Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Giving Up is Different From Letting Someone Down

--by Brother David Steindl-Rast (Jul 04, 2016)

This inner gesture of letting go from moment to moment is what is so terribly difficult for us; and it can be applied to almost any area of experience. We mentioned time, for instance: there is the whole problem of “free time,” as we call it, of leisure. We think of leisure as the privilege of those who can afford to take time (this endless taking!)-when in reality it isn’t a privilege at all. Leisure is a virtue, and one that anyone can acquire. It is not a matter of taking but of giving time. Leisure is the virtue of those who give time to whatever it is that takes time-give as much time to it as it takes. That is the reason why leisure is almost inaccessible to us. We are so preoccupied with taking, with appropriating. Hence, there is more and more free time, and less and less leisure. In former centuries when there was much less free time for anybody, and vacations, for instance, were unheard of, people were leisurely while working; now they work hard at being leisurely. You find people who work from nine to five with this attitude of “Let’s get it done, let’s take things in hand,” totally purpose oriented, and when five o’clock comes they are exhausted and have no time for real leisure either. If you don’t work leisurely, you won’t be able to play leisurely. So they collapse, or else they pick up their tennis racket or their golf clubs and continue working, giving themselves a workout as they say.

We can laugh about it, but it goes deep. The letting go is a real death, a real dying; it costs us an enormous amount of energy, the price, as it were, which life exacts from us over and over again for being truly alive. For this seems to be one of the basic laws of life; we have only what we give up. We all have had the experience of a friend admiring something we owned, when for a moment we had an impulse to give that thing away. If we follow this impulse -- and something may be at stake that we really like, and it pains for a moment -- then for ever and ever we will have this thing; it is really ours; in our memory it is something we have and can never lose.

It is all the more so with personal relationships. If we are truly friends with someone, we have to give up that friend all the time, we have to give freedom to that friend -- like a mother who gives up her child continually. If the mother hangs on to the child, first of all it will never be born; it will die in the womb. But even after it is born physically it has to be set free and let go over and over again. So many difficulties that we have with our mothers, and that mothers have with their children, spring exactly from this, that they can’t let go; and apparently it is much more difficult for a mother to give birth to a teenager than to a baby. But this giving up is not restricted to mothers; we must all mother each other, whether we are men or women. I think mothering is just like dying, in this respect; it is something that we must do all through life. And whenever we do give up a person or a thing or a position, when we truly give it up, we die-yes, but we die into greater aliveness. We die into a real oneness with life. Not to die, not to give up, means to exclude ourselves from that free flow of life.

But giving up is very different from letting someone down; in fact, the two are exact opposites. It is an upward gesture, not a downward one. Giving up the child, the mother upholds and supports him, as friends must support one another. We cannot let down responsibilities that are given to us, but we must be ready to give them up, and this is the risk of living, the risk of the give and take. There is a tremendous risk involved, because when you really give up, you don’t know what is going to happen to the thing or to the child. If you knew, the sting would be taken out of it, but it wouldn’t be a real giving up. When you hand over responsibility, you have to trust. That trust in life, that faith, is the courage to take upon yourself the risk of living, and dying -- because the two are inseparable.

Brother David Steindl Rast is a Bendictine monk. You can learn more about his life in this profile, and on The excerpt above is from an essay published in 1977 issue of Parabola.

Add Your Reflection:

Send me an email when another comment is posted on this passage.
Name: Email:

Previous Reflections:

On Jul 2, 2016 david doane wrote:

To mother is to nurture and foster the other's growth.  It's doing what is best for the other, not what is easiest or most convenient for the mother.  It's not selfish, it's not possessive, it's not controlling.  When being a healthy mother -- be it as a parent, teacher, friend, neighbor -- I encourage the other to become their own self, do their thing, develop their own interest and talent.  When I do that, I don't try to get them to be or do what I want.  They aren't me.  I give up the illusion that they are me.  I let go of trying to own them.  In so doing, I'm not letting the other down, I'm encouraging their getting up.  Leisure is time during which I let go of being goal-directed, let go of have to and should, and follow my interest and my heart.  In leisure I am free, true to me, doing what is good and healthy for me, becoming whole and holy.  Practicing such leisure helps me to experience leisure as a virtue and a privilege.

