By Thea Iberall
For 12 years, I studied the one major thing that has created everything artificial around us, the thing that has created buildings, books, musical instruments, even the US Constitution and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
That thing is the human hand under the control of the human brain. During those 12 years, I learned everything I could about the hand and the brain: its evolution, its anatomy and physiology, its capabilities and limitations. I learned how it grasps.
The human hand evolved over a fifty-five-million-year journey. As our ancestral species was forced into the arboreal life of the rainforest and then out onto the savannas of Africa, the appendage changed: fingers became differentiated and they filled with sensory receptors and small muscles. And the thumb shifted into a position of opposition with the other fingers. What emerged was the precision grip, an exquisitely crafted tool for fine manipulation. Picking up coins, turning a small screwdriver, holding a teacup—these actions all use the precision grip.
The evolution of the hand was a journey that was driven by survival and by questions without answers. Where the journey ended, if it is even indeed the end, was not part of the original goal.
And after millions of years of being on a journey, something happened 5,000 years ago. Human society had become complex enough to need record keeping. And someone, somehow, picked up a half-bent reed in their precision grip and drove the reed into a mass of wet clay, marking the exchange of goats for round tokens, or sheep for bags of grain. The precision grip probably formed for social grooming to hold the tribe together, but the skill of the precision grip and a need for a precision grip coalesced into the foundation for all of written history. And into creating everything else like buildings and books, pianos and computers. Even Beethoven’s Fifth.
To me, the birth of writing is a metaphor for living. We never know where a journey will end. It’s only important to do the work of the journey, without expectations. I’ve learned to stay in my heart and do what I love. I can plan, but I need to let go of the results. Where the journey will take me has more possibilities than my own limited mind can see.
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.
I loved what you wrote. I loved the research you did, the historical backdrop. It was an amazing way to think about one’s process, and the gifts we were given for our maturation over the civilizations and history. I was also taken by Nelson Mandela’s writing. The takeaway for me, even though I know the process and the journey and the growth, and it’s not the end—but letting go of the end and the sense of responsibility to get to that. His poem was really profound in stating it, one by one. I really appreciate it.
I loved your meditation text, thank you. The line that stuck with me was from Nelson Mandela, the part about we can’t know what will happen, the results. It made me realize that is what I try to do is pre-conceive. It really is a barrier.
It struck me that that was a wonderful pairing of analysis and then letting go. It also struck me, when we are able to let go of expectations or demands for a specific result, we are in a state of grace.
I too felt the contrast in the writing. It was very inspiring for me. I was aware of the creativity and the flow that can exist from that written word. We grip a pen and we create everything around us, and yet, in letting go, that’s when I release the grip in an effort to be totally present and to allow the future to come about. There’s a channeling that occurs in both cases. It helps me look at things that happened over the holiday, in terms of disappointments and friendships, and to let go of my own grip there as well. The word grace, yes, grace exists in both expressions, and it is our choice what we are going to do.
What really spoke to me was your reading about hands and the evolution of our hands. I focused at first on my children’s baby hands, how small and delicate they were. And how they evolved over a lifetime, how I had tiny hands at one point. And now I have some neuropathy in my hands and cannot do fine things with my hands anymore. I can hold things in my palms. There is a grace in open hands. Thank you, it was a journey with hands.
That reminds me of a line from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay--“Love in the open hand, no thing but that.”
Hands are adaptable and flexible. I’ve seen people born without hands using their wrists to eat and hold things.
Thank you for being a person who loves doing research and gifting it to us. I appreciate your inquiring mind. What you read was significant. I want to thank Shirley for taking care of herself.
Exceptional reading for me today. I loved the history. I loved the fact that you researched for 12 years, and that you loved what you were doing. And that right now, in your present state, you only do what you love. That’s a goal I am aspiring to. I saw the beautiful equanimity of essential grasping and of essential letting go. They both serve purposes and are both beautiful when used properly with intention and with heart. What I was thinking about, my father was a bass laureate for a symphony. He used the German style of holding the bow so that the thumb became a cradle. The analogy of the thumb helping me grasp and also as a cradle, it’s a metaphor I can work with in my life.
It is about doing what you love and love what you are doing. It’s how I approach doing the dishes. As a gift to myself and as a gift to my partner.
What hit me last night, the only way to get through the fear is to do the thing you fear.
That also spoke to me about the hands because I wear compression gloves due to arthritis in my hands. My fingers also lock and I tape them together, mostly in my left hand. I’ve been drawing with pencils. What will I do if I can’t grasp a pencil? I don’t know, but there are many ways of being creative. Don’t take away my hands. I need my eyes, I need my hands. Thank you for the reading.
I really needed to hear the Nelson Mandela poem this morning. I’ve been obsessing about comparing myself to others. We got together with neighbors and I heard all the joyous things they did with their children. I thought, we didn’t do that, I failed. I started thinking about all the things I meant to do with my children but never did. After hearing the reading this morning, I got this image of this blob, like molten metal with bumps and bubbles. Then fitting that into a space that perfectly fit, and I realized that if I just let go, that’s me, with the bumps and curves. It’s not that my life is a straight-edge, its all those funny bubbles. Just let go and don’t worry. Thank you. I needed to hear that.
Thank you for being here today, for spending 15 minutes of silence with yourself and with the group. Have a blessed and gentle day.