In yoga we talk a lot about letting go, releasing judgement, and observing with curiosity rather than a critical eye. This is no easy task. One of the most difficult aspects of my yoga practice is this act of being present with myself and setting aside the part of my mind that wants to critique.
I’ve noticed that the times I am often most afraid are when I am letting go of something that doesn’t serve me. Lately, it is my thoughts, my ways of thinking about myself and others that have been the most difficult to let go of. Why is this a thing?
We could think about this fear of letting go on a neurological level, considering how the frequently traveled pathways of the brain are well-paved and difficult to change. Picture yourself driving home one night on auto-pilot, and halfway home realizing there might actually be a quicker way to get there. You may explore some neighborhood roads, but it takes a little more effort and thought to find your way. You’re use to driving down the highway. You don’t even have to think about it. You know your way home. It’s easier and faster to take the well-paved road than the back road.
Familiar is comfortable, holding onto something and knowing what to expect from it. What happens when you try something new? What happens when you let go? There is a space where something use to belong, whether it was positive or negative in your life. When you let go, there is something missing. You can feel it in your body. Breakups are especially challenging in this way, because we are forced to go from having someone to no one. Death, even more so. It’s permanent. There’s no going back, but there is all of this space and it can just feel so empty. I often wrestle with this spaciousness, this missing person and all these memories.
There is a risk in letting go. But what is the fear, really? Is what you’re holding onto truly bringing life, vibrance, and inspiration or is it merely holding you back? I’ll admit, I’m afraid to let go of people, even when they hurt me. I don’t like to let go of memories, even when they’re sad and disappointing. I’m nervous about trying something new, even when my previous ways of living or being haven’t worked out so great. But when I think of what I want to do and where I want to be, I find that letting go is often the only thing on my to-do list left to do. I dance around it by giving myself tasks, organizing and analyzing. Those things come easy. But confronting my fear and saying, “I’m going to do something different this time!” That’s courage.
Lately I’ve been trying to change. I’ve been trying to observe myself with kindness instead of judgement. I’ve been trying to respond to situations of conflict with openness, being willing to pause and observe instead of reacting. I’ve been noticing how I feel, how my body tenses up and softens as I try on these new ways of thinking and living. I’m learning that if I really want to walk as if my feet are kissing the earth, I’m going to need to make some changes. If I want to live a slow, mindful life in the middle of a busy city, I need to let go of my tendency to get stressed out trying to keep up, struggling to prove myself and eventually burning myself out. I need to be strong and intentional about what I want.
I read a poem this morning that helped me in those moments of conflict and struggle throughout my day, working in a new job, new role and trying on opportunities to think differently about some of the same situations I’ve encountered time after time. Perhaps taking a moment to let these words resonate with you will be helpful as well:
She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.
She let go of the fear. She let go of the judgments. She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head. She let go of the committee of indecision within her. She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.
She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go. She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go. She let go of all of the memories that held her back. She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward. She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.
She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go.
She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter. She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.
No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and it is just that.
In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.
–Rev. Safire Rose