Learning to Let Go

I love quotations. Sometimes hearing how another has observed life and then tried to make sense of it, or has somehow managed to articulate a complicated emotion or an approach to dealing with it… well, these words can help me clarify my own thoughts and choose a course of action that instinctively feels right. I am motivated by words, I nod in agreement, or I tear up at an emotion well-remembered, but survived. My collection of quotations is vast, and I add to it whenever I can, as brave and true words are a source of nourishment to me. When I struggle, I turn to my collection of wisdom as a source of comfort and inspiration.

Today I found a quote that seems like it would be helpful during difficult times. You see, one reads so much about just letting go, and how what is meant for you will be there, and what isn’t meant for you will go, and it sounds so peaceful, this letting go. But no one really ever explains how to do it. If you can manage to “let go”, this well-meaning advice makes it sound as if the experiences or the people you have come to love and want most in your life will just float by as if part of a grand river and what is meant for you will come to rest beside you, effortlessly, while the rest flows on. But letting go is hard, and often feels incomplete. Conversely, so is staying, just as a reed that is caught on a rock will still be buffeted by the flow of the river even as it stays put.

So bottom line? Life is hard, always, for all of us. It is a struggle to stay with certain life situations and it can be a struggle to let them go. Sheng-Yen, a highly-revered Chinese Buddhist monk who died in 2009, offered this advice:

“When faced with any difficulty of life, resolve it by following these four steps: face it, accept it, deal with it, and then let it go.”

Face it. How often we don’t face the truth of the messes we’re in, the steps we’ve taken to put ourselves there, the decisions which seemed right when they were made but that have now added up to a difficult situation. To face our choices is to acknowledge why those decisions were made in the first place, to remember what led you to this place, to admit where you could have made a different choice but didn’t, and then to remember how each step in this journey has led you here. This is not always a comfortable act, but it is honest and necessary.

Accept it. Once you face the mess you are in and call it what it is, the problem, whatever it is, becomes a little more manageable. They always say what can be measured can be managed. Well, by looking at a situation and calling it what it is, you accept it and this can help strip it of its power. If you see it clearly, it can be addressed. It is in the hiding that problem situations gain their power and seem insurmountable.

Deal with it. Not much more to say here. Once you have faced a problem and accepted it, in your heart, you know what needs to be done. A critical conversation, a commitment to yourself and your truth, a decisive action. It may take time, it may take lots of steps, but you cannot fully let go of something until you complete this step, and deep inside, you already know this.

Let it go. And now you can breathe again. You have dealt with your difficult situation in honesty, with yourself and others, and now you can breathe deeply and let go. Letting go doesn’t mean that you’ll never think of it again, that you won’t miss someone or something now and again, or that you won’t have similar problems in the future. But it does mean that you’ve done your best with this problem, this situation, and knowing that, you can let it flow by you now, keeping the good, and letting the rest go downstream.

Should We Just Resolve to Persevere? Maybe That’s Enough

A show of hands from those of you who have already fallen off the wagon of your New Year’s resolutions? Right, I thought so. This post, now two weeks past the date I had set on my schedule – one of my resolutions – is living proof of why my hand is raised high, too.

By mid-February, the newness of January’s resolutions has likely diminished quite a bit, just as the excitement over winter’s first snow has worn thin, with each new snowfall the wonder of it replaced by the weariness of having to clear the driveway yet again. The excitement and resolve with which we all begin a new year can become frayed as the hard work it takes to stay with a promise made to yourself becomes a reality.

By now, I am over winter and ready for spring, but I recognize that no matter the time of year, there are often “winters” of the spirit, too, times when we are weary, overwhelmed with the minutiae of our days and weeks, and just feeling uninspired by life. The sky is cold and gray, and so are we.

This would be a moment to say something along the lines of “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” True enough but we’ve all been around long enough to know it isn’t always that easy. Maybe the tough going we face is related to poor health, grief, financial concerns, depression, or just big life questions, to which there are no easy answers, no readily available bootstraps with which we can pull ourselves back to our feet.

It is during these winters of the spirit, that maybe a gentler approach is needed to achieving the goals set with so much enthusiasm in January. John D. Rockefeller once said, “I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.” To persevere through the winter in anticipation of the spring, to not give up, but to do your best to stick with it, even if ‘it’ – whatever ‘it’ is – falls short of what you hoped to accomplish. Maybe it is late, but here it is, and maybe that is enough. Enough to do, enough to expect, enough to carry me through until the new habits are formed, and the second wind of springtime hits in oh about a month or so.

Tiny Steps toward Your Best New Year

“And now we welcome the new year.  Full of things that have never been.” –Rainer Maria Rilke

I love the thought of a new year, especially on December 31st, when I think of all I will accomplish now that the calendar page has turned.  Like many perfectionists (read borderline OCDs), however, if I don’t have a clean start on January 1st, I’d might as well forget it, or wait for another “clean start” at the six month point on June 1st, or even the following year.  But at this point of my life, I realize that I don’t have full years or even six month increments to waste waiting for a “clean start” that is nothing more than another unrealistic expectation keeping me from growing and changing in the ways I want to grow and change.

So yes, though I love the thought of a new year, I usually think in terms of a deficiency, another year gone and look at what I haven’t done. But today I am thinking of all the ways my life has changed  over the past twelve months. Think of it. How have you changed in thoughts, attitudes, an actions in the last year?  Hopefully the start of 2018 finds you in a place of positive change and of growth, but if not, no pressure.  Accepting where you are at the start could be the first gift you give yourself this year, and the first step toward a better year ahead.

And what of resolutions? One of my plans was to start publishing something, anything, every Monday morning.  Coincidentally, January 1st was a Monday… talk about a “clean start”!  What could be more perfect?

Notice what day it is?  Today is Friday, January 5th, and there’s no poetry or symmetry in that!  But one of my resolutions is to just work hard toward my goals each day.  I may have a lot of time or a little, but something is always better than nothing.

So with a year ahead “full of things that have never been,” I am going with the mantra of “something is better than nothing.”  By taking the tiniest of steps over the last year, I have found myself in a strong and truly happy place.  Where will more intentional, though possibly just as tiny, steps take me this year?  Where will they take you?