Practicing Seeking

What “Let It Be” Can Teach Us About Stoicism

paul mccartney

“When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me/Speaking words of wisdom: Let it be”

In the autumn of 1968, Paul McCartney was experiencing anxiety about his life, his future, and the state of the world. Still a bachelor, he also yearned to meet someone and settle down.

“I was going through a really difficult time,” he recalls. “It was late in the Beatles’ career. As a group, we were starting to have problems. I think I was sensing the Beatles were breaking up, so I was staying up late at night, drinking, doing drugs, clubbing, the way a lot of people were at the time.”

One night, his late mother, Mary — who died from cancer when he was 14 — came to her son in a dream. She stoically advised him: “Let it be.”

“And in my hour of darkness, she is standing right in front of me/ Speaking words of wisdom: Let it be”

“When my mum died, one of the difficulties I had, as the years went by, was that I couldn’t recall her face so easily,” McCartney says. “In this dream, twelve years later, my mother appeared, and there was her face, completely clear, particularly her eyes, and she said to me very gently, very reassuringly: ‘Let it be.’”

The legendary musician calls the experience “lovely,” adding: “I woke up with a great feeling. It was really like she had visited me at this very difficult point in my life and gave me this message: Be gentle, don’t fight things, just try and go with the flow and it will all work out.”

“Let It Be” and Stoicism

Founded in Greece around 300 B.C., Stoicism is a life philosophy based on mindful awareness and acceptance of what is and isn’t under our control. In books by early philosophers like Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor), Seneca (playwright and political advisor), and a slave-turned-teacher named Epictetus, Stoicism extolls the following four virtues:

  • Courage
  • Temperance
  • Justice
  • Wisdom

The lyrics of Sir Paul’s song contain the heart of the Stoic belief system. Here are 15 more tenets (some more modern than others) that can help get us through any tough time:

  1. “What is the point of dragging up sufferings that are over, of being miserable now, because you were miserable then?” (Seneca)
  2. “The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.” (Epictetus)
  3. “External things are not the problem. It’s your assessment of them — which you can erase right now.” (Marcus Aurelius)
  4. “Just keep in mind: the more we value things outside our control, the less control we have.” (Heraclitus)
  5. “No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.” (Seneca)
  6. “If you make happiness your goal, you’ll be disappointed. If you make presence your goal, you’ll be satisfied.” (Maxime Lagacé)
  7. “Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realize how unnecessary many things are. We’ve been using them not because we needed them but because we had them.” (Seneca)
  8. “It is not daily increase but daily decrease, hack away the unessential. The closer to the source, the less wastage there is.” (Bruce Lee)
  9. “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” (Seneca)
  10. “Is a world without pain possible? Then don’t ask the impossible.” (Marcus Aurelius)
  11. “Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” (Voltaire)
  12. “Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” (Marcus Aurelius)
  13. “Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.” (Epictetus)
  14. “Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person or that person, this challenge, this deed. Quit the evasions. Stop giving yourself needless trouble. It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in right now. You are not some disinterested bystander. Participate. Exert yourself.” (Epictetus)
  15. “Let it be.” (Mother Mary McCartney)

 Shine until tomorrow…

“And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light that shines on me/ Shine until tomorrow, let it be”

“Not very long after the dream, I got together with Linda [his wife until her death in 1998], which was the saving of me,” McCartney declares. “It was as if my mum had sent her.”

“Let It Be” — released on March 6, 1970 — turned out to be the first of Paul and Linda’s many musical collaborations. You can still hear her harmonies on it.

“We sang it at Linda’s memorial service,” Paul adds.

“I wake up to the sound of music; Mother Mary comes to me/Speaking words of wisdom: Let it be”

Ranging from religious (Virgin Mary) to the drug-related (“Mary Jane” being a common nickname for marijuana at the time), speculation still exists that there’s a hidden meaning behind the term, “Mother Mary.” Even after explaining the precise inspiration, McCartney is simply happy that his song has become a “comforting, healing statement for other people, too … almost like a hymn.”

He prefers to leave all song interpretations entirely up to his fans. Even in this realm, his response is the same: Let it be…

-Mickey Z

Photo: Paul McCartney, circa 1968-69 (Getty Images)

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10 comments on “What “Let It Be” Can Teach Us About Stoicism

  1. Bernie Cullinan

    I may be prejudice because the author of this article is my nephew, Michael Zezima, otherwise know as Mickey Z, but it is by far the best thing I have ever seen written in my entire life. I actually cried after I read it. I had no idea of the origin of this song. Mickey Z, you are so fantastic, and a sweet loving, caring person. I am so proud to be your uncle!

    • Mickey Z.

      Thank YOU, not only for reading and leaving such a heartfelt comment but…for a lifetime of love and support. I’m proud to be your nephew!

  2. Rhoda David

    Thank you Bernie and Mickey Z
    I was overwhelmed reading these beautiful words and so was David
    I can’t ever express our gratitude
    Stay well
    Miss you and MaryAnn

  3. Katherine Krokos-Miller

    Profound. Thank you, Bernie for sharing and Mickey for the content.
    Much needed inspiration during these troubled times.

  4. Dean Cholakis

    The most appealing presentation of stoicism I’ve ever encountered.

    Thank you for giving stoicism a human soul.

    At first, stoicism sounded to me like not caring. ‘Let It Be’ is filled with love. It’s a more relatable approach.

  5. Me myself and I

    What a wonderful article and message. Great writing, really enjoyed the other historical quotes as well.

    • Mickey Z.

      Thank you SO much for taking time to read and share your kind words!

  6. David Sparks

    There is great wisdom in stoicism: don’t get too attached to things that don’t really matter, accept that sometimes the best response to a difficult situation is to let it be, etc. However, I have always felt that it’s admonition to “only worry about the things you can do something about” begs the question: how do you know what you can and cannot do something about unless you try? So many stories of heroism have to do with people rising up against what appeared to be unmovable situations or obstacles and trying anyway. The ongoing struggle for rights is the best example to me which also says to me: do we really have the luxury of not trying to fight for or assert our rights and even for the rights of others?

    • Thank you for your thought-provoking reply, David. I suppose it’s a delicate, ever-evolving process but – as you eloquently state – there inevitably will be times when you have to aim to do the “impossible.”

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