Joyful Musings – April 2009

Joyful Musings

By Joy Birnbach Dunstan, MA, LPC, MAC

Letting Go


Recently, I was reminded of some important wisdom from my dog. Not my clever dog, mind you, but the one we now fondly refer to as Dope on a Rope.

Both dogs love to swim, and so we walked them to the lake where I began throwing a plastic bottle for Maggie, the clever one who likes to fetch bottles over and over again. After watching Maggie for a few moments, Greta, our yellow lab, dove into the lake and swam out to a bottle she’d spied floating a little ways out. She wanted to fetch just like her big sister.

Greta clamped down on a large white bottle and began swimming toward shore. She swam, and she swam, but she didn’t make much progress. Pretty soon, she was looking exhausted, steadfastly holding onto her bottle but not getting anywhere with all her hard paddling.

Thinking she was trapped in some old fencing that got submerged when the lake rose, my husband handed me his wallet and keys, and waded out to rescue her. The water was shoulder deep by the time he reached her, and chin deep as he sank in the mud below while attempting to lift her off the offending wire. But there was no wire; nothing seemed to be holding her.

Then he noticed a rope tied to the neck of that bottle. The bottle had apparently been tied to a submerged fence as a marker for the little fishing boat nearby. The bottle clenched in her teeth was all that was firmly anchoring Greta in place. With the bottle pulled out of her mouth, Greta swam swiftly back to shore. Our little “dope on a rope” would have sunk to the bottom of the lake before she would let go of her precious bottle.

Have you ever found yourself holding onto something that was holding you back? Perhaps something you’d been holding onto for so long, you’d forgotten you were even hanging onto it. It is common for many of us to cling to whatever is old and familiar, even if it is something that brings us pain or has become useless in present times. When I was a child, I had a pair of purple corduroy pants that I loved. I insisted on wearing those pants even after they’d become so short and so tight, they must have looked ridiculous, but I didn’t want to let them go. Ill-fitting beliefs and ways of living can be just as ridiculous or detrimental to our well-being.

Sometimes, we hold on to the past. We hold onto grief, to anger, and outdated ideas. We hold onto illusions, to beliefs, and grudges about what should have been.

Sometimes, we hold onto the future and fantasies of how we think it will be. We hold on to expectations and become paralyzed by fears about what might happen. Remember that old joke: How do you make God laugh? Tell him (or her) your future plans!

Even if we don’t know where we are headed, letting go is perhaps the most important part of moving forward. To quote Robert Frost: “There is a time for departure even when there’s no certain place to go.” Take a lesson from my dope on a rope, and let go of whatever is no longer serving you well.

Editor’s Note: Joy is a practicing psychotherapist in Riberas. She can be contacted at or 765-4988.

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