Monday, March 28, 2011

Letting Go

While I was biding my time at a very long stoplight a few months ago, I noticed a crow perched on the tippy top spire of a tall tall evergreen. The noodle-y spindle was not strong enough, so every time he tried to settle, the branch would fold under his weight. He would flap frantically to keep from falling and then try to settle again.

I was so intrigued that after the light finally changed, I pulled to the side of the road where I could park and watch. Why didn’t he just fly to one of the nearby trees or hop down to a sturdier branch? Did he think that apical sprig was suddenly going to solidify? I was reminded of the saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over, thinking you will get a different result.

I could relate to that silly crow. How many times have I acted or reacted in some stubborn or habitual way, thinking that this time it would have the desired result? I can see my therapist sitting in her chair years ago, looking at me with the hint of a smile, asking, “And how is that working for you now?”

I’ve been thinking about that crow as this month comes to a close. Our focus this month has been on step 3, giving up the delusion of control. For me, this month has been an opportunity to practice accepting the things I cannot change. It has been a reminder that I have the power to choose not my circumstances, but rather how I respond and interact with my circumstances. And it has been an experience of how exercising my choice can increase or decrease my joy or my suffering.

This is shaping up to be a year of living on my knees, of yielding in faith to the wisdom of the universe. As tectonic plates shift under nations and continents, the ground under my feet is shifting and creating a new world. As Rabelais said when asked where he thought he was going after he died, “I go to seek a great perhaps.” Aren’t we all?

I started this month with the serenity prayer, so that seems like a good way to end it. Many of us are familiar with the first part of the prayer, but Darlene and Tom shared the rest of it with me. Here it is.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

–Reinhold Niebuhr


  1. "God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change,
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference."

    I should try remembering those words. It would sure make my life a lot easier.

  2. Galen: For years, I have told my college students there is a guaranteed way to be exactly where you are today ten years from now. Just do whatever you have done for the last ten years.

    It is far better to let life take you wherever it leads. Just follow. It is less mentally draining.

  3. "Trusting that He will make all things right
    if I surrender to His will"

    I have always loved this line.

  4. Chrissy--These words would make all our lives easier, wouldn't they?! Thanks for stopping by.

    JJ--No kidding. I said before that if necessity is the mother of invention, exhaustion is the mother of major life changes!

    Alida--I like this line, too. It fits very well with my word of the year this year--yield.

  5. Wow I do like JJ's comment....very insightful, as was your crow is strange how we keep trying some things over and over, they say we will keep doing them too until we learn the lesson....but also it is important to remember in all things no matter what our reaction to them is the real deal....and life seems to constantly keep reminding us of that almost daily! I hope you had a great refreshing and renewing time up at the cabin!

  6. I think it's just some people's OCD this need to control. Like joggers, if they don't do 3 miles of jogging in the morning and night, and only do 2 miles in the morning, their whole day is off and they need to spend it in bed.

    People who need to control can't help it. They feel "off" and their whole day is shot. I think a majority of control issues come from maturity. As I've gotten older, I've just given up trying to control certain things. More of a "I don't give a crap anymore" philosophy. There are some things I can't let go because I know it's just not right, but most is "whatever". I feel SO much better when those moments come around.

  7. I loved the crow metaphor, Galen, and I'll give props to anyone who can use "apical" correctly.
    Reviewing the past in order to understand it better is a perennial topic of value.

    I think the reason the latter part of the Serenity Prayer is less well-known is that it's not as inclusive or as universally applicable as the first part. It's overtly Christian (and some would say sexist) in phrasing, and non-believers find it off-putting.

  8. aneri--Thanks!

    Karen--I agree--JJ always has something very worthwhile to add. As do you. I like the reminder of the real deal. And thank you, I did have a nice time at the cabin.

    ryoko--I would like to think that control issues are resolved by maturity, but for me, I think my control issues were resolved mostly by exhaustion. It takes a lot of energy to run the universe!

    Mikey--I appreciate your observations about the rest of the Serenity Prayer. You are right that the words are clearly Christian and in that way limiting. However, the universal concept behind the words is lovely, I think, and I always feel free to change words I am uncomfortable with. For example, when thinking of the prayer for myself, I take out "sinful" because I don't think of this world as sinful. I hope that others can see through the words, too, to the more universal meaning.

  9. So many things are moving and shifting in my life right now - I am like the crow, Galen, just trying to hang on until I can figure out a balance. I do not want to stop the shifting, as it has been phenomenally hard to get it started and to maintain its progress.
    Unlike the crow I think and I can choose, so I will not keep doing the same thing.
    I am having no success with job hunting, so I just stopped for awhile. I am working on writing a grant for an educational project with some of my time - investing in something new an different - flapping my wings

    These amazing books keep coming to me to review, and are providing new insights - trying to go with the flow and not push the river
    Nice writing and pulling together of ideas - Thank you

  10. Hey Galen, you sound like me- I definitely would have pulled over and watched, too. But I probably would have grabbed the camera out of my purse.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, The Blogging Biz Mom

    I REALLY think you should join the Blogging Buddies...we need encouraging blogs :-)

    I have a couple of other blogs:

    Come on home - my mom blog

    Working at home advice

    Have a great day!

  11. Another beautiful post Galen. The message is exquisite. The remaining verses of the serenity prayer seem familiar to me... so I must have seen them before. They're equally beautiful... and meaningful... [as you say] if the universal nature of the offering is observed.

    As for me... I am slowly accepting with faith the things I can't control. It's not an easy thing.

    Thanks Galen for your impact here :-)

  12. Patricia--You might enjoy a book I read last fall, Open the Door by Carol Rupp. It's about times of transition. She talks about the discomfort of the liminal space, when you are no longer where you were, but not yet where you are going to be. Thanks for your comment.

    Carolee--Thanks for your comment and for the invitation. I will contact you on your blog to find out more about your group.

    Jean--No, it isn't an easy thing. I'm proof of that! I'm working on it, too!

  13. Hi Galen,

    Lovely story about the crow and gaining insights into life simply by observing our surroundings. It really does drive home the point that insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. There is so much insight to gain if we are more aware of all that goes on around us.

    Letting go is not easy especially if something is important to us. If we are able to let go, that is for the best. But if we cannot let go, then let us at least remember the lesson of the crow and keep on learning from our mistakes and adjusting our actions until we succeed. That is a less insane way of doing things.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  14. Ah, letting go is such a difficult concept tot me but something I avidly try to do! It does feel remarkably better when I let something go instead of holding on to some silliness though

  15. Hi Galen,
    I love the concept of letting go. To me it means surrendering and saying no to the fight. It's a chance to be more "zen like" throughout my day even if things go off course. Letting go means being ok when things become difficult. Thanks so much for this post Galen!

  16. Thank you for posting the rest of the Serenity Prayer, it's very beautiful and very inspirational.

    "..yielding in faith to the widsom of the universe". I love that! I'm going to make it my new mantra.

  17. Irving--I appreciate your gentle approach to our efforts to let go when it is very difficult. Thanks for your comment.

    Michelle--It does feel better, but I caught myself just this morning being a crow! I had to laugh and let go.

    Dandy--"surrendering and saying no to the fight"--What a lovely phrase. Thank you.

    Kara--Yield is my word of the year, so I'm getting a lot of practice with it these days!

  18. Yes, it does take a lot of mental power controlling the universe! LOL! I think the maturity and mental exhaustion go hand in hand.


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