You’ve all heard it before at some point – “Let go and let God.”
Well allow me to suggest an alternative to the trite saying.
“Let go and let go.”
See, I removed the “d.” It’s much more efficient, by approximately one letter.
“Let go and let go.” I am coming to believe life is a journey which consists mainly in learning to let go. When we struggle to let go of a particular thing, life has a way of bringing it back around to bear on us.
Oftentimes, the very thing we resist so hard is often what we become, albeit in a circuitous manner. The famous TV show Lost illustrates this idea on numerous occasions throughout its episode catalogue. Allow me to offer a few of my favorites, followed by a personal insight. The show has been out for well over a decade, so I won’t feel bad if you read some spoilers in these examples.
The first, and favorite of mine, is the story of John Locke. After being conned by a long-lost father into giving up a kidney, Locke becomes obsessed with knowing why, why, why his father would do such a thing. This obsession with having to know the reason bleeds over into his life on the island. Upon having a dream which he believes will lead to an important discovery, Locke along with fellow islander Boone finds an airplane at the top of a cliff. Locke, unable to climb the cliff, implores Boone to go and find the meaning of the airplane, to discover what’s inside, to find out why. In the end, the airplane falls off the cliff with Boone in it, which leads to Boone’s death. In the same way that Locke’s father used him to get what he needed, Locke used Boone to get what he needed. The wound led to resistance, which led to Locke becoming the very thing that wounded him in the first place, namely a father-figure who uses others to get what he needs.
The second, is the story of Kate and what she did to become a criminal and fugitive. The show flashes back to Kate’s life when she was 24. In a stunning scene, Kate kills her step-father in their house by filling it with gas and lighting it on fire. The question everyone asks is why? We find out later that her step-father is actually her real father, and further that he physically abused Kate’s mother, and occasionally made uncomfortable advances on Kate. Near the end, Kate reveals that she killed her true father because a part of him was in her, and she simply could not stand to live with such knowledge. Kate resists the notion that she contains part of her bad/sinful/awful father so much that she attempts to “remove” the problem. But in doing so she becomes a bad/sinful/awful person in the process.
In both these stories, the characters grasped tightly onto a particular ideology with fists clenched. This desperation led to a sort of wild and frenzied set of actions which reinforced the very thing that led them to clinging onto the ideology.
In my own experience, I desperately try to avoid being selfish. So I give my time away and constantly look to be with others whom I can invest my time in. However, this leads to me being exhausted much of the time and there comes a point where I end up acting extremely selfishly in order to protect my own limited resources. In my active resisting of being selfish, I become the very thing I try to resist.
Let me say it this way: we all in the course of our lives have become deeply repulsed by something, or deeply wounded by an ideology or a person. Consequently, we do everything we can to cover up/undo the wound, to resist the person or ideology by establishing lines we’ll never cross, creeds we’ll always hold onto, and actions we’ll never let go of. However, it is these very lines and beliefs that often lead back to the place where it all began, back to the original wound or ideology or person. We must learn to let go, to unlearn these well-trodden paths.
The unlearning of past behaviors is the letting go, but unlearning can feel so foreign to me, a westerner, who sees knowledge as always good, and forward progress as the way.
Forgiveness itself is also a sort of unlearning, for any perpetrated act speaks a lesson and identity into the person committing and the person receiving. Forgiveness of myself, and forgiveness of the other requires, almost necessitates, an unlearning of whatever ill identity has resulted from the action.
To unlearn and to let go is not an easy thing to do. The phrase to let go implies a relaxing of the hands or a loosening of tension in the body, but oftentimes letting go takes significant effort and discipline. It is no easy thing to just “let go” because if it were, more people would be doing it.
How do we then unlearn? Is it paradoxical to learn how to unlearn? I don’t know if I have the answer..
Jesus said it like this: “You must become like a child to enter the kingdom.” What I think he is saying here is that one must travel backwards, one must recapture an innocence, a lack of knowledge, a naivety about the way things are in order to see things as they were always meant to be.
“2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Again, I am coming to believe that life is a journey which consists mainly in learning to let go. For Locke, for Kate, for myself, pain and hurt could be avoided by learning to embrace the things we are running from, by learning to let go of the things which wound us, and by learning to take to heart the saying, “Let go and let go.”
Some final questions:
What is the thing that repulses me the most in someone else? That irritates me beyond normal reason? I often find that such attributes can be found within me…
How do we learn to let go of those things? Is learning to embrace the fact that I can be selfish a cop-out, a failure, a compromise? Don’t I need to continue resisting being selfish in order to not be selfish?
The featured piece is Death and the Maiden by Schiele – a startling portrait of a maiden clinging desperately to death personified as an individual. The way she clings is distinctly off-putting and creates a dissonant scene replete with harsh colors. I always have an uneasy feeling after viewing this piece.