You Can’t Hold On to the Things You Love or Can You?

letting go 1One of the true ironies or life is that you cannot hold on to the things you find most precious.  You can try but life will take them away.  The older you get the more you will find the truth in what I am saying.  You can’t hold on to youth.  You can’t hold on to your spouse.  You can’t hold on to your money.  You can’t hold on to your fame.  You cannot hold on to your health and you definitely cannot hold on to your life.  The irony is that the very things that are the most valuable to us (and they may well be) are the very things that we have no way of holding onto.

“Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.”  ― Rainer Maria Rilke

I rather not admit it (particularly to myself) but we will eventually lose all of these things.  Your hair, your health, your chin, your physique, your beauty, your best friends, your fame, your fortune, your loved ones and eventually your life will all be snatched away from you.  They will all go before you desire them to go.  Some will go much too soon, but it is safe to say that we are never truly ready for any of them to go no matter when they go.  Perhaps some of us will be ready for death, but I doubt most of us will readily go when death comes calling.  One more year, one more month, one more day is all we will ask, but the answer will always be the same.  As in the famous story “Appointment in Samarra”, when death comes calling, there is no reprieve.

“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”  – Dylan Thomas

During the course of my life, I have seen countless buildings, stadiums, streets and even airports renamed.  They once were named after someone great and famous.  One might have expected that the names of such persons would be enshrined forever, but times change.  The Humphrey Dome (named after Minnesota’s most famous native son) was renamed the Metro Dome.  A few years later it was named the Mall of America Dome.  Poor Hubert, fame was fleeting.  So it shall be for all of us.  If they build a statue of you or if you have a graveyard someplace with a soaring monument, beware!  In a few years, they will need to put a light rail through or a parking lot.  Your bones and statues will need to be replaced for progress.

I just really love doing what I do. I know every career is fleeting and there will be time periods when I don’t get the opportunities that I’m getting right now, so I am taking advantage of them.  — Leonardo DiCaprio

I often tell my students that all an employer cares about is “today and tomorrow.”  Your past accomplishments are hot air.  Cotton Fluff!  Ancient History!  You won three gold medals in the Olympics?  That’s nice, how many software programs do you know?  You climbed Mt. Everest? How many languages can you speak?  You graduated Summa Cum Laude?  How much money can you make me today?  What you did yesterday does not matter; it is what you can do today.  It is hard for most of us (me included) to accept this draconian fact of life, but it is absolutely true.

OSHO tells a famous story about a great ruler who wanted to add his name to the Golden Mountain.  This mountain was the place in the universe where all “great” rulers got to carve their names in gold.  When the ruler died and was carried off to the Golden Mountain, he was amazed.  As far as he could see were the names of other “great” rulers who had been there first and already carved their names.  He looked for days and despite the fact that the Golden Mountain went on forever, there was no place for him to carve his name.  Every single spot on the mountain was already filled with the name of a previous “great” ruler.

How much do you remember of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, Napoleon or Peter the Great?  All the great conquerors of the world and today they are dust.  I would bet my last dollar you have never ever visited even one of their graves.  What matters to you today is not who is dead but who is alive and what can they do for you.  What do you care about the dead?  Even Jesus said:  “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.” (Matthew 8:22) 

How many times have you heard that funerals are not for the dead but for the living?  You cannot do anything for the dead but for the living, life must go on.  How often have you seen or even sent a sympathy card that read:  “I hope the many great memories you have of your loved one will help carry you through this difficult time?”   It is ironic we say this since the very memories they have are what will eat at their heart and ruin their happiness.  If we could only immediately forget the dead and departed we would never suffer.  But our memories keep us anchored to the past.  We replay them over and over again and each time we feel the pain of loss or guilt or dreams that will never be.  How often have you heard or said the words: “I only wish I had spent more time with them when they were alive?”

THEY have chiseled on my stone the words:

“His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him

That nature might stand up and say to all the world,

This was a man.”

Those who knew me smile

As they read this empty rhetoric;

My epitaph should have been:

“Life was not gentle to him,

And the elements so mixed in him

That he made warfare on life

In the which he was slain.”

