For a while now, I’ve been thinking of an idea that is popular in spirituality and health circles, but is as well grounded in yoga philosophy. It appears in various guises, names, and nuances: letting go, releasing, vairagya/dispassion, allowing. We’ve heard “just let it go,” which is so easy to say, and so hard to do. And that, exactly, is the problem. Letting go is un-doing, which seems impossible.

I’ve been thinking about it because it feels very important to me in my practice right now. With many years of practicing yoga, I seem to have embodied well the idea of practice and discipline. I know the efficacy of doing, of getting on my yoga mat, my meditation cushion, sitting down with a book or recording of my teachers to do studies, contemplating and writing. This I can do. But what about undoing?

To some extent, what has been done cannot be undone. I ate that chocolate cake, I took a nap instead of going for a walk, the injury happened, be it physical and/or emotional. This relates to karma, and the idea that every action has a consequence. My strategy has generally been to try to make better choices, and this is critical on the path of yoga. For example, redirecting my desire for cake to a healthier choice. My practice has definitely aided in making better choices overall.

Yet I can’t help but sense there’s more to it. Through my practice, I have noticed many attachments fall by the wayside when they no longer fit into my life. The letting go happened naturally like when a kid no longer cares for particular toys. Often it seems this happens because something else becomes more attractive. Again this is the result of replacing one attachment with another hopefully more adaptive one.

Still there are some persistent deep rooted patterns that continue to lurk, even after decades of practice. And as I’ve introspected, my conclusion is that in general they are all a fundamental disconnectedness with _____ . You fill in the blank: source, God, Self, heart, etc. It is a contraction that makes me feel smaller, and Tantric yoga philosophy calls it the “anava mala,” the fundamental separation of the individual being from divine source. It is a necessary contraction for the individual soul to become embodied, to take on the limitations of a body-mind.

How does one meet these deep-seated contractive patterns? I sense this is a place for actively letting go. But it feels extremely paradoxical. How does one undo? How does one actually release some deep seated pattern that has been reinforced for years, perhaps lifetimes? Can it be done, more precisely “undone,” or is it more of a process of replacing bad patterns with good patterns?

As a good yogi who started practicing on the level of the body, that’s where I am beginning my experimentation with letting go. I’ve begun to watch how much I hold in my body. I watched it first in shavasana, the relaxation and integration pose we do at the end of yoga class. There I can feel my body actively release. I put my attention to a contracted area and ask it to let go. For me this begins with my shoulders, as I am one of those people that carries the weight of the world there. So as I am in shavasana, I allow the muscles of my shoulders to release. Then I notice where else feels contracted, usually my jaw or my face, and again, send the message to relax.

I’ve also noticed it on the massage table, in the dentist’s chair, when I’m on a walk. I notice it as I sit here typing. I take a deep breath and release unnecessarily contracted muscles.

So I’m making some progress on the physical level. And I suspect this is teaching me something about letting go the deeper layers of psychological and emotional patterns that keep popping up. How do I let those go?

I have a lot of ideas, but I really don’t know. And for me, saying “I don’t know” is a form of letting go. That’s a start.

Stay tuned, I hope to have more to add as I continue my explorations. For now, you are invited to practice noticing and releasing bodily contractive patterns, shavasana is a great place to start. As well, I invite your contemplations on this subject.

6 thoughts on “EXPLORATION in LETTING GO #1

  1. Kari Mahran

    Couldn’t agree more. Letting go is easy to say, but difficult to feel. I have experienced a disappointment with a close friend recently (both with myself and with her), and it keeps coming up no matter how hard I try to “let it go”. The best answer I can come up with is to bring in LOVE and rather than regretting and blaming, accepting and embracing. Realizing that this too is part of life. Everyone feels pain and regret, and the best we can do is deal with it in a loving, accepting way. It is part of the human experience. “Progress, not perfection.” I’m working on embracing the fact than my friend feels the way she feels, and owns her own actions and reactions. Loving her, even if I don’t agree, is powerful and brings me closer to the yogic concept of oneness. Compassion towards oneself and compassion towards others is a powerful antidote to pain. As the Dalai Lama says: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible”.

    1. cindy

      Kari I think you are right on with ‘progress, not perfection.’ And allowing the process to unfold. Letting go of perfection is one of the hardest!!!

  2. Joanne

    Reading Kari’s comments was almost surreal! I have also had a “falling out” with a closest friend of 30+ years! And I have struggled with compassion versus anger and sadness. Can I still love her when to me her feelings seem based on fear and close mindedness? Compassion yes, this is where I strive to go. Not always easy as conversations replay in my head. Cindy’s discussion on letting go is timely and timeless for me. The older I get the more obvious it seems. So I am thankful for my practice which continues to support all the letting go a lifetime needs!

    1. cindy

      “all the letting go a lifetime needs!” yep….until the ultimate letting go, right?

  3. Laura

    One obstacle I have to letting go is that on some level, I enjoy my feelings of anger or disappointment or whatever. It’s a perverse enjoyment, like the satisfaction you get from scratching a bug bite (got a lot of those right now) even though you know that only makes things worse . Even though I know the anger can make me bitter. The Irish person leading the political tour of Dublin today talked about moving on from a “good Irish/bad British” mentality to recognizing the pain that happened on all sides. But it’s hard to extend the hand in peace to someone who has hurt you.

    1. cindy

      Laura I so get this! It is part of my consternation. The word I use for it is indulgence, I sometimes indulge in behavior or repetitive thought patterns that I know are no good, yet I allow myself to keep going with them. Yet I don’t feel good about it ultimately, and I think that is what will eventually turn it around.

Comments are closed.