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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Letting Go vs. Giving Up: Lessons learned from a potato masher

Today's entry started out as something much different. I was going to write about the sense of apathy that a lot of people seem to be experiencing lately and how Wild Rose is a Bach Flower essence that can help with that. But then I started to consider that apathy can easily be confused with "letting go", and in fact is a desirable state to be in. Writing a blog, for me at least, is a very liberating exercise as it seems I can write about whatever I want whenever I want and although I am amazed by the number of people that seem to be reading it, I haven't heard much in the way of critique so... The following entry is more of a creative writing exercise but it is based on a true story and for me at least helps identify the difference between giving up (apathy) and letting go (the best way to change events to the positive).

"The Potato Masher Story"

Letting go and giving up are not the same actions and I have a scar on my forehead to prove that fact. Although I did not understand the fundamental difference between these two reactions until I was an adult (and a somewhat old one at that!), the lesson was shown to me as a baby.

Growing up in rural Nova Scotia meant Sundays were family days. My parents took my sister and I to church in the mornings and to our grandparents’ farm for the afternoon for the weekly gathering and family supper. They are fantastic memories for the most part. I remember playing in the hayloft in the barn, in the field with the cows, coaching newborn kittens from under the front porch, picking Lily of the Valley wild flowers, and being surrounded by adults that loved us. And of course, the food was delicious; real macaroni and cheese; homemade bread and pies and cakes, real cream and butter and jams made by my grandmother and of course- the mashed potatoes.

The family legend goes like this. When I was about 2 years of age, I had been confined to the high chair in my grandmother’s kitchen while the women were preparing supper. The men were out relaxing on the back porch smoking cigars and chewing tobacco while watching the world go by. My sister, who was not quite two years older than I, was allowed to roam freely around the kitchen area. Probably that is what got me “out of sorts” so that my grandmother gave me the potato masher to play with in the high chair. My sister took objection to that, and the fight was on. Much like two dogs will tug over a rope tug toy, we battled, both of us clinging to separate ends of the masher tugging for possession. Even at a young age I was stubborn and unable to give up and put up quite a physical fight. In the first and only fight my sister claims to have won between us, she decided suddenly and without warning, to “let go”. She did not give up the fight to win the potato masher. She didn’t say, okay you can have it. She just let go of the established pattern of tugging for possession because she could see it was not the method to get her what she wanted.

The result was surprising dramatic. With my own hands the only ones on the handle of the “weapon”, and no one counter pulling on the other end, the metal potato masher hit me squarely and forcefully, “right between the eyes”! While the tears flowed and blood spurted, all adult attentions (at least from the women!) were on my wound. My sister, although not unsympathetic to my injury, retreated to a corner of the kitchen with the potato masher! No one could fault her for my injury. I couldn’t even be mad at her. After all, she had only “let go”! I no longer wanted anything to do with the scary object that caused so much pain and was happy to let her have the dangerous thing!

My sister never planned such dramatics and neither of us grasped the significance, but today every time I crinkle my forehead just so, I can see the reminder that letting go of something is a much more effective option than giving up.

Sometimes we are so caught up in our tug of war struggles with others and the universe in general, we can’t see that letting go of the pattern of behavior is a much different reaction than giving up. Continuing to tug is exhausting at best. At worst, the events or the other person may be stronger or more determined than you and he or she will win, leaving you both exhausted and “broken”. Giving up on the other hand will leave you feeling exhausted, defeated, angry and perhaps even demoralized. Letting go of the pattern of behavior however in order to still achieve a goal can reap huge rewards while preserving your energy. You may get a pleasant surprise from the universe. You may even find you have gained a friend willing to help you get to your goal instead of tugging against you.

Those women in the kitchen were very smart. On the way to the hospital for stitches my father, summoned from the porch, drove. My mother sat calmly in the front seat. My sister and I sat in the back. With one hand my sister held a cloth to my head. With the other she mashed potatoes in the small bowl I held in my lap. While waiting at the emergency department, we giggled over the delicious mashed potatoes we both got to eat with our fingers!!

As I finish writing this, I go to the mirror to check that the scar is still there. It has become an old and dear friend and I’m proud to finally know the true significance of it.

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