The art of letting go

Your heart is not open, so I must go
The spell has been broken...I loved you so
Freedom comes when you learn to let go
Creation comes when you learn to say no

You were my lesson I had to learn
I was your fortress you had to burn
Pain is a warning that something's wrong
I pray to God that it won't be long
Do ya wanna go higher?

Chorus: There's nothing left to try
There's no place left to hide
There's no greater power than the power of good-bye

--Madonna/The Power of Goodbye

The art of letting go is a difficult one. The same phrase is used in many contexts, with different words: In games, you talk about resigning the whole game when you realize there is no way you can win any more. In combat, you talk about withdrawal, or cutting losses, or surrendering, before your forces are crushed. At work, you quit. In love, you break up. The same phrase - different words.

But it all comes down to one thing: acceptance. Accepting that things are not going to change, or that things are going to change, and you no longer have any effect on them. Accepting the truth can sometimes be the hardest thing there is, and thus the art of letting go is one of the most difficult ones.

Hope is good, but not enough

Sometimes we grow attached to things, and we have trouble letting go. An elderly relative is kept in a hospital for years, supported only by machinery, suffering, only because we cannot accept the fact that he is effectively dead already. Or we keep ourselves in relationships where love has left years ago, because we are unable to face the truth. Or perhaps you yearn for a particular person, someone who does not and will never love you, but hope keeps you still bound and you are unable to form new relationships, simply because you keep thinking "what if". Do not get me wrong - we still must have hope. Hope is what keeps us alive in the direst of moments and the darkest of alleys. But once hope - real hope - is gone, you must be able to resign and get on with new things.

Hope is a funny thing. We read Reader's Digest to hear of stories of miracle survivals, or a ill person's account of a fight against a terrible disease. Yet these are the rarities, the gems. The rest of us are just coal and rocks. But that's okay, if we accept that. This does not mean that we can't still have hope and wish for miracles. However, we only have a limited life span, and thus we do not have the time to wait and hope forever. One has to accept his mortality, and realize that there is only so much time, and then make the decision whether to hope for a miracle, or to give up and move elsewhere.

Giving up as a tool

There's also another kind of resignation: the one that gets you what you really want. It is important to realize that what you think you want, and what you really want can be two completely different things - and sometimes the mind has trouble letting go of the idealized image it has created. Looking for one's soulmate can be such a thing: if you cannot let go of the image of the ideal boy- or girlfriend, you can never accept the fact that nobody is perfect. If you let go of the image of this ideal non-existence, then you actually may find what you really are after.

In the same way, if you think too lowly of yourself, you can get stuck with someone you really don't want - because you cannot let go of the fear of having to live alone by the rest of your life. Perhaps you will, perhaps you won't. Living alone is the preferable choice to a bad relationship.

"Those who cling to life die, and those who defy death live."
--The sengoku daimyô Uesugi Kenshin

If you fear death, you cannot be a good soldier, believed the old samurai. Thus they learned to accept death, and became fearsome warriors - as suicide bombers show so painfully clearly these days, the most fearsome enemy is the one that does not fear death.

Not too late, not too early

It is also important to know when to resign. Resign too early, and you may have missed your chance. Resign too late, and it may be that it is no longer effective. In most boardgames, it is considered impolite to resign after all the meaningful moves have been made, but the score has not yet been counted. One should be able to face the loss - resigning during score counting only brings more shame than actually losing the game.

Once upon a time, there were two monks who went on a pilgrimage across the country together. One day, they came to  a river bank and saw a beautiful girl who was unable to cross the river.

Seeing her difficulty, the elder monk volunteered to carry her across the river on his back while the younger one looked on in consternation.

When the sun went down, the monks came upon a dilapidated shack and decided to stay there for the night. The elder monk quickly fell asleep while the younger one twisted around, unable to calm his mind. Finally, he woke up the elder monk and reprimanded him for what happened during the day, "As monks, we are supposed to keep away from women. I am really ashamed and troubled by what you did today!"

The elder monk looked at his friend and a smile broke up on his face, "Oh, so that has been bothering you! Brother, I have left the girl behind by the river bank, why are you still carrying her around?"

-- Old Zen story
Giving up does not mean that you are losing. Imagine a situation, where you are suddenly confronted by a person demanding your wallet. He has no apparent weaponry, and no apparent friends. You can either give up now, and hand over your wallet, and lose a bit of money, or you can risk it. There's a certain point after which you will probably have to fight - and if it turns out that the person has a concealed knife, or five friends lurking in the shadows, resigning is not going to do much for you at that point. Sometimes you cannot quit, regardless of how much you really want to, so the winner's choice is to resign while he still has a chance.

But you cannot resign too early either - otherwise you will be running through your life like a scared bunny rabbit, always giving in, always apologizing. It is difficult to find the balance, and most people can get it right, most of the time. Sometimes not. But it is important to realize that giving up is almost always a valid option, and that should be considered one possible solution whenever you are faced with a choice. As much as it may hurt.

For the mathematically inclined among you: do not get stuck in a local minimum. ;-)

Finding limits

There are some souls among us, who wish to go and push themselves to the extreme limits and beyond. Some do it in the fields of physical prowess, some delve deep into knowledge, or perhaps science. These are the people who advance humanity: the great explorers, scientists, nurses, etc. The dreamers, the thinkers, and the makers. They all learn at some point the art of letting go - because being great in one thing always means sacrificing other things.

Also, one should not go out and find his own limits to see how far he can go - but to see when he can let go. You don't really do bench presses to know how much you can lift up, but to know what is the first weight that you cannot move. Because having that limit means that you have a target, and you know when to stop trying because you risk damage to yourself.

Accept the limits.

Learn to forgive.

Teach yourself the ability to let go.

Nina, Arja, Ari, Tanja, and Katja - thank you for the inspiration. May you all be blessed in whatever you do.

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"On Resigning" last changed on 19-Jan-2004 23:19:38 EET by JanneJalkanen.
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