This morning, I started reading Laraine Herring‘s book The Writing Warrior: Discovering the Courage to Free Your True Voice, and she says this:

When you let go of what is no longer necessary, the authentic essence of yourself and your writing bubbles up. This is freedom. This is flexibility. This is being utterly, completely alive.

I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot of late. What do we let go? What do we hold on to? Why do we hold some things close, and why do we let others go so easily?

A friend was talking to a counselor who said that the process of healing often involves removing layers, letting go of the things we hold on to because we think they protect us when actually they wall us in. What do we need to keep as protection, and what must we discard?

A student wrote a paper analyzing Suji Kwock Kim’s “Monologue for an Onion,” and I began to wonder if maybe the layers that we need to peel away are parts of ourselves, too. The poem’s speaker says:

You must not grieve that the world is glimpsed
Through veils. How else can it be seen?
How will you rip away the veil of the eye, the veil

That you are, you who want to grasp the heart
Of things, hungry to know where meaning
Lies. Taste what you hold in your hands: onion-juice,

Yellow peels, my stinging shreds. You are the one
In pieces. Whatever you meant to love, in meaning to
You changed yourself: you are not who you are,

Your soul cut moment to moment by a blade
Of fresh desire, the ground sown with abandoned skins.
And at your inmost circle, what? A core that is

Not one. Poor fool, you are divided at the heart,
Lost in its maze of chambers, blood, and love,
A heart that will one day beat you to death.

What are we to let go? What do we need to shed? What do we find when we come to our soft tender hearts?

If I am an artichoke, the tough scaly leaves that surround my heart are a part of me, too. They protect my tender center, the part of myself that almost melts in the mouth of lovers and enemies. If I peel them away too soon, my core is vulnerable. If I keep them too long, my soul is useless.

These veils, these layers, these ideas and possessions and relationships that we cling to are so much baggage and so much joy. Perhaps the answer is to not let them go, as we would the skin of an onion or a leaf of artichoke in the garbage. Perhaps the answer is to let them be as they are, entities connected to ourselves, part of ourselves but not ourselves, not our hearts that will, always, “beat us to death.” To let them be and ask the same in return. This seems enough.

Artichoke Flower – Artichoke Flower