All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on. — H. Havelock Ellis
Life is the Monkey Bars
Last week, I was at the playground with my nieces and nephews. I watched as one of my nieces traversed the monkey bars. Hanging from the first bar, she released her right hand and stretched her arm to the next bar. Then she released her left hand and brought it to meet the right. Even though the bars were at the maximum distance for her reach, she navigated it with ease. She continued across until the end, then swung her body on the last bar and jumped to the ground.
Her twin sister, who is taller and has a longer reach, perched on the ledge with her hands on the first bar, afraid to let go with her feet. Once she allowed herself to hang, she gripped the bar, seemingly unable to move even one hand to the next bar. This wasn’t about muscle; it was about mindset.
Eventually, with a little encouragement from me and her sister and cousins, she found the courage to release one hand and place it on the next bar. Then, slowly, she released the other hand and moved it forward. Slowly, she traversed most of the way before tiring out. Emboldened by her accomplishment she tried again and got all the way across.
Life is like the monkey bars. To get to where we want to go, we must master the skill of letting go. And letting go is hard, even when we desire what awaits on the other side.
All Change Requires Letting Go
For over a decade, I’ve helped clients move to new homes, and navigate the precipitating and ensuing change from that move.
Whether you’re moving to a new home or starting a new career, new job, new relationship, or a new business project, none of it comes without letting go: of mindsets, fears, attachments, expectations, what you think you know, a way of living and being, and more.
The Tension Between Holding On and Letting Go
Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it. — Ann Landers
In flying trapeze practice, we do an exercise called a “kill-and-build,” in which we allow our swing to die down and then work to build it back up. It’s a great way to build strength and work the mechanics to build height in the swing.
By the end of a kill-and-build, my arms feel like they will fall off and my hands are in pain. In that moment I desperately want to release my grip on the bar and fall to the net. Yet, in that moment it’s like my hands are glued to the bar. It takes all my strength to release my grip.
Circus is life.
It’s human nature to grip what we have, even when what we are gripping is causing us pain.
Even when my clients desperately want to change, they find themselves gripping to their current life.
Any change in life is typically preceded by some pain, whether it’s the pain of a home that no longer fits your life or a pain of feeling stuck in a job or relationship that is no longer meeting your needs.
The irony is that the moment we decide we want to change something, all the negative memories evaporate. We can recall are the good times.
This is why letting go is so hard.
The Lessons of Freedom
It is mental slavery to cling to things that have stopped serving it’s purpose in your life. — Chinonye J. Chidolue
Today is the last day of Passover, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the Israelites’ freedom from slavery in Egypt.
The word “freedom” does not appear in the story of the Exodus. God instructed Moses to approach Pharaoh and request “let my people go.” Pharaoh repeatedly refused, even as God subjected him and the Egyptians to the various plagues. Only after the tenth plague did Pharaoh let the Israelites go. He did not “free” them; he sent them out into exile.
Freedom Comes From Letting Go
This past week, I’ve written about various lessons we learn from Passover and our activities at the Seder. Each of them is an essential element to freedom: Questions. Choice. Faith. Structure.
Letting go embraces all of these.
Letting go requires us to recognize we have choice in where we direct our focus.
As we grow, we must be be willing to destroy structures that no longer work for us and create new structures that will support us.
Letting go of what we know or what has worked in the past is hard, especially when we can’t see what’s coming next or we can’t yet reach that next rung on the monkey bars. It requires faith.
Freedom is What Remains After We Let Go
You can only lose what you cling to. — Buddha
The dominant belief is that freedom is a destination that we pursue.
But the lesson of Passover is that we attain freedom through undoing — through letting go of what no longer serve us.
In a culture that encourages us to do, have, and be more, this feels counterintuitive. We often view “Letting Go” through a negative lens, equating it with giving up or losing. But this not accurate.
Look around. The people who are truly free are those who have mastered the art of letting go. They don’t cling to experiences in the past or to expectations of the future.
Once you know how to let go, you have nothing to lose. This gives you freedom.
Where do you struggle to let go? Please share in the comments or respond via Twitter to @reneefishman.