Drop Something

September 28, 2018

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

“Be like a tree and let the dead leaves drop.”


Happiness, Freedom, and Letting Go

July 03, 2017

Photo courtesy Ester Marie Doysabas
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything—anger, anxiety, or possessions—we cannot be free.”—Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

Over the past few days, I’ve been going through each one of the 877 (!) posts on Catching Happiness, to make sure they all transferred properly to the new template. This process has been bittersweet, as I’ve relived highs and lows from the past eight years: milestones in my son’s life; adopting our cat, Prudy; the joyful memories of our dog, Scout, and the deep grief I felt when she died almost two years ago. There have been changes, both longed for and mourned over, dark days of depression and overwhelm, but also days of excitement and exploration. So many simple pleasures and everyday adventures.

I can see how much happier I am when I’m able to let go, to allow these happenings and emotions to flow through my life, rather than cling to them, or try to hurry them along without truly experiencing them. I’m not naturally good at letting go, but I’m getting better with practice. And it’s true—letting go, freedom, happiness—they’re connected in ways I’m just now beginning to understand.

As I get older, I’m having to let go of more and more things I do not want to let go of. I’m not in charge of the world, surprisingly. Some days, I’m barely in charge of myself. But when I do manage to uncurl my fingers and letgoalready, I’m glimpsing a freedom I’ve never experienced before.  It feels good. It feels…happy. And I want more of that.

What have you let go of? What would you like to let go of?

Happy Independence Day to all my American readers!


Dropping the Rope: The Power of Letting Go

July 15, 2016

 “Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.”—Eckert Tolle

I’ve done it a thousand times, but this time something went wrong. I was bringing Tank out of his paddock to go up to the barn, when another horse squeezed between us, pulling Tank’s lead rope tight. In response to the pressure, Tank pulled back, jerking the lead rope out of my hand. Because I didn’t have the good sense to drop the rope when I first felt a tug, the result was a severe rope burn on the palm and middle finger of my left hand. I spent the remainder of my time at the barn with my hand wrapped around an icy water bottle, and the rest of the week healing.

While this was an instance of literally needing to let go, it reminded me that there are plenty of attitudes, expectations, fears, worries, opinions, burdens, and limitations we—I —should let go of. We’re often taught about the importance of persevering—not so often about letting go.

I’m now of an age where letting go is taking center stage. My son is grown and my role in the family is changing. I’m becoming less interested in what others think of me, so I’m reevaluating what I do and how I do it. I’m setting aside certain desires and dreams to make room for new ones. None of this is easy, and it starts with letting go.

As you might have guessed, letting go does not come naturally to me. I’m more inclined to cling, to fight change, to stay rigid. What am I so afraid of? Pain? Discomfort? Chaos? Pain, discomfort, and chaos are part of life. Holding tight to that lead rope reminded me that holding on doesn’t protect me from pain. Sometimes it causes it. And here’s the thing about letting go:

It reduces the pain. If I’d dropped the rope as soon as I felt Tank pull against it, I wouldn’t have gotten hurt. I don’t know why I was hanging on so hard—there was no real reason for it. Sometimes we hang on so hard, and for what?

It allows us to regroup and move on. Tank trotted off only a couple of strides and the other horses did nothing but sniff noses or flick an ear in his direction. I was easily able to collect him and resume our walk up to the barn. Sometimes it’s only when we’ve let go that we see the way out of our difficulty, or the excellent alternative to what we were clinging to in the first place.

If we’re in a situation where we’re clinging hard to a person, belief, or outcome, and we’re miserable and frustrated much of the time, perhaps it’s time to at least consider letting go. Take a few minutes, close our eyes, imagine what it would be like to let go. Do we feel relief? Panic? Deep sorrow? Visualizing letting go might offer us the breathing room we need to see a better option for moving forward. If our attitudes and expectations rob us of happiness, we should let them go. If we’ve tied our happiness to a particular outcome that we just can’t seem to produce, it might be time to let that go, too.

In a case of perfect timing, yesterday, our yoga teacher, Tina, finished the class by reading us the following poem as we lay in final relaxation pose:

She Let Go

She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.

She let go of the fear. She let go of the judgments. She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head. She let go of the committee of indecision within her. She let go of all the “right” reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go. She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go. She let go of all the memories that held her back. She let go of all the anxiety that kept her from moving forward. She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go.

She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter. She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.

No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and it is just that.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.
—Rev. Safire Rose

What are you clinging to? Is it time to let go?

Jennifer Maier

Rummage Sale

October 08, 2014

Introduction by Ted Kooser: I’d guess everybody reading this has felt the guilt of getting rid of belongings that meant more to somebody else than they did to you. Here’s a poem by Jennifer Maier, who lives in Seattle. Don’t call her up. All her stuff is gone.

Rummage Sale 

Forgive me, Aunt Phyllis, for rejecting the cut
glass dishes—the odd set you gathered piece
by piece from thirteen boxes of Lux laundry soap.

