Giving Up / by Michelle Cowan

I never give up. And I give up all the time. This is one of life’s great paradoxes.

Most people shun the idea of giving in. I often hear my own voice saying things like, “You can’t let go of this one. You can’t give in. Just a little farther. You’ve come this far; don’t give up now. Keep stretching. You can do this. There is enough. You can make it.”

But how many times, for the sake of sanity and happiness, do I also hear, “You can let this one go. Release. Surrender. Loose your grip. Take it easy. Rest now. You are not in control of outcomes; just let go. Give it up. Just give a little.”?

The same phrase, moved into a different context, reframes life and the way I live it. People claim it takes more strength to refuse to relent, to march onward despite aches and pains. For me, however, the endless march comes fairly naturally. Of course, I have plenty of moments when passivity and inaction take hold. But here, I’m focusing on the many, many times when I commit so fully to a task or ideal that I may never release it. I will hold onto it until I see completion.

Certain projects or ways of thinking evolve into monolithic dedications. I devote undue time and resources (internal and external) to “high priority” ideas that seem to have been labeled “high priority” without any cause.

I may decide that, to save money or reduce stress, I will take time every night to make lunch for work the next day. A task that serves as a sort of self-caring convenience can become a monotonous task that my obsessive-compulsive side refuses to relinquish. I will make the lunch every night because I have committed to doing so, even if it’s one in the morning before I get home. Over time, I’m exhausted and resentful of the activity. I want nothing more than to go to bed. But I might continue just because the act provides me safety and the illusion of self-care.

In the past, I also stayed true to certain spiritual ideas for years simply because I had decided at some point that they were true—based on no evidence whatsoever. To realize that I retained beliefs simply because they had been taught to me over and over again stung to the core. I couldn’t imagine life without those beliefs. It took a long time to lay them down and walk forward, even though they caused unfounded guilt, stagnation, confusion, and more. When I finally moved on, I discovered more glorious realities and ideas that I ever could imagine. It takes great faith to leave a kind of faith sometimes.

This same notion applies to former ideas I’ve had about food (good/bad, scary/safe), about what it meant to be a good employee or person, and about all sorts of tasks I’ve had assigned to me on the job or given to me in everyday life.

Oftentimes, when I feel worn down or bored, I discover that I have been striving for perfection in some area of my life. That eternally fruitless quest for an ideal always leads to never-ending projects, feelings, and beliefs that harm me and keep me from doing things I enjoy. Endless pursuits distract me and prevent the growth I truly want.

In those instances, I have to give up. I have to stop fighting the uncomfortable feelings. I have to give up trying to change an unchangeable situation. I have to let go of ideas that bring me supposed comfort but end in pain.

This means I may end up crying for hours in my apartment. I may have to take deep breaths to make it through a tedious or triggering meeting. I may have to admit that I don’t believe what I used to. All of these actions place me square in the middle of a liminal space—a space between, where I have left something behind but have not yet found the new.

For instance, I finally stop moving long enough to feel sad or disgruntled, and then I have to piece together exactly what provoked that emotion. I may even have to formulate an action to satisfy the feelings. I may be just need to accept my tears.

Breathing deeply during a meeting may open up space for me to examine exactly what is making me so uncomfortable. Do I need to say something? Not say something? Work on resentments toward another person? Is it simply that my body needs food or a pit stop?

Leaving old beliefs behind may mean uncertainty about what I believe. To live in that space is to live without explanations, without reasons. This can be hard for know-it-alls like me who appreciate pat statements and decisiveness.

In all of these situations, I give in. I give up something. I let go. I surrender.

However, in all of these situations, I don’t give in. I keep walking. I keep investigating. I keep living.

I give up an old way of living but do not give up living altogether. That is my truth for the day.