It is a difficult lesson – and skill – to learn. Once one “gets” it, however, one can find an inner peace and freedom seldom known. The lesson is all about “Whose life is it anyway?” and “Who’s got the problem?”
The lesson teaches that living life is a full-time job; that to try to live or even manage any other life is misplaced, oftentimes hurtful and, ultimately, wasted energy.
To “walk in another’s shoes” or “live in another’s skin” is a vivid and sensitive way of describing empathy and understanding. But taken as a prescription for how to find a meaningful life, either phrase can seduce someone away from the task at hand – accepting, owning, managing and nurturing the only life one has.
Sound selfish? Please stay with me.
When someone tries to manage or control another, or take on another’s problems as if the problems are their own, they can miss the point of what their own life is all about. If, as has been said by the saints, “the glory of God is a person fully alive,” the challenge everyone faces is to walk in their own shoes and live in their own skin. But that is simply where it all begins. Should the challenge settle there, then it becomes selfish in the harshest sense of the word.
Any person seeking fullness of life needs to be connected with others, needs to be concerned and caring. No one, wrote the poet John Donne, is an island. Not even recluses or hermits. If a butterfly’s wing can send ripples through creation, reaching out a helping hand does even more.
“Letting go” does not mean “disappearing” into a narcissistic nook, thinking “to hell with you; I am taking care of me.” Letting go means “letting be” in the simple sense of accepting, making space for and learning from others – and life – while “being there” in order that becoming can happen.
Life demands involvement; involvement means relationships that respect the gifts and talents of all. Accepting and appreciating one another can leave a self open to the surprises of continuing creation. “Letting go” usually elicits an audible sigh of relief; “letting be,” on the other hand, requires the simple abilities of widening one’s eyes and of holding one’s breath in awe of life – within and all about.