Let go of the ways you thought life would unfold: the holding of plans or dreams or expectations. Let it all go. Save your strength to swim with the tide. The choice to fight what is here before you now will only result in struggle, fear, and desperate attempts to flee from the very energy you long for. Let go. Let it all go and flow with the grace that washes through your days whether you received it gently or with all your quills raised to defend against invaders. Take this on faith; the mind may never find the explanations that it seeks, but you will move forward nonetheless. Let go, and the wave’s crest will carry you to unknown shores, beyond your wildest dreams or destinations. Let it all go and find the place of rest and peace, and certain transformation.
I first read this poem in 2003 when I was struggling with a period of major depression and anxiety that presented itself with insomnia, low self-esteem and a nagging sense that “something was wrong” with me. As I was searching for help, there were a few poets whose words touch my internal jumble of sluggish thoughts: Rumi, Mary Oliver and Danna Faulds. I stumbled upon Danna’s poem in a yoga magazine and carried it around in a notebook for a year or two as I began the slow, painful process of prioritizing my mental, physical and spiritual health.
As I contemplate her wisdom today, it is still rich with the seeds of mindfulness that bring us back to our lives. Whether our practices are rooted in ancient traditions or a contemporary alternative medical model, the advice of the sages all include a component of release. Of letting go. Of dying.
We spend much of our lives conceiving, dreaming, planning and building. Our current society encourages constant growth and action. So, what happens when we hit the major roadblocks that stall progress and even end in failure? Everything else in the natural world is connected to the life and death cycle in a humble, honest way. It is our human construct of ego and attachment that attempt to circumvent our natural cycles.
The practices of re-connecting with ourselves often involves hitting a wall: be it physical, mental or spiritual. We come face to face with our limitations and we begin to make choices. Either we stay in the vice-grips of our familiar patterns and our resistance to what is unfolding, or we take the courageous steps to stop fighting and open to what is really happening.
In an ACT (Acceptance, Commitment Therapy) workbook, there is a wonderful analogy for how we do this: Imagine yourself facing a frightening monster. Between the two of you is a large, dark pit of despair. In your hands is a rope. You begin the painful game of tug-of-war with the monster as your mind screams at you to become the winner. If you lose, you’re going to be pulled to your death into the dark pit or be swallowed by the monster. There are no choices! So you fight harder. You work on getting stronger muscles. You attempt different angles and body mechanics. You grit your teeth and dig in your heels.
Yet, what if there is another option?...Simply drop the rope. There is no battle.
Even with the worst possible prospects (including physical death), there is always an option to see the fearful threats from emotions and thoughts and…to release the vice grip they hold on our bodies and minds.
Being mindful does not mean we don’t plan or be responsible. Being mindful means we see clearly (both the events that are unfolding and our internal reactions to them). We allow the monster to snarl and threaten. We see the depth of the pit before us. We feel the temptation to fight or flee or freeze.
And we stop to breathe and release.
Over time we learn to stay connected to ourselves, even in the most intense of physical or emotional sensations and even in the perceived absence of them when we are shut down. In that space of observation of what is happening, we can release the expectations, the demands, the intensity of forcing our will on the situation.
Whether or not the situation was something we consciously chose, our reaction is completely up to us….By letting go, we actually create a vacuum that nature can fill with the next option.
So our tight, worried, anxious minds don’t need to flood the body with more unnecessary adrenaline when we are threatened or frightened when things fall apart. When we get bad health news. When a project fails. When…when…when…Instead, we begin to open to the intensity of our lives that is woven with successes, failures, beginnings and endings. We dive into the range of sensations and remain curious about what will create. And what will fall apart.
And in that openness of accepting loss. Of releasing. Of exhaling…we can then be more committed to our values, our practices and our relationships (both within ourselves and with other people) that is rooted in the natural ebbs and flows of an authentic life.