Letting Go

Growing up in Manhattan, you don’t necessarily do things the way most people do. You don’t, for instance, learn how to drive by the time you’re 16. But you do learn how to trick-or-treat in apartment buildings and how to travel an intricate subway system. You don’t generally spend much time outdoors hiking or camping or sailing or skiing. And when you grow up in Manhattan being raised by older parents who are not athletic but who are artistic, you learn that spending time in museums, at the theatre, in bookstores, and in libraries is fulfilling and enriching. I grew up appreciating art and literature – enjoying the best of what our culture has to offer. I also grew up to be fearful. Fearful of the unfamiliar physical activities that were considered by my parents to be uncomfortable, unsettling, and, most importantly, dangerous. The words “Don’t do that; you’ll hurt yourself” became a refrain to my life’s song. A refrain that was ever so soft at first, but reached a crescendo as I grew older.

Ironically enough, while most people would have been afraid to walk the streets of the upper west side in 1970s New York City, I was taking the public bus to school by myself by the time I was 7. The Museum of Natural History, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and my school marked the four corners of my personal map and the gridded concrete landscape of New York City felt completely safe and familiar to me. But launch me on a boat on the ocean? Stand me on skis at the top of a snowy hill? These unpredictable natural landscapes, with their promise of surprise, their promise of speed, their promise of having to use my body in concert with the geography itself to get where I wanted to go….oh no, these landscapes were absolutely terrifying to me! And the refrain “Don’t do that; you’ll hurt yourself” roared in my ears.

Here’s the thing I have come to recognize about fear. Letting fear guide us is by far the surest way to hurt ourselves deeply and irrevocably. It’s infinitely worse for us emotionally and physically to allow fear to debilitate us than to try doing something that takes us out of our comfort zone. It weakens our spirit to remain immobile as life swirls by rather than trying to fly. By refusing to recognize and face our fears, we render ourselves sense-less, unable or unwilling to taste, see, hear, or touch whatever life has to offer. What better way to become more secure in ones own body and soul than to maneuver, adjust, and master all that is uncomfortable, unsettling and dangerous? And so I have begun to challenge myself and I keep getting back on boats and back on skis. I’m not wholly at ease on either yet, but these sports have opened new worlds – with each, I have cultivated new friends, new views, new direction, and truth be told, I thoroughly enjoy the rush. The rush – the soaring, the flying, the letting go – has begun to finally quiet the old refrain.

A new year often brings with it a sense of peace and comfort in continuity. If we let it, a new year can also bring the promise of surprise, the promise of the unexpected, the promise of trying something for the first time, the promise of letting go in order to see what’s around the next bend. How thrilling! How dangerous! And how necessary, so that we can keep growing in this life. In this new year, I’m going to sail a little further and sit on the low side when the boat begins to heel. In this new year, I’m going to ski a little faster and start at the top of a slightly steeper hill. And in this new year, I’m going to write of these things – to let go of the fear in order to embrace and share the rush that is life.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


  1. Brava! Would that we all will be as hopeful and as fearless.

  2. So aptly timed -- I have a bit of soaring/flying/letting go scheduled for next weekend. (Both literal and figurative.)

  3. Come ski the Sierra. The snow is perfect!

  4. Anonymous1/05/2010

    Eckhart Tolle and Sue Monk Kidd - two terrific guides for your journey. Perhaps you've already discovered them.

  5. "and sit on the low side when the boat begins to heel" Eeek! That is scary. :~) Enjoy every moment!

  6. the 'dis-ease' of new places, experiences, things, and people IS what makes us grow, expand and live. Without it we just exist in space. BUT a sense of safety to come back to is sooooo important too. Here's to surprises!