Why is letting go so hard?

Returning from war is never easy. 

Following WWII, there were some Japanese communities who had the insight to understand that many of their returning soldiers were not prepared or equipped to reenter their new world–whether that meant a civil or human society.  From their formative years through young adulthood, and in some cases into mid-life, these men had to be a loyal soldier.”  Now that the war was over, they needed a broader identity that would enable them to once again rejoin their communities as citizens.

Inspired, these communities created a communal ritual whereby a soldier is publicly thanked and praised effusively for his service to the people.  After this is finished, an elder stands and announces with authority something to this effect: “The war is now over! The community needs you to let go of what has served you and served us well up to now.  The community needs you to return as a man, a citizen, and something beyond a soldier.”

In his own work, Richard Rohr uses this story to talk about the need for each of us to “discharge our loyal soldier.”

Which is all well and good until you realize how usefully your loyal soldier has served you.

I do know this: My loyal solider has served me well.  And whether male or female, we all know the feeling…

It is the role where we feel needed (at times indispensable).

It is the role where we feel secure (certain of our responsibility).

It is the role where we feel important (even noticed).

And yes, at some point in our life, the loyal soldier may have been a “necessary” role.

But why now am I being asked to let it go?  To give it up?  To move beyond?  And what happen if I give this role up?

Because Lord knows, when I do, my life may be completely unpredictable, opening the doors to everything I have kept at bay.

Honestly… I’m not sure if my heart is ready.

But here’s the deal: I know that are time in my life when I’ve played roles which no longer serve me or the people who love me…

…because I associated the role with my identity

…because I have used the role to garner recognition and praise (“do you see me now?”)

…because there comes a time when “the role” buries authentic passion or wholeness or delight or fullness of life.

…because the role can protect me from stopping to look at unsettling matters, and the invitation to change.

No, it is not easy. Because to discharge the loyal soldier is to move from a place of “certainty” to a place of “uncertainty.” As in, I don’t know what this will mean. Except that I honor the core of my self that is present to this moment.

This past week, in Tampa, Florida, I spent time with some friends from a couple of churches talking about paradigm change.  Paradigm, meaning the way we see or view or make our way through the world. In the context of change: What’s next? Who are we? Who are we becoming? What is it that we are being called toward?

Which is heartening, until you realize how difficult it is to give that loyal soldier even a day off.

Whatever is honored will be cultivated.  Plato

(Notice that it is not what we think or believe or affirm in whatever creed we may teach.  It is what we honor–or intend or practice.)

Discharging our loyal soldier is about changing the paradigm.  It is about changing what we honor.

So that’s the sticky-wicket.  We are asked to move from a place of productivity or usefulness or resourcefulness or efficiency or reputation or even being a hero. We are asked to move to a place of openness and giving and learning and humility and soft-heartedness and receiving and most assuredly, unknowing.  The gift or recognition that in the giving up, in the moving from, we find a gentler soul.

My week found bookends in Manasota Key, Florida, where I began the week with old friends and returned Friday for a day in the water, giving no heed to pressing matters in my world or to a heart that chased resolution. I found a liturgical container made up of salt-water and friends and sun and wind and tides. And a letting go. Three firsts for me: swimming with two manatees near a grove of Mangrove; giddy watching dolphins surf in the wake of our boat; and sailing on a trimaran (on the Gulf of Mexico). Off to the west, the horizon, that line demarcating sky from sea, appears like a painting rendered with a fine brush, in an oil of indigo blue.

We find by losing.  We hold fast

by letting go.  We become something

new by ceasing to be something old.

This seems to be close to the heart

of that mystery.  I know no more now

than I ever did about the far side of

death as the last letting-go of all,

but now I know that I do not need

to know, and that I do not need

to be afraid of not knowing.

God knows.  That is all that matters.

Frederick Buechner

Notes: (1) To all soldiers who fought and died on real battlefields around the world-we are grateful for their sacrifice and are thankful to honor them on this, Memorial Day.
(2) The story of the Japanese soldier adapted from Bill Plotkin, Animas Institute, Durango, CO


Our life has become so economic and practical in its orientation that, as you get older, the claims of the moment upon you are so great, you hardly know where the hell you are, or what it is you intended. You are always doing something that is required of you. Where is your bliss station?
You have to try to find it.   Joseph Campbell
Mozart for Example
All the quick notes
Mozart didn’t have time to use
before he entered the cloud-boatare falling now from the beaks
of the finches
that have gathered from the joyous summerinto the hard winter
and, like Mozart, they speak of nothing
but light and delight,though it is true, the heavy blades of the world
are still pounding underneath.
And this is what you can do too, maybe,if you live simply and with a lyrical heart
in the cumbered neighbourhoods or even,
as Mozart sometimes managed to, in a palace,

offering tune after tune after tune,
making some hard-hearted prince
prudent and kind, just by being happy.
Mary Oliver (from Thirst)

May you be at peace.
May your heart remain open.
May you awaken to the light of your own true nature.
May you be healed.
May you be a source of healing for all beings.
Joan Borysenko (Version of the Buddhist metta prayer)

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  1. I love this post, Terry. With your permission and credit acknowledged, I plan to use it for our “Evening Prayer” service at Grace Episcopal Church here in Camden, SC on July 16th where I am a Lay Reader when called upon to read. We have a very small group for our Healing Prayer service, but a very close knit one who are very dedicated to God and His church. Your Sabbath Moment means so much to me and my spiritual life. I love the way your mind thinks and works. I feel as though you are a very good friend whom I meet and see often to spend time with. Thanks for being, and for being here. Bless you. :)) Barbara