The Wisdom of Letting Go

author/source: Grace Zacaroli

Photo Courtesy of Hector J Rivas on UnspalshI love to read about or directly from the wisdom traditions of the world.  They have been profoundly helpful in many ways, often guiding me to clear out what isn’t useful in my thoughts, emotions, and patterns of response, and always refining my understanding of myself, others, and life.    

Many of these traditions speak of the importance of surrender, letting go, and non-attachment.  It’s up to us as individuals to understand what each of those things means to us, but there are some common themes.

  • Surrender requires that we identify and understand to whom or to what we will relinquish our personal, egoic, limited selves.
  • Letting go requires that we be willing to loosen our grasp on things that we believe are “right,” that make us feel safe and secure, or that we believe will make us happy.
  • Non-attachment refers to the practice of releasing that tight hold and maintaining a stance of openness to what is.

I think we learn best from stories, and I never mind sharing my own, in the interest of growth and wellbeing for all.  So here is one of my stories about the wisdom of letting go. 

I’ll start with the happy ending, which we never get to see when we’re in the thick of things: 

The greatest gift of my life came from letting go.

Like many women, I was wedded (pun intended) to the idea of falling in love, marrying, having a family, and living happily ever after (attachment #1 – an idea).  And I thought I was doing everything I could to make that happen (attachment #2 – the belief that somehow, I could control this outcome through my actions/performance). 

I fell in love, often easily (attachment #3 – the feeling of being in love, and attachment #4 - the idealized version of the person and the experience).  When, inevitably, I realized that things were not heading in the direction of my dream, I would try to “make the relationship work” (attachment #2 revisited – that illusion of control…). 

I was often drawn to men who were not interested, for many reasons, in commitment.  I was not dissuaded (attachment #2 again, with attachment #5 – a belief that someone else will “see the light”).  The few who were interested, I realized a bit later in the game, did not want the kind of relationship that I wanted (variation of attachment #5).

Along the way, I explored and analyzed and revisited all kinds of beliefs about myself, others, success, and family, each of which contributed in some way to my holding on. 

Photo Courtesy of Kelly SikkemaSome of these ideas might be familiar to you, so I’ll share a few:

  • I believed that my worth derived from my value in the eyes of others and in the world. This belief has many expressions, and it easily goes underground.  You think you’ve mastered it, but there it is again, showing up in ways you hadn’t anticipated… 
  • I also believed that my identity derived from my value to others and to society.
  • I believed that this identity depended on my successful fulfillment of the roles of pleaser, caretaker, super performer, intellectual… and underneath it all, the Good Girl.
  • I believed that family had to look a certain way. This was not a consciously held belief; I was open to all kinds of families. But deep in those substrata of the mind, where many socially constructed ideas are held, was a place where I held on to that old idea about family.  And about
  • I believed I would only be truly successful when I “did it all.” Not when I had it all, but when I did it all.  The effortless multi-tasking, always loving, always together, wildly attractive, happily married, professionally successful modern woman.  Such a powerful prescription!

I want to be clear:  Love and the institution of marriage are not the problem!  The problem was my attachment to my ideas about love and marriage. 

How is it that an idea can be so powerful that we cling to it, even when it flies in the face of reality?  And how do we know which ideas to believe in and which ones to release?

Photo Courtesy of Ross FindonUltimately, I believe only the heart knows the answers to the last question.  I’ve analyzed it six ways till Sunday, over many years.  The mind will always come up with answers.  But they’re not always helpful, even if they’re accurate.  And a lot of the time they are not accurate. 

The heart, as I understand it, is not the same as the emotions, though they can point to some truth of the heart.  It is a more holistic understanding, often intuitive.  I think of it as the direct line to the Soul.  That is absolutely what I needed, to find a better way forward.

I was 39 years old when I ended the last long-term relationship in which I tried to find love and marriage and happily ever after.  I cut my hair short, bought a little truck, and moved to Montana.  Looking back on all of that, I can only smile.  But at the time I was dead serious.  I was making a Change.

