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How Can I Let Go if I Don't Know I'm Holding On?

How Can I Let Go If I Don't Know I'm Holding On?
by Linda Douty 
Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2005
180 pages
Reviewed by Karen Frank

What a timely book! Having loaded myself up with four magazine articles on deadlines and a book proposal expected by an agent, I sat in my blue recliner paralyzed by perfectionism. Linda Douty's book helped me begin to release the unrealistic expectation that I could churn out one perfect word after another, thereby retaining the admiration of friends and other writers, an admiration Douty accurately identifies as the illusion of being loved.

Douty begins by explaining why we should even think about letting go. Her second section focuses on what we need to let go of, while the third section emphasizes the “how” of letting go. Finally, she helps us explore whether or not we are on the right track in our process by looking at the qualities we lose, or gain, through this process. For example, as I attempt to let go of perfectionism, I might notice that I am more patient with everything and more able to live in the moment, instead of worrying my way into the next moment. Douty talked about her own tendency to over-schedule and become so busy that she lived an “edgy” pattern, which pulled her off center and sucked all the life and joy out of her days (p. 79).

This book is particularly helpful because Douty’s concept of letting go is an expansive one. She talks about letting go of people, then dives deeper and explores letting go of personas, perspectives, patterns, and plans. Ultimately, she notes, letting go is a spiritual path that leads to “clearing the barriers to our wholeness in God” (p. 21).

Douty helps us learn how to let go by discussing methods to become aware of what we are clinging to and available to the workings of spirit in our minds and hearts. We follow that up with action, ongoing action, often supported by our friends and family. After we have done our work, we allow Spirit to work in our lives and come to a place of acceptance, “accepting the gifts of grace as they wash over you” (p. 154).

Although Douty’s perspective emerges from Christianity, I think it is valuable for all people. Certainly the emphasis upon moving away from being ego-driven would find resonance with Buddhists, Muslims, and other people of faith. I would like to see more of a social justice perspective, although there are allusions to destructive political undercurrents.

Douty's stories about her own struggles make this a readable book for lay people as well spiritual directors. We identify with Douty, recognizing strands of our own stories in her tales. As directors, we learn how to help our directees develop strategies to let go of whatever interferes with their soul journey. Supervisors can learn how the spiritual directors they work with need to let go of patterns or thoughts that interfere with their role as mediators or facilitators of the directee's relationship with the Transcendent. All of us benefit from Douty’s joyful affirmation that the Love that calls us to let go of all resistance, helps us bears that resistance away, and waits for us to participate in the ongoing flow of Mystery.

Karen Frank completed the academic program at Seattle University, earning her MATS. and a certificate in spiritual direction. She is a writer, spiritual director, and photographer in Port Townsend, Washington, USA, where she lives with her partner of eighteen years.

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