Take No Prisoners

Sometimes in life, you can’t afford to take extra baggage with you into the future. Maybe it’s better to leave behind all but the most essential of material and emotional attachments if we really want to experience true liberation and freedom.

Yesterday afternoon, I was in the middle of planting cucumber seeds in a garden I would never harvest. I’d already sold the house and would be moving out in a few weeks. I wasn’t planting the seeds for the new owners exactly either. I was doing it because it was something I always did every year for eighteen years. I gardened. I planted seeds and plants and I watched them grow.

As I lamented about not seeing any cucumbers come of this effort, this bit of advice passed through my mind:

Tracy… take no prisoners. 


That’s a weird thing to think…

And I went on crumbling loose soil over the mounded dirt.

Once I finished watering the now bedded down seeds, I went online to look it up. I’d heard the phrase a lot, but never once used it myself, in any context.

The standard meaning of “take no prisoners” refers to taking ruthless, cutthroat actions that don’t show any sympathy for others when we go after what we want. Like during a war when soldiers pillage a town, ruining everything, killing all who stand in the way, man, woman and child…take no prisoners.

I suppose it didn’t really apply to me and my situation.

Or did it?

I thought about the sacrifices you face when you take a prisoner with you. I know this only from movies where the criminal grabs a hostage to secure their escape and later discovers the prisoner is more trouble than they’re worth. The hostage does nothing but slow them down and get in the way. It is as if, in taking a prisoner, the criminal ties themselves securely to the past and what has come before, ie. the crime.

How can you ever move forward when the past is constantly staring you in the face, reminding you of what once was? You can’t see where you’re going while looking over your shoulder, can you?

And that’s when it made some sense, what my mind was trying to tell me. The more I remained attached to the habitual patterns and possessions of my current life, the more they had the potential to hold me back from making decisions and taking actions when I needed to. Yes, I’ve gardened in the past and enjoyed many aspects of it, but it’s not who I am. I don’t necessarily have to carry that with me into my future (at least not in the same way I do now). What if gardening wasn’t a factor in my decisions about tomorrow?

What really needs to be factored in?

About tomorrow, I have a thousand questions laced with fear: will I be alright without a garden to grow in? Without a deck to host parties on? Without a neighborhood to walk in? Will I be able to deal with less privacy, less peace and quiet? Will I find new friends? Will I have enough space?

There are no answers to these questions now, only a sideways glance at what I know about my authentic selfhood, who I am, and where I’ve been so far. This is what I can factor in. This is what I can count on.

I think back to my first days here, at this house that didn’t feel like home for a long time. I wasn’t ready for it then, emotionally, financially, or physically, but I made it work. That’s what we do as humans when faced with new situations; we find ways to make it work and over time we come to like what we’ve made.

Moving forward may require us to be ruthless with what we think we have to have in order to “be happy.” Sometimes there’s more compassion in letting the definitions of “my life” die rather than try to drag them into a future where they might not be welcome. Because these very definitions of “self” keep us contained in prisons of limited ideas of what we can be or are capable of.  I think it’s good to know when our souls are asking us for more room to grow. I think it’s wise to listen.

What would it feel like to erase all of it and start the picture over?

girlonherown~ Tracy, a girl on her own


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