Letting go has three directions: past, present and future. Some of us are well-versed in releasing past emotional hurts or sentiments. Some of us focus on the here-and-now, approaching each moment with gratitude and anticipation. Some of us are excited to think about future adventures without requiring certainty about schedules and outcomes.
Not my world.
I hang on to it all: the anger about the lies someone repeatedly told my colleagues, which some colleagues believed; the conviction that something will go wrong today during a high-stress presentation (because, well, why wouldn’t it?); the belief that the future I want for my life is going to be a lot of hard, unfulfilling, and possibly unrewarding work. Such hanging-on tendencies have evoked complicated, constant conversations in my head over the years. What’s worse is that I can’t fix any of these situations. People lie with the intention of hurting. Stressful situations can lead to mistakes. The hoped-for future is going to result from difficult, sometimes unfulfilling, maybe unrecognized work. In the midst of all this chaos, if I can hang on to my anger, anxiety, and worry, I can keep the illusion of control and safety. I ultimately create my own stuckness.
I have been discovering in the past few years that there are some direct ways of shifting how I live in my anxious, COVID-directed world. The past pain is only going to be set free when I have the courage to let it go, which will prepare the way for forgiveness. What does it serve me to hold onto the harm, neglect, or the meanness directed to me by others? Why do I give power away in the form of attention to someone who doesn’t have my well-being at heart?
The current anxiety about what I don’t want to happen or what I’m against can be reframed into what I do want to happen, or what I favor. I am reminded of Mother Theresa’s wisdom: when she was asked once why she didn’t participate in anti-war demonstrations, she said, “I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.” (goodreads.com) What do I deeply want? How can I set my path on that goal now even if there is rough terrain? Letting go and setting off on a positive path will lead toward my positive vision. Once I am clear about what matters, my anxieties get quieter. I learn to live into the adventure of aligned vision with the Source of Life rather than attempting to control what unfolds.
The polarities in our society — theological, political, and all the “isms” one can name — come down to change vs. staying the same. It’s naïve to claim that change can cease unless we live in a vacuum. The intention of change is the issue here. Do we embrace massive, quick change to foster well-being for those who are not well or who have discrimination forced upon them every day (see “isms”), thereby leaving others behind? Or do we appropriate change to keep us entrenched in our definition of safety, ruled by control, so we can try to abate our anxiety and worry, leaving others in dire circumstances? Or do we stay a bit the same/safe enough and work for change that brings about well-being for others, including the stranger? A fierce choice is upon us.
The vision from the Source of Life for the planet, well-recorded in the world religions and many other spiritualities, is based on well-being in the sense that every creature will have what we need to live well. The only way I can contribute to such a vision is to let go and forgive the past, focus on what is happening now as a learning opportunity, and trust enough to embrace the adventure of a future I don’t know yet.
Hang on or let go: what will you choose to do?
Rev. Dr. Lisa Withrow is a leadership coach, consultant and independent scholar-writer.