Let Go, In Advance

“Whenever you experience the pangs of losing something, don’t treat it like a part of yourself but as a breakable glass, so when it falls you will remember that and won’t be troubled. So too, whenever you kiss your child, sibling, or friend, don’t layer on top of the experience all the things you might wish, but hold them back and stop them, just as those who ride behind triumphant generals remind them they are mortal. In the same way, remind yourself that your precious one isn’t one of your possessions, but something given for now, not forever…”


Explaining the quote above from today’s chapter in The Daily Stoic, author Ryan Holiday gives us a bit of historical context: in riding triumphantly into Rome after a big battle, the winning general would receive the full adulation of the entire city. Overwhelming glory! But he’d also have someone riding behind him, helping him to keep his ego in check by reminding him that he is mortal — memento mori. In effect, “stay grounded, because nothing is forever and this doesn’t belong to you.”

The wisdom today is that we have to constantly remind ourselves of the same thing — that we don’t truly ‘own’ anything. Nobody belongs to us, either, not even our children. That last statement was hard for me to write. I know that I don’t own my kids as property, but I do often think of them as my own. But the truth is they’re mortal too. And they belong to themselves, so I shouldn’t “layer on top… all the things [I] might wish”, but rather let them be themselves. They belong to themselves, truly.

I’m reminded of a quote by Kahlil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.


Our children don’t belong to us, and truly nothing we love belongs to us, at all. They are given to us just for a moment, and not for eternity. We must enjoy and appreciate them while we have them, but not cling — for attachment holds us back from self-fulfillment.

In the meantime, we must expect the unexpected — expect that someday the glass will break, and someday people we love will die. Things will change, other things will end. The world is always changing and we can’t control that. All we can do it prepare our souls for acceptance, so that we aren’t crushed when it happens. Let go, in advance.

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