On Jul 4, 2016 madhur wrote:

Thank you for sharing this wisdom.

On Jul 5, 2016 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 I think we need a healthy balance between the apparent opposites: taking and giving. We are very familiar with the stressful life we have created in ourselves because of the time pressure we feel most of the time. Sadly, we do not have time to be with ourselves, to listen mindfully listen to what's happening in our body, mind and heart and in the lives of the people who are  close to us. We have allowed ourselves to be caught up in the no-time cycle.We know how or we may not know how much price we have paid for trading on the fast stressful lane. There is always more to do, more to accomplish- more money, more name and fame, more power and possession. We are paying a big toll for neglecting or side tracking the other side of the doing lane-the lane of not doing,relaxing,giving time to ourselves and the folks in our life, to enjoy the bounties of nature, to reach out and offer our compassionate caring hands. No wonder why there is an increase in mental and medical diseases. They are mainly caused by our lack of giving quality time to our selves, to  our families and to relate to the gifts of nature.

I have seen three generations in my relatively 91 years old life. The first generation, my generation, when we had more time to give to each other with hardly any mechanical and electrical toys to play with.Going to bed when the night arrives and waking up when the sun shows up, taking long evening walks and running around with no reason.Life was simple and easy. We had more time to give to ourselves and to others.When I entered into the second generation I witnessed the heavy impact of the industrial revolution-taking more time to do and giving less time to be.The third generation has its own world-  the world of computers and social media. I take a lot of time to check my emails, text, call and face book, without facing the real person in front of me. Benefits? Yes. Losses? Yes.

I am learning how to use my discretion to make wise choices, to strike a balance between the world of doing  and the world of being.How can we have a balance between taking and giving is a challenge for all of us.This challenge has given me an opportunity to live more mindfully. 

May we all learn, teach and share our ways of creating and sustaining such balance wholesome balance!
Namaste. Jagdish

On Jul 6, 2016 Mariette wrote:

 This one deeply resonates right now.  So many aspects of my life are shifting right now:  personal, professional, relationships, health, meaning, etc.  It's been a practice to give up - or let go - without putting down.  It goes for others.  And it deeply goes for myself as well.  How can I love myself, care for myself, support myself during this time of major shift?  How can I give up on the patterns that no longer serve me without beating myself up for having held on to them for so long?  I come back to love.  Love and kindness.  In thought, in words and in actions.

On Jul 7, 2016 Deborah wrote:


On Jul 7, 2016 me wrote:

 You have to hang on to the Truth.  I believe in you!

On Jul 7, 2016 me too wrote:

 Wow!  Love!  Thank you for your words!  Amen:)

On Jul 7, 2016 Amen wrote:


On Jul 16, 2016 Sara wrote:

 Our daughter is in a marital crisis and is seeing a therapist. She is not communicating with us despite our calling and emails. It feels like we are really being left out. As I read this reflection I see that there are some things we have to give up. One being in control of our children's live's outcomes. We want to help but at this time our daughter does not want or can't reach out. We have to "let go" and trust in the process hopeing that her situation will work out for the best.

On Jul 25, 2016 BigCheech wrote:

 Hi Sara, the irony is that your attempts at trying to help your daughter is more of a struggle between you and reality and your daughter intuitively knows this. You have to come to grasp with the fact that we are not in control and frankly have never been in control and love naturally emanates from this understanding. Much love, a random guy on the Internet.

On Aug 3, 2016 Susannah wrote:

 Oh how wisely put.  And with the experience of your years being a witness to the fast changing times, means the importance of giving time to time.  We still have the same time as 100 years ago, but we have so many more distractions, that can leave me anyway, too unfocused at times.  And I began life in my present form 72 years ago, and I too just had the 'occasional' use of the phone ... If my father let me!
Thank you Jagdish

On Nov 16, 2018 steve wrote:

I really like your article. I had many useful ideas from this study. I really appreciate your efforts 1 dollar hosting for write this post. Thanks for sharing that informative post with us.