Q: How can we deal with our need to hang on to our “security”? Clinging and hanging on are so ingrained in us. — J.L., Washington

A: +One approach is to look at the root of this clinging. If we know where it comes from, we may be able to do something about it.

Clinging always comes from fear. When we get frightened, we cling. Here’s an example: If a newborn baby, only a few minutes old, gets frightened, it will reach up with arms and legs and try to hold on to something. This is a healthy reflex that we all have during infancy. It goes back in our phylogenetic history to the time when we were born in the trees. We had to hang on to something; namely, our mother, who was leaping from branch to branch. Our reflex is that ancient. And that is only the physical side.

But the spiritual and mental side of it is also always there. Whenever we get frightened, we will hang on psychologically to the next thing that seems solid. The more solid it seems, the more we hang on. A proverb says that a person falling off a cliff will hang on with one hand to the other, just to have something to hang on to! We hang on to something we can reach, hoping that it promises security.

“That’s the way it’s always been,” sounds very solid, and we hang on to it for dear life. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with “the way it’s always been.” If it hadn’t been solid and workable, people wouldn’t have continued doing it that way over years and generations. But there’s everything wrong with hanging on. You can only learn this when you dare to let go. When you have an urge to hang on to this or that – say, to a relationship – try letting go. See, the relationship isn’t going to run away. On the contrary, how often do we ruin our relationships precisely by hanging on? When we give them a little more freedom, things come to life.

We will even discover that we are not losing what we give up. But we can only find this out by doing it. Once we start letting go, we immediately get results. Fortunately, this is a self-rewarding effort. We can trust it. Try it!

— Your Brother David

Br. David Steindl-RastTrust
Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

About the author

Brother David Steindl-Rast — author, scholar, and Benedictine monk — is beloved the world over for his enduring message about gratefulness as the true source of lasting happiness. Known to many as the “grandfather of gratitude,” Br. David has been a source of inspiration and spiritual friendship to countless leaders and luminaries around the world including Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, and more. He has been one of the most important figures in the modern interfaith dialogue movement, and has taught with thought-leaders such as Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, and Roshi Joan Halifax. His wisdom has been featured in recent interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Krista Tippett, and Tami Simon and his TED talk has been viewed almost 10,000,000 times. Learn more about Br. David here.