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Learning to Let Go


There’s a funny thing about how vulnerable most of us feel out here in the world, trying hard to control the spinning wheel of life around us. We wake each day to the craziness of all we’re trying to manage, and it feels a little like trying to hold down the top on a big pot of popping corn. Almost unconsciously, we keep our focus on preventing the disasters we are convinced are going to occur if we take our eyes off that pot. We wrestle with pot holders, a hot lid, and a process that we're worried will be unmanageable. When we get older, we begin to realize that the most disastrous debacles never really happen. Things may not turn out perfectly, but they're usually not a tragedy, and sometimes we even learn something. It doesn't mean that nothing bad ever comes to pass. It's just that focusing our energy on trying to keep some unnamed grim event from occurring is pointless. Letting go of the whole thing is not only easier than trying to control it, but it frees us to just enjoy the process.

It requires a much quieter approach to notice that real life is just happening right in front of us and that—really—we will be fine.

I’m learning this, little by little. I understand how I got here, and I have great compassion for my vigilant self that thinks she needs to constantly keep the wolf from the door. But it’s an exhausting way to live. What I’m noticing more and more is the bounty that comes my way when I am not trying at all. And it’s nothing new. Practically every precious thing that has occurred in my life has come my way on its own accord.

This week, I had a lovely reminder of this. We went to San Diego to visit friends who moved there from here. Also visiting were two lovely British women that our San Diego friends met serendipitously on a trip to the Galapagos several years ago. They visited the United States not long after that, and we all connected. Later, we visited them at their home in Yorkshire, where they took us on beautiful hikes and showed us England in a way we would never have been able to see it on our own. This week was the first time in several years that we all reunited. For a few days, we saw a bit of San Diego, asked each other a million questions about life in our respective parts of the world, and let ourselves float spontaneously in that sweet place where you just connect with each other. None of us is young, so we all have many stories to tell. It was fun to listen and talk and laugh and just let things evolve.


No sort of planning was involved in how we all met each other in the first place. I met one half of my now-San Diego friends years ago at work, and we had the good fortune to get to work together after that for many years. As you do in a deep friendship, we brought our spouses into the group and, over the years, we’ve traveled together, laughed for hours, learned from each other, and talked long hours about those parts of our lives that we are quick to try and control, but finally just let evolve on their own.


There was that feeling last week with the six of us together. We are all mostly retired now, taking on new things, experiencing the weirdness of being older and having our bodies change, and realizing there is still so much more out there in the world. I feel strongly that it takes a very light touch to just be in our lives and to enjoy what drifts into our experience. We grow up thinking that heavy-handed control is the only way to keep ourselves safe and on the paths we’ve decided we must be on. In truth, it requires a much quieter approach to notice that real life is just happening right in front of us and that—really—we will be fine. I can never say for sure what that will look like, but I’m learning finally that I don’t need to know.