Learning to Let Go

I surrender.

Those words don’t have a particularly good feeling about them, do they?  No one wants to be the side that surrenders because it seems weak.  Like you gave in.  We have so many expressions that are the opposite of surrender. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” And “tough times don’t last, tough people do.”

And of course, Churchill’s famous “never, never, never, never” quote.  We all remember the never, never, never, never part of the quote.  Those words make it seem like we should stand fast, holding on until the last minute.  But if you read the whole sentence, you get a quite different picture:

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

So, two things here – first, he did not say never give up. 

More important, there are two big exceptions in his statement.  Convictions of honor and good sense.  Clearly, Churchill believed there are times when giving in makes sense.  And we know that, but how often do we push on past the point of honor and good sense?

I was helping my son move last week.  We rented the truck and as we were loading, it seemed highly unlikely that everything was going to fit.  I was getting angrier and angrier – why hadn’t I insisted on a larger truck, why did he have so much stuff, why hadn’t I just paid someone to do this for me, and on and on.  We finally called a sanity break, and everyone went to their own corner. 

After a few minutes of breathing and sitting quietly, I accepted the reality that this might not work.  We might have to make a second trip to pick up the end of the stuff.  Yes, it would mean another trip, and yes, we would be behind schedule and yes, I would have to admit I had been defeated by a pile of stuff and U-Haul truck. 

What I really had to admit was that I felt I had failed to plan adequately; I was not able to control the day.  I went downstairs, told him that if everything didn’t fit, it just didn’t fit, we would come back for a second load.  We needed to stop stressing and do what we could.  In the next hour, like a magical Tetris solution, it all fit. 

Now, I’m not saying there was anything magical going on (although there was a moment when I was pretty sure there was!) but I am saying that when I stopped holding on to what wasn’t serving me or anyone else, I could see a different solution to the problem.  When I got out of my own way, things flowed. 

It seems like such simple advice – to let go of what doesn’t serve us and move on.  But it can be so very hard.  We must admit we are not in control.  We must acknowledge that perhaps the thing we are seeking that is proving so elusive is not something the universe intends for us to have.    We must accept we don’t control the timeline, we don’t control the circumstance, we don’t control the outcome.

What I have learned over the years is that when things seem hard, I am probably on the wrong path.  We have all experienced times when things just flow.  Even in our darkest times we have experienced moments of grace and fortune.  People step up to help us, we find joy in an unexpected place, doors open.   We feel that we are in the zone.  And we are.  The zone of trust and acceptance.

Remember that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Indy must step out into the void to reach the Holy Grail?  He steps out and the bridge to his goal magically appears. 

I am not suggesting you should step off a cliff expecting a bridge to appear. 

I am suggesting that we should all learn to trust ourselves and the universe.  We should give in when our convictions and good sense tell us that is the right choice.  Surrender sounds so defeatist, as if we are willing to give up on setting goals and making choices.  And while I will not surrender, I can accept there are times to let go.

And perhaps that is the real meaning of self-care.  Self-care is not just about bubble baths and spa time.  Self-care is about caring enough about yourself to know when it is time to give in – even if just for a moment.  Self-care is about knowing how to let go of what does not serve us (like anger at a  U-Haul truck) and giving in to the reality of the situation. 

As we think about self-care this month, let’s thing about it more holistically.  It might not be about adding more to your life, it might be about giving in and letting go.

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