Achieving A Healthy Balance Between Letting Go And Holding On.
Tightrope Walker: Adria Ellis 2015/04/1.Flickr.
Since time immemorial, human beings have expressed themselves through art and writing.
In order for this release to be successful, there must be a balance, a boundary, between letting go and keeping some kind of limits in place. Without this, there would be uncontrolled chaos.
In art, we can let go within the boundaries of the paper, the canvas, or the wall. Inside that space, we can release our thoughts and feelings. Similarly in literature, the page, or the screen, provide a boundary for us to express ourselves as freely as we choose.
It is important that we find a boundary to stabilise and contain our feelings, our letting go. As it is in art, so it is in life.
“Life is balance of holding on and letting go.”
Vermeer. Woman Holding A Balance. Wikimedia Commons.
Creativity As Catharsis: Letting Go In Art And Writing.
“I’ve always had a little bit of darkness, and I’ve always been someone who was grieving. I had kind of had a tumultuous upbringing living in an abusive home, so for me, writing has always been a point of catharsis.”
Art and literature reflect life, and so often we come across examples of these different media which demonstrate the human need to let go and have a cathartic experience.
“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”
The abstract expressionist artists, such as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, covered their canvasses in expansive brush-strokes, with Pollock pouring and dripping his paint.
Jackson Pollock. Lucifer, 1947. Oil and enamel on canvas
Post-war artists like Pollock were letting go of their emotions through creative acts, allowing the artistic process to flow freely from the depths of their unconscious mind.
“Creativity: the art of not trying, the art of letting go.”
In a literary context, the stream of consciousness is a way of being expressive in writing. This is a flee-flowing narrative technique used in a novel, poem or other written work, employed to create a sense of being inside the mind of the characters.
It is a method of portraying a character’s inner world that aims to make them more familiar and more real as people.
It produces a narrative that is less encumbered by what might be regarded as artificial strictures. Free from the imposition of punctuation, grammar or sentence structure, there is less to inhibit the natural flow of thought and feeling:
‘Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall, let us trace the pattern, however disconnected in appearance, which each sight or incident scores upon the consciousness.’
This approach produces prose that feels as though the writer has really let go, allowing herself to be freely expressive…..
“For now she need not think about anybody . She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of – to think; well not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expensive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others.”
Christiaan Tonnis ~ Virginia Woolf. Oil on canvas.1998. Flickr.
- Psychotherapy: Letting Go Of Old Ways Of Thinking And Feeling.
Duffy Sheridan – Alexis. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“Let it hurt. Let it bleed. Let it heal. And let it go.”
Allowing oneself to say goodbye to feelings such as guilt or shame can in itself be a cathartic and releasing experience. Again, this may not be easy.
Psychotherapy is partly about letting go. Within the boundaries of the therapy room, the allotted time, and with the assured empathy and confidentiality of the therapist, we may feel safe to let go of painful memories, of certainties, of hopes, and fears.
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
A patient I worked with, whom I shall call James, had great difficulty letting go of the hope that his father would change.
James clung onto the wish that this man, whom he experienced as cold, manipulative and unempathic, would ‘see the light,’ and begin to be the parent he longed for.
This was a child’s need, and James was in his thirties. It would be impossible for James ever to regain the child-love he had needed.
Yet if he could be helped to understand this, if he could let go of the restrictive internal narrative and expectations he had created for his father and himself, it might be possible for him to move on to discovering new sources of nurture and care.
It took many sessions of gentle exploration of his hopes and fears of never having his wishes met. It took time before he came to accept that he needed to give up hope, without which he could never really get on with his own life.
“If you are brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.”
He slowly began to realise that there were others he could relate to in order to experience a little of the empathy he craved. He saw that he needed to let go of trying to control things, to design his world, to change his memories.
“Sooner or later she had to give up the hope for a better past.”
Eventually James understood that his father had not experienced much early parental warmth and empathy himself and that he was incapable of becoming the perfect father James craved.
He had held onto a fantasy image of paternal perfection because he had received so little in actuality.
This difficult realisation, that he needed to turn away from false hopes, to turn his back on fruitless dreams, and let go of his story about the way his life needed to go, freed James to become more self-sufficient, and more able to give time and attention to other people and other interests in his current life.
Davide Corona – Portrait of Back  Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“I can finally say
long ago; it gives me considerable pleasure.”
These insights also enabled him to move into his first committed relationship and to discover new ‘selfobjects.’
The term selfobject was coined by the psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut. It refers to others, past and present, who can help us sustain ourselves and meet our needs. Kohut believes we can find new selfobjects throughout our life. I find this a hopeful and useful concept.
Letting Go Of Emotions.
Edvard Munch – The Scream Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
is like a demon
trying to escape into your spirit,
it claws at your insides
a darkness that relishes
the pain it will cause.
If you keep it
in the pit of your stomach
if you hold it inside your ribcage too long
it will take your tongue prisoner
when you least suspect it
and terrorize everyone you love.
this cruel thing
it can be defeated,
it does not own you
it deserves no space
inside your spirit.
find a way to let it out
cry, dance, sing, build, create,
do everything you can
to give it a way out.
Wild Embers: Poems of Rebellion, Fire, and Beauty by Nikita Gill
Rembrandt. Angry. Wikimedia Commons.
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
Pieter Huys. Woman Enraged. Wikimedia Commons
The importance of having some way of releasing our emotions during this pandemic, of having an outlet for our feelings, cannot be overestimated.
Maybe we can do this alone, or with a friend, relative, or using online therapeutic help.
However we go about it, expressing the feelings engendered by this very difficult phase in all our lives, feelings like frustration, boredom, loneliness, grief, vulnerability and loss, is crucial to our mental and physical health.
Keeping our feelings pent- up and repressed can result in psychological and physical symptoms that are both distressing and potentially harmful to us.
It is understandable that we will all be beset with many kinds of feelings in life, especially during times of crisis.
“We try so hard to hide everything we’re really feeling from those who probably need to know our true feelings the most. People try to bottle up their emotions, as if it’s somehow wrong to have natural reactions to life.”
However you choose to work through your anger, it is important that it does not consume you and make you unhappy. If anger becomes unmanageable, then there are several ways of getting help with this.
Letting Go And Experiencing Joy.
Reisha Perlmutter – Moon Flower . Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“Nothing in the universe can stop you from letting go and starting over.”
Letting go of restrictions and inhibitions can be a joyful and freeing experience. At present, whilst living under Covid restrictions, we are, of course, limited, yet it is still possible to let go in other ways at this time.
For example, we can let ourselves enjoy the aspects of our life that we love, whether that is another person, books, television, painting, writing, walking, experiencing nature, and so on.
The poet Mary Oliver certainly knew this, for she was able to repeatedly feel joyful through her experience of nature, as she witnessed the bluebird letting go his beautiful song into the morning air.
I hope you enjoy her poem, entitled- ‘What Gorgeous Thing.’
I do not know what gorgeous thing
the bluebird keeps saying,
his voice easing out of his throat,
beak, body into the pink air
of the early morning. I like it
whatever it is. Sometimes
it seems the only thing in the world
that is without dark thoughts.
Sometimes it seems the only thing
in the world that is without
questions that can’t and probably
never will be answered, the
only thing that is entirely content
with the pink, then clear white
morning and, gratefully, says so.
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