent on those around us to carry us, to feed us, to care for us. What propels a child to crawl? I think it is natural curiosity, the same curiosity that also propels a child to walk. During the process of being carried to crawling to walking is a constant exercise in holding on and letting go, even for caregivers, who are also receiving lessons as to when to hold on, when to let go. I do not remember what it was like to stand for the first time, on my own, but I imagine dizzying freedom.
In thinking about letting go, I’ve also thought a lot about the nature of attachment. In psychology, the nature of attachment refers to Attachment Theory, which basically seeks to understand the way we interact with and respond to people as rooted in the infant/caregiver dynamic, extending to different types of relationships. Attachment is a biological imperative, and the foundation of our interpersonal relationships. This is where we work out our issues surrounding love and trust, nurturing and caring, power dynamics, giving and receiving, emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.
As a parent, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that growth is rooted in change. Indeed, the only constant in life is change. With each life stage my children have gone through, I had to say goodbye to who they were at that particular stage, and also to the person I was during that time. In response to this, I have learned that parents need to grow and change with their children at each stage – essentially, holding on and letting go.
Since my own life has been one of constant flux and change, I’ve come to accept many aspects of holding on and letting go. This has affected how I parent, but it has also affected how I am. With everyone I know, I try to be conscious of the fact that we all change. The person I was yesterday is not necessarily the person I was last year, and I accept that we are always growing, changing, and evolving. When I engage with my children, I am looking at who they are right now, not who they were in the past, or who they will be in the future. When I look at my love, I fall in love with him each time I see him, because he is not the same person I saw the last time we were together. In this way, I have cultivated an awareness of the present moment, and of living in the present moment.
But still, I have trouble letting some things go. I’ve been thinking about different times in my life where I had to let go. Sometimes I have let things go with relative ease, accepting and optimistic about the future. Other times, I have had great difficulty letting go. Recently, my cat died. It happened very suddenly, and no one was prepared. I had a lot of difficulty letting go. I could not let go of the pain. My sense of loss was profound. I was very attached to my cat. I cried so much, I began to worry that my reaction to his death was too severe. I tried to think about all of the moments we shared, all of the things I loved about him. I had to let go of the loss and sadness I felt without him alive. I had to let go of trying to find a reason. I had to let go.
In religion, Buddhism in particular, attachment refers to the things which cause us suffering. Our attachments may be people, places, things, thoughts, behaviors, beliefs, etc. To put it simply, the reason for our suffering is rooted in the idea of holding on and letting go. We hold on to what is impermanent. The reason we suffer is because everything in life is impermanent. It is only through letting go that we can achieve enlightenment … meaning, understanding that our attachments are mired in our own preoccupations, our possessions, our obsessions, even – but all of these things are impermanent and fleeting in the great cosmic dance of life. So you have to let it all go, to just be. That place of being is my understanding of enlightenment.
Of course, enlightenment is the goal. It is not quite as easy to live in moment and to “just be” as it is to explain what that means. I feel that there are moments where I have engaged this state of mind during meditation, writing, and sex. But I do not feel that I am living in the moment on an everyday basis. I’m aware of my attachments, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have them.
For example, I have a lot of books. I guess I’m attached to books. When I moved, the primary thing I had to move was my books. I don’t have a lot of clothes or shoes. I don’t have a lot of furniture. I don’t have a lot of things, in general. But I do have a lot of books. I don’t think it is a problem, because I don’t have to sculpt tunnels through the house (I have bookshelves, counters, only one or two piles), or spending an exorbitant amount (I get most of my books used). I’m aware that I’m rationalizing … I know that I have a psychological attachment to books, as much as I love the physical object. It goes deep.
Every once in a while, I donate books. I do it consciously. I go through my bookshelves, looking for ones to part with, making room for new books. In this sense, I’m letting go. I’m still holding on, but, I guess that subconsciously, I’m seeking to balance my attachment. As humans, we are biologically predisposed towards attachment. It is part of how we have evolved as a species, and how we continue to evolve. Nevertheless, from the moment our earliest attachment bonds form, we are in a continual balancing act of holding on and letting go.
As we get older, we grow and change sometimes in less noticeable ways than we did when we were children, yet the process is the same. Sometimes, we need to let go of relationships that have become hurtful, jobs that no longer serve us, places that constrict us, people who control us. We need to let go of the past in order to make way for the future. And although it is difficult to live a life free of attachment, we need to at least question our attachments, to be aware of them, to make sure that they are healthy and promoting our overall growth. The most important step in balancing our attachments is also the hardest: we need to discern when to hold on and when to let go.
Finding this balance and level of discernment can be challenging. Sometimes we stay too long in bad situations, afraid to change, holding on because we are afraid to let go. Other times, some people do not try hard enough, they give up too easily, letting things go because holding on would take too much work. I think that when most people think about letting go, the connotations include putting the past behind us, freeing ourselves from a bad situation, and accepting one’s limitations. However, we also are letting go when we open our mindset or challenge our belief systems, when we accept creative energy and flow, and when we accept change without fear, as a vehicle towards evolution. Letting go means to release something, to free something. When we exhale, we let go.
There is also an aspect of control when it comes to attachments. It almost seems in human nature that the first step after attachment is the need to possess. When a child becomes attached to a favorite toy, the child will cry if the toy is not ‘there’. Sometimes children like to collect things, because they are so attached, they need more of them. We carry these behaviors into adult life in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. We want to possess things, as well as people. The root of this possession is our attachment, and all of the layers of meaning that we’ve attached to it. I think that control plays another role too, in the sense of general control that we have over our lives. Control is in many ways an illusion. When things happen that threaten our sense of control, it can be very disorienting and confusing. We don’t understand why some things happen. They just do. Sometimes letting go means letting go of the illusion of control, and allowing trust to carry you on part of your path.
As humans, our attachments are many. We bond with people, animals, plants, places, things. We wrap our self-identity in our attachments, seeking definition and meaning from them, telling us and others who we are. I think it is this enmeshing of identity and attachment where people find the most difficulty letting go. We can be so attached to a person, a place, a state of mind, that we lose ourselves in mirrors, powerless, afraid to change. And yet, we still change. We always do. Whether by circumstance or by choice, we change. And in the process, we subject ourselves to forming attachments, over and over again, certain to hurt us. We hold on, learning what it means to live, to love, to grow. We want to hold on to what is impermanent – life, time, money, illusions, possessions, everything. We let go, over and over again, we let go.
I’m going to close here with some quotes I found about “letting go.”
Holding on is believing that there’s a past; letting go is knowing that there’s a future.
—Daphne Rose Kingma
Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.
Suffering is not holding you. You are holding suffering. When you become good at the art of letting sufferings go, then you’ll come to realize how unnecessary it was for you to drag those burdens around with you. You’ll see that no one else other than you was responsible. The truth is that existence wants your life to become a festival.
Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.
What happens when you let go, when your strength leaves you and you sink into darkness, when there’s nothing that you or anyone else can do, no matter how desperate you are, no matter how you try? Perhaps it’s then, when you have neither pride nor power, that you are saved, brought to an unimaginably great reward.
It is by giving the freedom to the other, that is by letting go, we gain our own freedom back.
Even as I hold you, I am letting you go.
All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.
— Havelock Ellis
Anything I cannot transform into something marvelous, I let go.
– Anais Nin
We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
– Joseph Campbell
Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.
In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.
– Deepak Chopra