One of the most tricky things to learn is letting go.
Letting go is a practice I find I have to continually come back to when I feel tense and locked into a fixed outcome. Society conditions us to be attached to outcomes. We are taught to tough it out, make things happen, go for your goals, things will work out for you if you apply enough effort. All great sentiments but we often have far less control than we think. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we would like. We don’t get that job, a person we love leaves, we get sick, our finances wax and wane. In the words of the great philosopher, Dr Seuss:
“Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don’t. Because sometimes you won’t”
Lately I am being called to let go. My daughter is leaving home. My Gran is turning 97. My family is changing and evolving, as is my place in it. I am needing to step back to leave space for things to be what they are, despite what I want. My first Buddhist teacher, a great monk, Gen Kelsang Rabten once said to me:
“Apply 100% effort and let go of the outcome.”
I invite you to try it. It is certainly not easy. I have found that if I apply 100% effort, I often subconsciously expect that things will turn out a certain way. But sometimes they don’t, because sometimes they won’t. I can’t control when people and situations come and go. Because my mind holds onto its unrealistic sense of control, I need to remind it to let go. I have to do this often!
How do we apply maximum effort and let go at the same time?
Each morning in meditation, I meditate on the breath using the mantra, Let go. I tell myself, “let” on the in-breath and “go” on the out-breath. I invite my body to soften and let go of its tension and attachment to outcome on the out-breath. I remind myself whatever my mind throws at me, I can let it go. When my mind wanders to work for the coming day, or a worry I have, I remind it to let go. I give myself permission to stop.
Your mind would have you believe that everything it thinks is vitally important. But there is nothing that can’t wait for 10—20 minutes while you gently encourage your mind to let go. To relax. To just stop the chatter for a little while. This practice helps us to let go when life throws us difficulties. We are training the mind to let things be when we can’t change them, or they don’t turn out exactly as planned.
You don’t need to meditate to let go (although it helps). You can also practice whenever you notice you are feeling tense or locked into a certain outcome. Take a deep breath and invite your mind to let go. It does not mean you are not hopeful that things will turn out well, but it gives you greater flexibility if it doesn’t happen in exactly the way you want it to. You may like to remind yourself that things will pan out whichever way and you can let go of the tension anyway. I invite you to try these practices for a week and observe whatever it is that you find out about your ability to let go. I’d love to hear how you go.