The Art of Letting Go

A personal reflection by Mary Moynihan, award-winning writer, theatre and film-maker and Artistic Director, Smashing Times International Centre for the Arts and Equality


On Saturday, Mach 28,  2020, I tested positive for Covid-19, twelve days after becoming ill. I became unwell on Monday evening 16 March. During the illness I suffered several days of chest pain and shortness of breath. I have asthma and on Friday, March 27 (day eleven) I experienced severe shortness of breath and a high temperature and was taken to hospital by ambulance and was given oxygen.

I returned home very quickly to recuperate and after six weeks of illness I began a slow recovery. It is my understanding the majority of people will have mild symptoms as was the case with others in my home. For those who today continue to need medical attention, there is support. The doctors, hospital emergency teams, and ambulance service are all brilliant and I am full of praise for the kindness and amazing, brave work they are doing.  Hopefully the spirit of community shown by so many will continue as we find a way through this pandemic. My heart goes out to all those families who have lost loved ones in Ireland and around the world and our thoughts are with you all.

Our world has changed irrevocably and there is huge loss and grief for so many people. When all this has passed, perhaps we can hold on to what is important in life, the preciousness of each human being and the beauty of the natural world that we live in. When this is over I hope our world will be a better place. We need to create a caring society where there is access to proper services and support for all people equally in Ireland and around the world.

My theme is a reflection on change. My life has changed because of this illness. All our lives have. By continuing to stay home each one of us is doing something hugely important. Each one of us is playing a key part in saving lives. Each one of us is protecting those who are most vulnerable. As we move forward, hopefully we will remember and reflect on the acts of kindness, solidarity and care that have been shown by so many people.

I am thankful for each day and for having come through this illness. I experience each day in a different way now as many of us do.  I take great pleasure in being with my family. I enjoy watching and listening to the birds  in my back garden, looking up at the sky or simply listening to the silence from my bedroom window. There is great beauty in our world.

In terms of reflecting on change I have been thinking about the question of how we find courage during these difficult times. How do we empower our lives in the face of suffering? How do we build our own warrior spirit to enable us to connect more deeply with ourselves and others as we work together to come through these changed times?

Each person will find their own way to cope individually and as a community. I have found myself reflecting on the notion of letting go. During one episode of my illness, where I found it hard to catch a deep breath I felt a wave of panic rise up and threaten to engulf me. I knew if I panicked, I could possibly make things worse as I was already struggling to breath and to panic would hamper my breathing even more. Instinctively I moved my body into a physical position and went through the motions of diaphragmatic or deep breathing. I marked the stages of the exercise physically even thought I was unable to take deep breaths and the wave of panic subsided. I did not attempt to control what was happening or tell myself to stay calm which probably would have had the opposite effect. On reflection, I imagine that by focusing on a physical routine I took the focus off the breath, the panic and the feeling of being swamped. I surrendered to the moment and accepted what was happening rather than resisting. Even though I was still fighting, I let go and my inner resilience kicked in rather than the panic caused by circumstances outside of my control.

Letting go is a key part of creativity and artistic practice. The American theatre practitioner Viola Spolin said that in theatre ‘we are working on two levels; the obvious, the story, the scenarios, the characters. The other is the invisible, the luminous, the spirit-world’. In terms of accessing this ‘luminous or spirit-world’ she says that ‘the physical is the known and through it we may find our way to the unknown, the intuitive and perhaps beyond to the human spirit itself’. For Spolin and other theatre practitioners the essence of creativity is linked to working on a physical level to begin with as we bypass or blank out the intellect (the known) and connect with one’s deeper self and at the same time, connect to the wider universe. It is about enabling spontaneity and letting go, for example when we are thrown off-balance, and in the moment, we work from a space of instinct or intuition. Being physically active is doubly important for physical health and as a pathway to connect to our inner selves.

The American poet Emily Dickinson, from Amherst, Massachusetts, wrote a two line poem that says:

In this short Life that only lasts an hour

How much – how little – is within our power

The sense of surrendering or letting go has stayed with me. It does not mean we don’t try. One can fight the good fight and still surrender or let go. I consider myself a strong, independent person and to acknowledge my own vulnerability does not come easy. To let go is a profound part of being human, to acknowledge our fears, anxieties and sorrow, to be open, as we surrender to both the dark and light that is within and around us and to be drawn towards what we truly love. It is perhaps about recognizing the paradoxical nature of ourselves and the world we live in. Limitations have been placed on us where we are confined to our homes but our homes don’t have to be prisons. We have time now to explore in different ways, to dream about and find ways to express what is ‘possible but not yet realized’, to imagine alternative futures, a time of letting go.

I wrote the poem In Time as a personal response to the changing landscape of our world today. In Time was made into a poem film as part of the Emotional Landscapes virtual art exhibition and is performed by Carla Ryan and Kwasie Boyce with original music composed and performed by Lisa McLoughlin-Gnemmi. As we look forward to 2021, In Time is an invocation to the human spirit, reflecting on fear, courage and a sense of hope as we carry with us memories of love and loss and look to the future to create a new world.

See In Time here.

Mary Moynihan is an award-winning writer, director, theatre and film-maker and  Artistic Director of Smashing Times International Centre for the Arts and Equality, please see

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