Letting go can be difficult especially in the case of letting go of a loved one. Death, divorce, a move across the world, the end of a close friendship – these are things that cause us pain and it’s usually hard to see the positive side. And in some cases, there is no positive side.
But letting go can also be a joyful experience, particularly when we let go of things that no longer serve us.
I remember the day I decided to let go of worry. I knew in my gut that worrying didn’t prevent bad things from happening nor did it immunize me against the pain that accompanied an unfortunate event. But I come from a family of worriers who were incapable of saying goodbye without adding “Drive carefully -watch out for the other guy – call the minute you get home”. In fact my mother had the habit of calling to warn me about the dangers lurking in mall parking lots, microwave ovens, and “good samaritans” who might try to pull me over to tell me my brake light was out. Worrying was as second nature to me as drawing breath. But when I read a question in some random book asking to identify a single situation in which worry had a positive effect, I must admit I was stunned. I thought. And thought some more. I tried to make connections between being a responsible adult and worrying but I couldn’t get anything to stick.
I started paying attention to people who didn’t worry. It was a revelation. They seemed so light and carefree. Yet they were still responsible. They put on their seat belts, took their sick kids to the doctor, paid their bills, went on vacation. But they did those things without the constant voice in their heads warning them that their house might burn down while they were on a beach in Mexico, or that if they didn’t get their 5-year-old with the sore throat to the pediatrician he’d develop meningitis, and they’d have a full blown medical emergency on their hands.
How did I know these thoughts weren’t running through their heads? Because I asked them. I polled my friends, coworkers, and acquaintances about worrying. A few of them were world class worriers. But not the majority. Some of them admitted to a little fretting at night when they couldn’t sleep, some claimed not to worry much at all. When I started asking “but what if” questions, they shrugged. “Why worry about something I can’t control?” a good friend said. “It seems like such a waste of energy…”
How much energy had I wasted worrying? Too much – that was obvious. From trotting into my newborn’s room to make sure he was breathing whenever I woke at night to waiting up for my kids to get home from evenings out, I figure I put in a good twenty years. And that was just worrying about my kids. When I included worries about oral book reports in 6th grade, getting invited to the prom, my spouse, money, careers…..
Enough I told myself. And just like that, I quit.
It was so easy. All I needed to do was let go.