“Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled.” Ray Bradbury
Coco Chanel said before you leave the house you should take off one accessory or piece of jewelry, and I think this is a great general rule for so much of life. When I go shopping at IKEA, I pile a bunch of things into my cart, but when I get towards the checkout, I take out a few things I don’t really need and put them back. Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizer everyone seems to be talking about suggests thanking your possessions before you chuck them- because they have done a good job for you serving their purpose, but are no longer needed. When my schedule looks too full, I take something out. When I write, despite the fact that I’m often quite attached to my words- I cut them. Sometimes the very ones that had gotten a piece or an idea started, must go. “Let” … “Go” my yoga teacher says as we breath in and out. The act of prayer is also really about letting go- more about open hands than hands folded or clutching- but we don’t learn that until much later- after much begging and pretend surrender- beneath which we are still saying, “But please, please let me get, or keep, or have what I want!”
In her book, “Thrive,” Arianna Huffington talks about how liberating she found it when she realized she could cross things off of her to-do list- and not the things that were done- but the things that were undone. For example, I’ve had “start baking fresh bread weekly” on my long-term list of goals for years. I finally admitted to myself that I am not going to bake fresh bread weekly- maybe never- so I crossed it off. It’s amazing really, all of the things you can let go of- forever.
This week, I really had to let go of blogging here. I had a tiring week- with my birthday on Monday, and then two anxiety-producing doctor’s appointments and one disappointment regarding a writing job I’d been a finalist for- but in the end, did not get. I felt worn down, and discouraged…so I let my writing here go. I watched a charming British comedy called “Outnumbered” in bed and allowed myself just a few hours of self-pity. I caught up on a school project I volunteered to do for my daughter’s teacher. I watched The Princess Diaries with Audrey- the first one and the second one. I bought flowers and planted them around a tree in our backyard. I feel a bit better now.
Breathe in: “Let…” Breathe out: “Go…”
Sometimes the hardest thing to let go of is our plan, our agenda, for the way we’d like things to go, or look. Meeting with my 92 year old spiritual director last week, she put out both of her hands face up and said, “Sometimes we have our will,” and motioned with one hand, “but God has his,” – she moved the other hand up and down, “so we just say, OK, I’ll put that one away for now…” and moved one hand down.
I tell Audrey that I’m in a bit of a rut.
“What’s a rut?”
“Well, it’s like I feel a little stuck and a little low.”
“Is that because you’re still sad about appa dying?” she asks.
“No, I’m not mourning anymore…but I am still trying to come up with a plan B- because I thought I was going to do one thing, and now I’m not sure what exactly I should do.”
“You should always have a plan A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H…” and she went on.
I guess she’s right- letting go and moving on to the next plan is a lot better than sulking. In one of our favorite books, E.B. White’s “Stuart Little,” there is a scene in one of the last chapters where Stuart (a mouse who acts like a human and was born to human parents- you have to read it if you haven’t) has worked so hard to prepare a tiny toy canoe to take a small human girl his size out paddling. When the tiny girl named Harriet arrives for the date, they discover the canoe has been broken by some boys playing with it.
“Stuart was heartbroken. He did not know what to do. He sat down on a twig and buried his head in his hands. ‘Oh, gee,’ he kept saying, ‘oh, gee whiz.” Harriet suggests they try to fix the canoe but Stuart replies, “It’s no use, – it wouldn’t be the same.” “I don’t see why you have to sit here and sulk,” says Harriet and then she makes other suggestions, offers him a peppermint, and even asks him over her house for dinner and dancing at the Country Club, but all Stuart can see is his lost plan. He can’t let go of it. He refuses any of her suggestions, and she leaves Stuart, “alone with his broken dreams and his damaged canoe.”
Last weekend we went to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens to see the cherry blossoms- but when we got there, none of them had bloomed yet. Plan B: There were magnolias, and plenty of tulips. My daughter took the black and white photo above of just a small patch of those.
Breathing in…”Leeeeeet” and out… “Gooooooo.”
I’m not touting the Buddhist philosophy of detachment as a means of transcendence. I actually believe it’s OK to be attached to our desires, people, and even things. Rather, it’s when we willingly let go of something we felt strongly attached to, that there is the chance for growth and maturing- and even transcendence.
“How do I open my closed hands?” asks Henri Nowen. “Don’t be afraid of him who wants to enter that space where you live, or to let him see what you are clinging to so anxiously. Don’t be afraid to show the clammy coin which will buy so little anyway.”
Sometimes it’s putting something back you thought you wanted, or giving away something you no longer need. But more often letting go isn’t about “stuff.” It’s about yielding the “clammy coin”- our sometimes unarticulated, but nonetheless stubborn notions of how life should look and where we should be by such and such a time- opening our fist, and gently putting that hand aside for now.