Let Go or Be Dragged

Let go or be dragged is a Zen Buddhist proverb that is new to me and deserves the reflection of everyone.

It sounds so simple, so easy. Too easy, in fact. If you're being dragged behind an animal or a vehicle and you're holding onto the rope that attaches you to the runaway thing, why not just let go? Your skin, your clothes, your ego, your sanity - everything is being scratched and scraped away in unbearable pain. There is no reason to hold onto a rope that is dragging you faster to death. Let go.

But what if you're scared to let go? What if you're blindfolded and handcuffed while you're being dragged? You don't know where you are, and you're not up for a fight. You might be in the middle of nowhere. You might have been followed by an even bigger runaway, and the only thing stopping it from running you over is being dragged. Maybe the adrenaline of holding on is the only thing keeping you alive. If you let go, are you free? Or are you already dead?

Death is a horrible analogy to use for this, but it is literally what happens if you've been pulled through actual gravel for long enough. Since the proverb shouldn't be taken literally, I refer to the death of one's sanity and spirit. When you're being dragged metaphorically speaking, it's still hard to tell whether or not to let go. And it's not easy to let go of a rope that doesn't exist physically.

Sometimes, it feels safer to be dragged behind for a while. Maybe whatever you're attached to is moving slowly for the moment or pulling you through soft grass or a shallow stream. It's not so bad until it picks up again and charges onto pothole-riddled concrete. 

I think you can't let go every single time because you're not always being dragged at every moment. This one project is dragging you but it will be done in two days? Finish it. You have the strength and stamina to have gone this far. If you "let go" constantly as soon as you assume you're being dragged, then you just end up sitting on the side of the road and no one's going to let you hitchhike.

But when things are bad, when things are breaking off bits of your sanity and spirit and overall well-being, when the pain is so intense that you'd rather be run over by a hypothetical force behind you...that's when you absolutely have to let go. Far easier said than done. Abused spouses know this for sure. When it comes to saving your life, sitting on the side of the road for a bit - having the chance to actually breathe in the air around you, to be still, to look up, even when you don't have a plan - is much better in the long run than being pulled by wild horses.