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Learning to Let Go... & enjoy!

March 7, 2023

In describing his 'one-step forward, two-steps back' potty-training saga with his son, a father recently described his entire task as a caregiver as one of 'learning to let go'. I've been reflecting on this as I've battled to loosen my grip on my expectations and hopes for this year. My mantra for 2023 was 'slow and gentle'. It's been anything but.

I've missed deadlines (this blog is already two months late). I've battled with reflux as my body - in a state of overdrive - has struggled to digest unprocessed feelings over unexpected events. I've procrastinated over a college application for further study. And missed the deadline. I've agonised over how I might split my body in two when the semi-final of my daughter's Literature Competition competed with a long-anticipated birthday camping weekend. Caught in the hamster-wheel of life, I've allowed myself to spin, rather than making the choice to slow down and get off.

In the midst of all this, however, I can commend myself for taking up something which has helped me to practice the art of 'letting go'. It's also been the tool that's shifted my mind and body from a state of rigidity to relaxation and fluidity. I've given myself permission to play. At times, I've been the one to initiate it or encourage it between siblings. There's been physical play; dancing, pillow-fighting or wrestling, and a whole lot of silliness from operatic-style singing to ridiculous face-pulling.

Much harder to do is responding to their invitations to play when I least feel like it. My excuses go something like this, "I'm too tired right now", "I have too much to do" or the most clichéd, "I have a headache", usually stress-induced. Despite knowing it's the very thing I need, making the transition to let go and play from that place, is not easy. The paralysis or resistance that takes over is akin to the experience shared by a mum who facilitated a trapeze-jumping exercise for a group of CEOs.

The aim, for this responsibility-shackled cohort, was to get them used to the unsettling feeling of free-falling. On the day, however, they all held tightly onto their bars. Much like me with my to-do lists, they resisted the call to play. Swing as they might, they could not let go.

There was one exception. One member of the group let herself fly, catapulting her body gracefully through the air, totally lost in the exhilaration of the moment. When asked how she managed to do this, she explained that the net below gave her all the confidence she needed. Even if she fell, she'd be caught. The physical and mental benefits of letting go are far greater than the risks of falling. Even if we do fall, there is usually someone or something to catch us.

Playing resources us and a split-second is all it takes to transition. It's the choice to trust that all will be ok. When we can be playful with others - our partners, colleagues or kids - even just for a moment, our social engagement system is fired up. We are lost in the interplay of seeing the other and being seen in return, reminding us that we are creative, social creatures after all. Like a good night's sleep, play fills our tanks and offers the resilience we need to do the hard stuff.

Learning to transition more easily is something I'm practising. It helps not to overthink it. Like the birthday surfing-party I arrived at after battling through traffic. Irritated by the delay, I soon found myself swept up in the excitement. Before I knew it, my mind had let go of the coffee I hadn't yet drunk, and I found myself zipped into a wet-suit hauling a surf board to the beach for my first ever surfing lesson with a bunch of 8-year olds. Crashing into the waves, learning to balance and allowing myself to fall into the ocean was the perfect antidote to my annoyance. Not to mention a greater wake-up than any caffeinated drink could offer.

The inability to transition sometimes comes from fear of what others think, or from my need to push through and 'achieve' as if there is something I need to prove. I am either chasing down an imaginary future filled with illusory 'success', or reacting to a distant past in which I didn't experience the freedom or safety to experiment and play.

Whatever the reason we shy away, the magic of play is that it bring us into the present and it grounds us in the here and now. Play is the fastest route I know to connection, with myself and with my loved ones. It short-circuits flighty words and conversations which can lead you down rabbit-holes. It is the language of children and it helps us reconnect with what they are naturally very good at: the capacity to stay in the moment. And let go of everything else.

So the next time your toddler, tween or partner extends you an invitation to break away from that all-important presentation or excel spread....try not to check the time or think of your boss. Rather...stick your tongue out, wiggle your hips and play or dance like your life depends on it. Because it does.

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