When I was growing up in Kentucky, my sister and I loved visiting my grandparents on their small farm. It was just an hour’s drive on country roads from the small town where we lived. Sundays were spent in the little country church next door that was the center of my grandparents’ lives. Many years before, my grandfather had given the land on which the church was built. My grandmother’s sisters, nieces, and nephews filled the pews as well as farmers and their families from all around. My mother was raised by that church family. And on a swelteringly hot June afternoon in 1952, the whole family gathered to celebrate her marriage to my father.

For as long as anyone can remember, the Sunday benediction hymn in that little church has always been:

Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love;
the fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.

On the rare occasion that I hear that old hymn today, I am swept back in my memory to the love, nurture, and embrace I felt in that little country church. Perhaps you have also been blessed to experience powerfully supportive “ties that bind,” whether with family, friends, community, or institutions or organizations.

Sometimes the ties that bind are supportive; sometimes they hold us back

However, sometimes “ties that bind” end up holding us back. Much as we may love and care about the people and institutions with whom we have a history, we can also become entangled in those connections. On one hand, they feel important to us, yet on the other hand, they may feel like they are holding us hostage. Nurture and support may now come at a cost.

Whether as a leader, friend, partner, or family member, standing in love with those we care about sometimes means loosening the ties that bind us together. “Loosening the ties” can give some breathing space to everyone involved as well as the situation itself.

Loosening the ties that bind begins with stepping beyond the need to fix or resolve and, instead, tuning into the wisdom that lies both within ourselves and within the situation itself. As frustrating or suffocating as a situation may be, it’s happening for a reason. There is a purpose behind it. There is something to learn. There is some part of ourselves that it’s time to claim. There is a step forward to take in our own growth and development.

Four questions that can help

When you are caught in ties that bind, four questions can help you loosen them and begin to breathe more freely.

In preparation for the first question, step back from the situation and pause. Take three deep and slow breaths. Let your whole system slow down. Keep taking slow, deep breaths until you become more still inside.

As you become quieter within, drop underneath your assumptions and the assumptions of others. Step beyond how things look on the surface. Notice the stories that play inside of you and others around you, and look past them. As you ask the questions below, let the situation speak to you. You don’t need to figure it out. Just listen, sense, and feel. Let the situation do the talking.

1) What is this situation really about? Down deep – underneath your own stories and the stories that are being told. What is trying to get your attention? Take some time here before you move on to the second question.

2) What is the opportunity for learning right now? For you? For others? Listen, sense, and feel into whatever is trying to get your attention. Something wants to shift. A new pathway or direction is trying to show itself. Again, take your time before moving on.

3) How is that asking you to show up? The shift that wants to happen or the message that is trying to get your attention is asking you to embody a particular presence – a particular quality or way of being. This presence or way of being may be new for you – it might even be a stretch. It’s OK – that’s part of the learning. In this moment, maybe it’s asking you to be honest, or creative, or courageous, or compassionate. You will know what it is asking of you. And if you get stuck, be gentle and compassionate with yourself. Take another breath, drop deeper, and let it situation talk to you. Give yourself time and space.

4) What step is it asking you to take now? Just one step. You don’t need to find a master plan. Just a next step.

These four simple questions can be a start toward loosening the ties that bind. They can help you step beyond “responsibilities” that feel heavy and burdensome into feeling “response-able” – able to respond to what is happening in a way that begins to lift everyone and the situation up. After you take that next step, go back to question #1. Let the four questions continue guiding you for the next step and the next. One step at a time.

Becoming Response-Able

When you loosen the ties, you become freer to simply be present with the situation. The more you are able to be present with what is without the need to fix it, the more you will be able to sense the opportunities for learning. You will find the path for your next steps, both for yourself and for healthy support of others. You will more easily sense how it’s asking you to show up, and be able to respond in ways that truly make a difference. You become more and more “response-able.”

A few weeks ago after reading my article “Learning to Trust Again,” my friend and Transformational Presence colleague Sascha Krijger sent me this poem of Nelson Mandela. His words are beautiful and clear.

I’ve also been experimenting with replacing his words “To let go” in every stanza with “Loosening the ties that bind.” For example, in the first stanza, instead of:

To let go doesn’t mean to stop caring:
it means I can’t do it for someone else.

 I change the words to:

Loosening the ties that bind doesn’t mean to stop caring:
it means I can’t do it for someone else.

 And I continue with that text replacement throughout the poem.

Experiment with both the original version and the revised version. The right version for you will be the one that speaks to you the most deeply.

 

Letting Go
by Nelson Mandela

To let go doesn’t mean to stop caring:
it means I can’t do it for someone else.

To let go is not to cut myself off;
it is the realization that I can’t control another.

To let go is not to enable,
but to allow learning from natural consequences.

To let go is to admit powerlessness,
which means the outcome is not in my hands.

To let go is not to try to change or blame another;
I can only change myself.

To let go is not to care for,
but to care about.

To let go is not to fix,
but to be supportive.

To let go is not to judge,
but to allow another to be a human being.

To let go is not to be in the middle arranging outcomes,
but to allow others to effect their own outcomes.

To let go is not to be protective;
it is to permit another to face reality.

To let go is not to deny
but to accept.

To let go is not to nag, scold, or argue,
but to search out my own shortcomings and to correct them.

To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires,
but to take each day as it comes and to cherish the moment.

To let go is not to criticize and regulate anyone,
but to try to become what I dream I can be.

To let go is not to regret the past,
but to grow and live for the future.

To let go is to fear less
and love more.

 ~ ~ ~

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