Just Let Go of the Reins

About three years ago I was vacationing in the Cayman Islands. One of the things I enjoy doing during vacations is horseback riding.  It’s a great way to view the landscape of a new place.  As is the case in much of the Caribbean, many of the guided horseback tours include a ride along the beach.  Many also have the option of taking the horse into the ocean (the shallow part, obviously).

After completing our land tour, we arrive at the beach and proceed to enter the water. As we’re riding, the guides increase speed slightly as they lead us through the section of water that is roped off for the tour.  The increasing difficulty of the ride leads to members of the group falling from their horses and struggling to get back above water. I watch as each one goes down.  As they do I yell, “Let go of the reins!!” You want them to let go of the reins because the horse doesn’t stop just because the rider has fallen off. So if the rider doesn’t let go of the reins s/he will be dragged along the ocean floor and, perhaps, get trampled by the horse as it continues to follow the group, as it is trained to do.

Fifteen or twenty minutes into the tour, I am still on my horse. Soon, I’m jerked backwards as my horse takes off at full speed. I’m startled but am able to gain my balance and stay on the horse as it wildly chases the horse in front of it. Eventually, I find myself sliding from the horse and splashing into the water while . . . holding on to the reins!

Intellectually, I know I should let go.  I know this. However, when you’re underwater and flipping over again and again, you lose your sense of up and down.  Your feet can’t find the ocean’s bottom even though the water is only 4 1/2 feet deep.  Your eyes have difficulty distinguishing light and dark on a cloudy day when there’s no sun to guide you.  You’re completely disoriented and the only thing you can firmly grasp is . . . the reins.  As a result, you hold on to the reins as if your life depends on it.

In life, we sometimes hold onto things as if our lives depend on them. Many of the things we’re holding onto can’t actually save us.  In fact, many of these things have the power to destroy us if we let them.  Holding on to things like anger, resentment, fear, envy or stress can, quite literally, kill us.  Intellectually, we know that holding onto these things isn’t good for us.  So why do we continue to hold on? Sometimes it’s because we’re stubborn.  Sometimes it’s because we simply don’t know how to let go. We’ve been carrying some baggage for so long that it actually feels normal to us. We’ve lived with stress or regret or defeat for so long that we think that this must be our lot in life and that we’re destined to continue to live the remainder of our lives with these burdens.

This isn’t true for any of us.

We all have the power to let go of the reins and save ourselves.We all have the right to live lives free of the many and varied burdens we pick up along our journey. We simply have to figure out how to do it.  Sometimes we can figure this out on our own.  Oftentimes, we need help  figuring out how to let go. This was the case for me as I was being dragged along the bottom of the ocean.  I was telling myself, “Let go.” I was hearing the guides yelling “LET GO!” I could hear the messages. I understood the messages.  However, I simply could not figure out how to get my fingers to open and let go of the reins.  After what seemed like hours, but was in fact just a few seconds, one of the guides reached down and gently tugged the reins.  I’m not even certain he had a firm grasp on them. But the slight tug was just enough to get my hands to open. It was enough to get me to distinguish up from down. It was enough to get me to plant my feet firmly on the ground and stand again. That’s all it took. A slight tug was all I needed to do the things that I always knew to do but simply hadn’t had the courage to do.

I relay this story to people fairly frequently because I think it’s a good illustration of how we hold onto things in our everyday lives that have the power to destroy us. Sometimes saving ourselves, our sanity, our happiness is as simple as letting go.  So, just let go of the reins and see what happens.