I had a new job, a new home, and a new start on life, I thought.  But of course, all those ideas and beliefs were still there.  I’d just stuffed them into a corner and put up a lovely screen in front of them.  For months on end, I pretended that the ideas in the corner weren’t continuing to direct my approach to life.

Fortunately, I was blessed with a series of small moments of beauty and inspiration that opened my heart and helped me question my ideas about things.  They whispered of possibilities I hadn’t considered.  These moments culminated in an up-all-night-come-to-revelation-in-the-morning experience.

 It was around 6:30 AM when I got up out of bed and came to terms with something.

I could let go of being married.  I could let go of that kind of love (well, it actually took a little while longer than this, but for dramatic effect let’s go with the overnight revelation). 

Photo Courtesy of Luke MichaelBut I really wanted to be a mother.

So, I started looking into adoption as a single parent.  It was a small town, and it didn’t take long for the local postmistress to ask me, on an unrelated call, “So… I noticed that you’re getting a lot of information on adoption.  Are you planning to adopt, Grace?”

That is life in a small town.  If you have a secret, people are going to get creative.  If you want to have any influence (let go of trying to control) over the narrative, tell your truth.

“Yes, I am!” I declared.  And I realized again how very happy I was to be doing this.  And I remembered that time riding the subway in my late 20’s when I had the thought, clear as day, “I’m going to end up being a single mother.”  Evidently, some part of me had known all along that this would be in my future.

I pursued the adoption path for a while.  I had navigated some of the hurdles of adopting as a single parent, and I was on the verge of the home study, when a wise woman who knows me well suggested that I consider IVF. 

I had had my tubes tied – for all the wrong reasons – and had assumed that I couldn’t have a child of my own.  Another belief to release.  As I explored the possibility of using IVF to have a child, my heart began to dance.  This was the way.

And my heart was right.  At the age of 40, I had a beautiful baby boy who has been my greatest gift, my greatest joy, and my greatest teacher.  I raised him on my own, though I had lots of help, and I made many mistakes along the way.  I had a lot of ideas about “perfect” parenting as well.  Some of those I hung onto; others I let go.

My son is now 23 years old, with a successful career and an incredibly solid sense of self that I think had very little to do with me.  He is out there in the world, doing what he loves, mastering some things far more effectively than I ever will, and he stays in touch.  We have shared a lot of laughter and love, and that has endured beyond any of the challenges we’ve come up against.

What more could anyone ask?

I am constantly discovering attachments in other places in my life – ideas, beliefs, and habits that need to be modified or released altogether, for me to be able to bring my best self forward.  This is a life practice.  And even with that amazing experience and miraculous outcome, I still waver when it comes to trust sometimes.

It is hard to trust.  Period.  Most of us have had a host of experiences that taught us that trust is not safe, not wise, not good.  We do need to be discerning about what and whom we trust. 

But I have learned that I can’t go wrong trusting the wisdom of letting go of my attachments.

Grace ZacaroliBio – Grace Zacaroli

My name is Grace Zacaroli, and I am so happy to be offering holistic life coaching, Reiki, and individual yoga sessions to people in my community and via video conference to people throughout the United States.  I worked in the field of mental health for many years prior to opening my own practice in 2021.  Having benefitted from a longstanding spiritual and wellness practice of my own, I found myself increasingly drawn to adopt a more integrative approach to wellness in my work with others.  This inspiration led me to pursue additional training in holistic health practices and life coaching, and in June of 2023, I closed my mental health practice and established Optimal Wellbeing, LLC – a holistic life coaching practice open to people of all ages and abilities.  I’m the single mom of an incredible young man who has taught me a great deal about life, love, strength, and respect.  I’m also a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a householder.  Each of these aspects of my life has been a place of learning and growth and has enriched my life in so many ways.  I look forward to continuing to share in the growth and inspire others to live their most full, meaningful, and joyful lives.