My daughter, like all babies, could grab things and hang on long before she knew how to let go of them. She would grab a toy and then become frustrated when she couldn’t let go of it so that she could pick up the next toy that caught her attention. She would stare at her hands trying to figure out how to make them open up and let go.
Just as my daughter had to learn how to let go of one toy before she could experience the next, sometimes we have to learn to let go of things, places and people in order to fully experience our lives. Grabbing and hanging on is innate; letting go, and figuring out what to let go of, has to be learned.
Letting go is not always easy. For instance, I know that watching my daughter get on the school bus the first time will be difficult, and probably I will be one of those Moms who follow the bus to school. But, if I don’t let her go, I won’t get to see her become the incredible young lady I know she can be. If I don’t let her grow, I won’t ever experience that special relationship that a mother can have with an adult daughter.
Letting go of bad influences and habits can be just as difficult. Consider the person who is fighting a cigarette addiction, who is trying to let go of a smoking stick. The smoker stares at the cigarette in her hands wondering how to make her fingers open to let go of it, knowing that if she ever wants to smell summer flowers on the prairie or the gentle aroma of cloves at Christmas, she will need to let go of the cigarette.
Ask someone who is trying to get out of an abusive relationship. Or someone who is trying to let go of prejudice or sexism. Or someone who is trying not to hold a grudge. Letting go is hard. We stare at our hands, look into our hearts and try to figure out how to make our hands and our hearts open at will.
We take comfort in the things we know, even if they are uncomfortable. I think that is one of the reasons letting go is so difficult. When we let go, we are left with space. Open spaces, whether they are silence where there once was conversation or an empty chair where there once was a loved one, make us nervous. But life always seems to help us fill the spaces, and letting go does not mean losing out.
My daughter is still learning to let go. Recently, I watched her try to reach a cup of Cheerios. The cup was sitting on the piano bench. She pulled herself up, using the bench for stability and grabbed the cup with her free hand. She tried to sit down so that she could enjoy her Cheerios, but realized that in order to sit down, she was either going to (a) have to let go of the piano bench, which was supporting her, or (b) let go of the Cheerios, which was why she was there in the first place. At least, that is what I thought. My daughter chose option (c): drop the cup of Cheerios onto the floor; sit using the piano bench as support on the way down, and eat the Cheerios directly from the floor where they have scattered.
Letting go is not part of our nature; we must learn how and when to do it, but letting go does not mean losing out on your Cheerios either. Just ask my daughter.
© 2008, 2009 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.