Pardon me, eggbeater, for preferring the whisk;
and you, small ship in a bottle, for the diminutive
size of your ocean. Please don’t tell my mother,

hideous lamp, that the light you provided
was never enough. Domestic deities, do not be angry
that my counters are not white with flour;

no one is sorrier than I, iron skillet, for the heavy
longing for lightness directing my mortal hand.
And my apologies, to you, above all,

forsaken dresses, that sway from a rod between
ladders behind me, clicking your plastic tongues
at the girl you once made beautiful,

and the woman, with a hard heart and
softening body, who stands in the driveway
making change.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Jennifer Maier from her most recent book of poems, Now, Now, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Jennifer Maier and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


The Milestones Just Keep Coming

February 04, 2013

The University of Tampa

I spent much of Saturday with my son attending the “Florida Admitted Students Preview Day” at the University of Tampa, the college he is slated to attend in the fall. Let me just say, I don’t see how it’s possible he’s nearly ready for college. Didn’t he just learn to walk yesterday?

The college visit brought back memories of my own college days, four of the happiest years of my life. In college, I began to find out who I really was, discovered I loved to travel, fell in love for the first time, and met life-long friends (including my husband). Oh, yeah, I learned a few things, too. If my son’s experience is like mine, it’s safe to say that the child who enters will not be the same one who graduates.

Saturday, college officials start by separating parents and kids—fitting because we will soon be separated most of the time (sniffle). I find as I walk away from my son that I have confidence he is (mostly) ready for this step, that he won’t be unduly overwhelmed or nervous, as I would have been at his age. I have only mild feelings of nostalgia/angst—I’m mostly excited for him to move into this new stage of his life.

I can picture him at this school. The smaller class size, emphasis on experiential learning and more personal attention seem tailor-made for him. Not to mention the abundance of food available at all hours on the college’s meal plan. (Actually, I kind of want to go here.)

I jot plenty of notes while I listen to the director of enrollment, the director of career services and the director of financial aid (especially her!). I realize there’s a lot to do before he starts school, whether it’s exploring scholarship possibilities, collecting items for his dorm room or even registering for a class at the local community college to get a head start on credits and the college experience.

As we drive home, I find it hard not to give him advice and make suggestions about what classes and extra-curriculars he might like. Yes, I know him pretty well, but now is not the time for unsolicited advice from Mom. To quote the UT senior who spoke to the parents, “Parents should guide, but the students should lead. This is our time.”

We’ve reached another milestone, another phase of the process of letting go. One more finger of the hand holding Nick’s has been loosened. I haven’t let go yet...no, not quite yet. But I have a feeling it won’t be long now.


Letting Go, Making Room

January 09, 2012

About this time of year, I usually get a bee in my bonnet about simplifying and decluttering, both physically and mentally. 2012 is no different. Maybe it’s because the holidays seem to wreak havoc with my home and schedule and I’m desperate to get back to some semblance of order! I’m not the only one who feels this way, though, and it’s been reassuring to read others’ words about the whole process, and why it’s important and necessary.

The desire to clear out is more than just a desire for tidy desktops and crystalline thinking. It also has to do with making room amid the clutter for who you want to be and what you want to come into your life. Edward W. Smith put it this way in Sixty Seconds to Success: “Make room for the new you. You may not have totally determined who the new you is going to be, but you probably have decided that there are some things about the current you, that you want to change. Well while you are working on what the new you will be, start ‘cleaning out a room’ for the new you to live in. Get rid of the junk in your life both physical and mental that doesn't fit you anymore. Take things out of your schedule that are taking your time away from finding out what you want to do. By making room for the new you, you will create a vacuum that the new you will rush in to fill and you will be on your way to the top.”

It seems to me this process is largely about letting go. Letting go of the stuff that crowds our lives, whether it be kitchen gadgets, sporting equipment, or unexamined and outdated beliefs. Perhaps this means admitting we bought something for the person we wish we were, not the person we really are, or realizing that one of our “shoulds” is really someone else’s idea, not our own.

This periodic clearing out is important because too much mental and physical clutter distracts us from our primary goals by the constant irritations of having too much to do, and/or living in a messy, disorganized house.

The thing is: sometimes letting go is scary and hard. Christine Kane understands this, but points out that “We need to pay attention to what we are telling our subconscious minds when we hold on.” She goes on to write, “What are you holding onto? What thoughts and beliefs are you putting out into the Universe by clinging to it? Are you telling yourself you don’t believe in the inevitability of your own success and prosperity? Or that you don’t believe you can expand and create better things in your life?” (This is totally me. I cling, I grasp, I hold on to and try to control everything I can—and some things I can’t.)

Letting go can feel like failure or wastefulness. But things change—people and situations change. What served us well no longer does. Let go of those things, and maybe someone else can use them. Something even better is waiting for the chance to come in—we just have to make room for it.

What things are you clearing out this year? What one thing can you let go of today?

Might this be part of my problem?