While I lived I could not cope with slanderous tongues,

Now that I am dead I must submit to an epitaph

Graven by a fool!    (From Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology)

letting go 2Letting go is the hardest thing that any of us can ever do.  Letting go of the past.  Letting go of the death of a loved one.  Letting go of a goal or dream that has become unrealistic.  Letting go of memories of what or who we once were.  Letting go of expectations concerning our friends, our loved ones and especially our children.  Letting go of expectations for ourselves.  We cling like Saran wrap to outdated aspirations of fame, fortune, success and happiness.

We live in the glory days of the past and somehow we try to live them again.  We buy an old car that reminds us of our high school days and spend countless hours and dollars restoring it.  It is the car that we always wanted when we were in high school but could not afford.  Now we have it and we can drive it to rallies with lots of other old people who have restored their own memories at the cost of many dollars and hours.  Now we can sit around and talk about the “good old days” with fellow reminiscers caught in the fantasies of youth.  But we cannot be young again.   We become recyclers of the past.

As with everything, there is a Golden Mean.  Too much focus on the past may be bad, but perhaps a little is necessary for our lives.  Too much focus on the future may be just as bad but may also be necessary for our lives.  However, we cannot obtain the happiness and peace of mind that we all want by living in the past or in the future.  The true secret of happiness is finding the balance. The great prophets have always counseled on the need to live in the present.

“Tomorrow is tomorrow.  Future cares have future cures, and we must mind today.” ― SophoclesAntigone

Being human, it is very likely we will fail often in our attempts to move on or to let go.  We sometimes get stuck in the past.  We fret feverishly about the future.  We mark time by looking backwards or forwards and the day we are living in is forgotten.  We all have the human faults of greed, desire, envy, regret, and too much ambition.   I think this is what Christians mean when they say we are all sinners.  I would probably choose a different description but the end result is the same.  We make mistakes every day.  We have goals that we fall short of.  Resolutions that are soon broken.  Promises that are not kept for more than a few weeks.

“Not all of our heartless plans work as we intend; nor do all of our good intentions. We are where we are, and we can rarely predict where we will go, no matter how firm our beliefs.”  ― Michelle Sagara West,

I speak for myself when I say I have all of these faults.  They sometimes cause me to lose sight of the present.  I might more honestly say that they OFTEN cause me to lose sight of the present.  An old regret creeps in and I feel guilty.  A piece of envy sneaks up when I meet a former friend who seems to have “made it.”  A bit of greed arises when I see a neighbor’s new car.  A speck of denial follows the realization that I can no longer do some of the things I did when I was 25.  I count the days and weeks and months and years that I have left to truly make my mark on the world.  And all the time, the present slips by and I fail to notice the day and the wonderful gifts that each day brings.  I remember too late to appreciate the day and then it is already time for bed.

But tomorrow will bring another day and another opportunity to live life to the fullest.  If we can only let go of the past and the future, we have the opportunity for the happiness we all seek.  It is in front of us each time we wake up.  Carpe Diem!

Carpe Diem — by Robert Frost

Age saw two quiet children
Go loving by at twilight,
He knew not whether homeward,
Or outward from the village,
Or (chimes were ringing) church ward,
He waited, (they were strangers)
Till they were out of hearing
To bid them both be happy.
‘Be happy, happy, happy,
And seize the day of pleasure.’
The age-long theme is Age’s.
‘Twas Age imposed on poems
Their gather-roses burden
To warn against the danger
That overtaken lovers
From being over flooded
With happiness should have it.
And yet not know they have it.
But bid life seize the present?
It lives less in the present
Than in the future always,
And less in both together
Than in the past. The present
Is too much for the senses,
Too crowding, too confusing-
Too present to imagine. 

Time for Questions:

What fantasies about the past do you hang onto?  What memories would you let go of if you could?  Are you still trying too hard to forget the past?  Are you trying too hard to live the past or to make up for something you did in the past?  What stops you from moving on?  What are the important things in your life?  What if each day you simply focused on the present?  What do you think would happen to the important things?  Are they really that important?

Life is just beginning.

 Life is a balance of holding on and letting go


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