Letting Go

Most people automatically associate the phrase ‘letting go’ with love and romance. The angsty teenager with the broken heart, or the distraught divorcee, or the one who lost a loved one. It’s so easy to allow the requisite time for mourning to pass before feeling comfortable enough to boldly tell someone to let go and move on. But let go of what? Move on to where?

Sometimes I find it akin to hanging off the edge of a cliff holding on to a rope in the hope that something will change at some point which will make my hanging from that cliff meaningful or significant. I hold on to that rope for dear life’s sake, more in fear of what will happen if I let go, rather than because I want to hold on. Perhaps my holding on is inspired by the hope that someone may find me worthy enough to want to save me from the fall? I find the same to be true in life outside of romance or human relationships. So many erroneously assume that the act of letting go is what is important, when in fact the need to not want to hold on is really what matters.

When we focus on letting go, we end up seeking out replacements or alternatives to make up for what we’re supposedly giving up, when in fact we’re not giving up anything, but instead only filling the same gaping hole with a different object. With this realisation I find myself back on that cliff holding on to that rope for dear life, not for a second realising that life hanging off the edge of a cliff is really not much of a life at all.

Perhaps the cliff analogy is somewhat extreme, but the principles of dealing with reality in the face of inevitability remain the same. We’d much rather hold on to what is familiar than let go in the belief that something better may be acquired. Sometimes we dismiss this insecurity and neediness as pragmatism, or reality, when in fact it’s simply fear. Crippling fear that if we got it wrong once, or if we lost once, we cannot afford to allow ourselves into a situation that would hold the potential of such fear or loss again. And there begins the cycle of self defeat where we assure ourselves of our limitations and pretend to accept it graciously when in fact we’re really just protecting ourselves from the unknown.

Sometimes we deny this fear and camouflage it with misplaced courage sub-consciously trying to prove that we’re not damaged or dependent on those that betrayed us, and so we pretend to boldly pursue new challenges or opportunities, when in fact all we’re doing is trying to pacify ourselves, and dissuade others from seeing the weakness and the wounds that fester beneath the surface. One scarce talent, it seems, is our ability to accept our true worth before we embrace our limitations. We’re prone to believing that we’re flawed before we believe in our ability to succeed.

It seems we live in a time when society thrives on the insecurities of others. Our self worth is determined by how much we’re able to fill in those gaps for others, so much so that we are in tune with what others need more than we have any inkling about what we need for ourselves. The trick, I believe, is not to know how to please someone else, but rather how to find someone that is pleased by similar values and virtues as yourself. There is much truth in the saying that love is not two people looking at each other, but rather two people looking in the same direction. It’s just a pity that most people are aimless in their wanderings to find a life worth living.

Too much emphasis is placed on the contribution of others towards determining the happiness we experience. We’re prone to waiting for life to happen while finding distractions to fill in the gaps of loneliness and purpose, instead of embracing life while being entertained by the distractions. And the same is true for bad habits, social failures, or career bumps. We look at the failure or the setback as a defining experience of who we are, rather than a defining experience of the bad choices we made. Rather than kicking ourselves when we get something wrong, we should remind ourselves that there is much dignity and reward in reflection on the reasons for the bad choices we made, acceptance of the fact that each experience affords us an opportunity to make more informed choices in the future, and the ultimate goal of evolving beyond being a creature of habit, and instead becoming a creature of choice.

The only thing worth letting go of (it seems) is letting go. Instead, we should embrace, reflect, inform, and persevere. Otherwise we may as well just hold on to that rope for dear life’s sake, hoping that someone will come along at some point and feel sorry enough to want to help us out of our stupor, so that we can start yet another cycle of neediness that ends in pain when the one we need cannot bear the burden of being needed so desperately.

4 responses to “Letting Go”

  1. Not cryptic at all – in fact, you have lent me much needed clarity. Thank you so much for taking the time and writing so patiently – it cannot be easy to be so conscientious in your responses – and you do it so well so often.

    • You’re too kind. I always enjoy it when someone gives me reason to rationalise my thoughts, perspectives, or beliefs. It’s like an opportunity to find a grounding.

  2. Insightful – and darn difficult to digest! While I agree with you wholeheartedly, being at crossroads myself, I know that I have neither the clarity not the courage to really even want to determine what’s my biggest enemy – letting go or holding on. Without sharing details (of course), have you ever been in a personal dilemma of having choices that are each so powerful that it leaves you wondering whether it would have been better not to have a choice at all?

    • There were many times when I felt like I didn’t have a choice, and as a result I slipped into a victim-like state only to regret it later when I realised how many choices I had in the first place. Sometimes I found myself feeling sorry for myself, and so I allowed myself to be abused by others around me because I convinced myself that I simply didn’t deserve better. But when the intensity of that moment passed, sometimes months or years later, I would wish that I had been more assertive about my self-worth in that situation. That’s when I realised that my desire for acknowledgement or significance by people that I respected or loved drove me to base my perceptions of myself on their responses to me. Little did I realise that their awesomeness was exactly what I projected on them, and not necessarily what they truly deserved. Another issue I grappled with for a long time was my inability to separate my belief in their potential from the reality of what they chose for themselves.

      Sorry, this must all sound quite cryptic, but like you suggested, it was a lot to absorb and process. I guess in summary I could say that my belief in others is what led to my downfall and my anguish on most occasions, and the relief arrived when I accepted that under the circumstances I had made the best decision I could have made given my level of awareness, the knowledge I had of the true nature of those involved, and the circumstances that I found myself in. Hence my realisation that I was holding on to the expectation and need for that affirmation that I didn’t get, rather than letting go of it realising that it was insignificant to begin with. So to answer your question more directly, in hind sight, I have never been in a situation where the gravity of the choices were that onerous. The problem is that while immersed in the emotions and the burden of the issue at hand, we lose perspective and assume that the outcomes are our responsibility, when in fact, making a principled decision for the right reasons is all that we’re responsible for, with the other party being responsible for how they choose to accept/reject/react to our contribution to resolve it.

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