It was about 4 years ago when I first heard the term. I was sitting in the living room of a pastor colleague who was temporarily home bound, recovering from surgery. She was in that horrible place of being well enough to be bored but not well enough to be doing anything. She was a woman of action and getting things done. She liked her committees and planning sessions. Cut off from those things, the cabin fever was wearing on her. I went just to chat and break up the tedium of recovery.
I was in the middle of helping a church through a major change. Change always brings stress and anxiety and when an organization or family or relationship changes the stress and anxiety cause conflicts. Or rather conflicts. Little fights over who should sit where or what will be served at a meal. Big fights over who gets to call the shots and why we have to this or that or even any of it at all.
On this particular day, my heart was, as they say in the old stories, heavy. Conflict was boiling up and it was boiling up between me and some people in the church who were really very dear to me. People I considered good friends. I was torn between wanting to keep them with us through the change and not wanting their fears and negativity to get in the way of what I thought was best for the organization. I was afraid I would have to end my friendship with them. I was worried I might need to confront them on certain behaviors I found unacceptable. All this and more poured out when my friend asked how things were going.
I felt a bit guilty for dumping this on her, but told myself that maybe this was just what she needed. A Gordian Knot to slice through. I hoped for an idea from this woman of action. A plan. A thing to say or do that would solve this.
She listened and commiserated. She reminded me again that change is stressful. And when I responded to all her words with, “Yeah, but what should I DO?” she cupped one open hand in the other and answered:
“Hold them lightly.”
She went on to remind me that we can’t make anyone do anything. We can’t change how they feel, we can’t even always change how we feel. But we can hold people lightly. Let them do what they will do, feel what they will feel. Don’t be angry at them for it. Don’t reject them. Trust that they will do what is best for themselves and you go on doing what is best for yourself.
Maybe that’s what she really went on to say or maybe that’s just what sense I took way. But that moment is burned into my mind, sitting in that tastefully decorated living room, watching that woman of action and plans cupping her hands as if waiting for communion.
I am working on holding things lightly this Lent. Maybe instead of giving up social media or chocolate or meat I am giving up the death grip I usually try to have on everything. It’s not easy. As a Midwestern woman I was raised to believe I need to care more, always more. But sometimes more caring, more emotion, more determination just makes things worse. Especially when we can’t do anything about the situation.
Holding things lightly don’t mean you need to give up or stop caring. It means keep doing what needs to be done, knowing that you will be okay no matter what the outcome is. It means remembering no one (not an individual, not a group, not the universe) is required to act the way you think they should. It means realizing that tying yourself in knots very rarely fixes anything. It’s a bit more Zen than the typical American “you can be it if you can dream it, if you just have enough fire in your belly to have it your way” mindset. But I know the more I can hold things lightly, the better I feel.
So how do we actually do it? I am a thinker and try to solve every problem with my mind. But that has its limits. More and more I am trying to make this a physical act. I take a deep breathe, hold an image or sense of the situation or people in my head, and then release it with an exhale. Sometimes I take a little longer and mimic my friend’s cupped hands as I release my breath. When my attachment is particularly strong and my head is being particularly stubborn, I take a moment to hold something heavy, a stone or a marble, in my open hands. I let it roll and move on my palm as a remember of what that loose grip feels like.
More and more, I find that just the phrase – hold them lightly – helps me remember I need to let go just a bit. And when I have trouble doing that, well, I hold that lightly, too.