The Art of Letting Go: Acceptance, surrender, and commitment.

John Cousins
February 7, 2023
5 min read

The Art of Letting Go

In life, business, and relationships we are routinely confronted with situations were how we have done it before no longer suits the circumstances we are now confronting. Being able to let go and escape old notions is a critical skill.

You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you. True power is sitting back and observing things with logic. True power is restraint. If words control you that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and allow things to pass.

In Robert Pirsig’s philosophical novel, Zen and The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, he describes “the old South Indian Monkey Trap”. The trap “consists of a hollowed-out coconut, chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be grabbed through a small hole”. The monkey’s hand fits through the hole, but his clenched fist can’t fit back out.

It is an ingenious trap and relies on the monkey not being flexible in its values. The monkey rates the food above all else. This is a principle that has served it well in the past. But here he is presented with a new set of circumstances and being rigid about the value of food puts his freedom and life, at risk.

All the monkey has to do is let go. Its fist clenched around the food is what is keeping it trapped. It is certainly within its power to free itself. Just let go.

It is so easy for us to see that the monkey’s dilemma is self-imposed. The monkey is trapped not by anything physical but by an idea.

This story is a great metaphor for revealing our own mental traps and the paralysis they create. We can get so rigidly attached to ideas, opinions, habits, that we can’t let go when they no longer serve us or turn against us.

The challenge is not in embracing new ideas as much as escaping old ones.

Take time to slow down and deliberately take stock, and see if things you think are important really are important.

Letting go of habits and notions that have outlived their usefulness or relevance are like experiencing a small death. It is the way of the world: trees lose their leaves in autumn, snakes shed their skin, caterpillars cocoon in chrysalis, baby chicks crack out of eggs. Each is a death into a new life. We are meant to change and grow and shed out former selves. What is truly lethal is to stop growing and embracing change. Small deaths prevent big deaths.

So long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.


Letting go of our preconceived notions of ego-driven success can help us discover our true selves and craft a life around what we really love doing.

Its about acceptance, surrender, and commitment.

The following is sage advice from a very wise person, Mark Nepo, whom I have taken a lot of inspiration and guidance from. This is from his book The Book of Awakening. I encourage you to get a copy of this book. It is a day book with a short thought piece for everyday. My wife and I read it before meditating and it puts us in the right mind set for peaceful contemplation.

I read this today (June 29) and it resonated with our topic here. Here it is in its entirety so you can get an idea of what each day’s nugget is like.

A Little Fish Story

The instant fish accept

that they will never have arms,

they grow fins.

I confess I was surprised to wake one day with this knowing about fish. It seems a koan or riddle to decipher. After living with it awhile, I’ve come to feel that it holds another key to faith: that before we can be what we are meant to be we must accept what we are not. This form of discernment asks us to let go of those grand fantasies that take us out of our nature, that make us work to be famous instead of loving , or perfect instead of compassionate.

Yet the instant we can accept what is not in our nature, rather than being distracted by all we think we could or should be, then all our inner resources are free to transform us into the particular self we are aching to be.

This act of acceptance is a risk that frees us because we can’t find the growth that awaits us until we give up what is against our very nature. it is this surrender, without knowing what will happen next, that allows our lives to truly unfold.

This speaks to committing to the adventure of life and letting it unfold. Below is a quote from Goethe about what happens when one is fully accepting, surrendered, and committed.


“When Christ says ‘Forgive your enemies’, it is not for the sake of the enemy but for one’s own sake that he says so, and because Love is more beautiful than Hate.”

― Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

Forgiveness is a powerful act that is more beneficial for you than it is letting the perpetrator off the hook. Hatred, anger, and revenge fantasies are energy and time wasters and are ultimately toxic, corrosive emotions. Let them go.

Illegitimi non carborundum.

This is a great quote in fake latin that says “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

It originated early in World War II in British Army Intelligence. The mock latin phrase was adopted by US Army General “Vinegar” Joe Stilwell as his motto during World War II.

Its another great way of saying Let It Go. Don’t poison your own experience more than you have to.

You better put it all behind you baby
’Cause life goes on
You keep carryin’ that anger
It’ll eat you up inside baby

The Heart of the Matter by Don Henley

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John Cousins
Author, Entrepreneur, & Teacher

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