“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” -Havelock Ellis
Back in the early days of mothering my days were full of the small details of children. What they ate, when they slept, who they played with, what they watched… The mundane was everything and my sense of mastery and control often clashed with a claustrophobia from how small my life had become. Looking forward to milestones like getting the last kid into full day kindergarten was as far as I could stretch, so distant was the idea that they would all actually grow up and leave home, it seemed fantastical. Even as the reality of their leaving loomed closer, my habitual ways of holding on to them, of needing some sense of control over their well-being didn’t release easily or naturally.
My new empty nest has become my lab and training ground for experimenting with and embracing the fluid space that lives between holding on and letting go. Now, my sense of mastery comes through my increased comfort with the solitary space and silence, which now clashes with the motherly care taking that for so long defined my identity. Following our recent spring break, which ended in serious bouts of poison oak and acute homesickness, my care taking/ problem solving drive in full gear, I found myself completely bereft, unable to both let go of my suffering kids in the spate of painful issues they dealt with, and also unable to really hold them, each one returned to their own life so far from home and my loving reach.
Loving people is how we learn to hold on. It’s a natural outcome of the deep attachments we make to the children we raise, the partners we commit to, and the people we befriend… It’s what happens in the day to day when we agree to show up for and care about others at least as much as we do for ourselves. And while holding on is often recognized as emotional dependency or a clingy attachment, it also can be witnessed in how we fight for and don’t give up on each other. At the end of a relationship or a life, holding on is how we remember and memorialize the time spent, the heart space shared.
A passage from Peter Pan illustrates this deep throbbing pulse between holding on and letting go when Wendy Darling is about to leave Neverland. Peter is crying and says, “It hurts so bad…” and Wendy, in her graceful wisdom replies, “It’s supposed to hurt, that’s how you know it was important.” The space between holding on and letting go is how the vibration of love moves through and makes meaning out of the constant change and perpetual departure that is life.
Just as holding on can show itself within a wide range of feelings and behaviors, the same is true for letting go. When we are hurt or feeling rejected we believe that we can dismiss or forget about what is lost. This never really works. This kind of letting go hasn’t matured enough to release the emotional attachments that bind us to the person or time that we loved. When we let go with love, there is a softness that feels forgiving and it allows us to come to some peaceful resolution about what was exchanged.
In many ways the continuum between holding on and letting go is circular. Diving deep into the heart work of one brings necessarily brings you around to the other, which is the bittersweet reward of growing up and aging. The heartache is important and brings peace. It is how we connect to the pulse of the universe’s heart living through us.