Pamela Seelig

Author of Threads of Yoga

Letting Go Is Hard To Do

Letting go may, at first, be unappealing and feel like quitting or giving up. Instead, we typically try to “hang on” or “hang in there,” cultivating grit and determination. Such traits provide a sense of control, even if control is often just a comforting illusion.

 

Sometimes, like a leaf in autumn hanging onto a branch for dear life, we must let go of whatever we’re clutching, stop our struggling, and trust in the natural flow of life. 

 

As humans, we tend to avoid change, even if that means clinging to an untenable situation. The status quo is predictable and comfortable. The pandemic has forced us all to let go of our old life in some form and accept the “new abnormal.” While some are suffering more than others, we all have had to ”practice” letting go of our future plans and accept the situation. 

 

Yoga teaches us to live as skillfully as possible and let go of the "fruits of our actions." Goals are helpful and set our direction, but our focus should be on the task at hand or in the present moment. We should not act only for the rewards. 

 

There’s a well-known Zen story that teaches this lesson:

 

A student asked his Zen master teacher: “If I apply myself, how long will it take for me to find Zen?” 

The Master thought, then replied, “Ten years.”

The student then said, “But what if I work hard to learn fast?”

The Master replied, “Well, twenty years.”

“But what if I work really hard at it? How long will it take?”

“Thirty years,” replied the Master.

“But, I don’t understand,” said the student. “How can I work harder, and yet it will take me longer.”

The Master said, “When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.”

 

Choosing work that we love helps us to stay present. When happy in our work, we enjoy the moment and “let go” of a future benefit. Letting go is not as easy as it sounds. The mind’s specialty is to rehash the past and worry about the future, but fortunately, yoga teaches us how to quiet the wandering mind. This takes discipline and patience, but ironically, when we keep our attention in the present, we tend to do a better job and have a more positive outcome. 

 

That leaf hanging on the tree with all its might has to one day give in to the cold wind and let go. We can reduce our own suffering if we relax, let go, and have faith in the flow of life. Accepting change and stepping into the unknown can be scary. It’s much easier to continue doing the same thing. But when we stop trying to control and fearlessly let go, we open up to possibilities beyond our own imagination.