Let go! How much easier is that said than done? And how do you know when you need to let go anyway? And what to let go of?
To what do I cling? Ideas, hope, dreams, relationships, opinions, possessions……I’m not sure any of those are things to let go of lightly. And just what does letting go mean anyway?
How can yoga help? In yogic philosophy there are a few ideas that might be helpful. The fifth yama (the yamas are the first limb of Patanjali’s eight limb path and yamas can be described as moral disciplines or restraints) is aparagraha. It’s kind of about non-clinging and letting go, but it is often understood as being related to possessions, things. Importantly, it recognises that if we come to identify with our things too much, they can become our identity, and that can be a little fragile. The things aren’t the problem, our identification with them is.
I also think of rajas, which is one of the gunas, of which there are three and they are said to be present in all things. I look to rajas, the driving force that gets things done, because I think it can take a long time for that energy to wind down, even once there are lots of signs that it is no longer appropriate. I have had much experience of that strong will to make something happen, that can really get in the way of letting go when it is appropriate to do so. Once again because I’ve come to identify with the particular outcome that I want or wanted.
But maybe most relevant from a yogic perspective is vairagyam, often understood as non-attachment. And maybe, rather than learning to let go of things per say, it is more important to combine an attitude of vairagyam or non-attachment to whatever is going on. In the sutras vairagyam is paired with abhysasa. Abhysasa is about moving forward, it includes our practice and wise effort. They go together, sometimes to move forward we need to let go of conditioning from our past.
I don’t want to let go of my deepest heartfelt longings, my visions, my dreams but I do find it more comfortable to hold on to them with an attitude of ‘it would be nice if that happens, but if it doesn’t I’m ok’. The same can be said about my opinions. If I hold them lightly I don’t feel so jarred by being around people who hold different opinions than mine. I’m not identified with them. I like Heather Plett’s phrase – “hold with an open hand”.
There are definitely times when it is appropriate to hold on and there are times when it is better to let go. The trick, I think, is being able to distinguish from moment to moment which one of these, or what combination of these, is my most appropriate response.
I don’t believe that letting go is a strategy that can be applied in any circumstance and will always be beneficial. Often, we want strategies or tools for our well-being that apply in all circumstances. Because that is reassuring right? I don’t think that our path through life is ever that black and white.
A healthy form of letting go is softening our binary way of thinking. Releasing our muscles that are gripping a particular position or view and demonising the opposing view.
As I mentioned earlier, and in my experience, most of us want to have a template all laid out in advance that we can apply to any situation. An alternate approach considers that right and wrong are only ever relative, situational. Binary thinking reinforces a sense of othering and confirms a belief in an absolute right and wrong. It’s pretty much how our minds work. It’s a useful function, knowing this from that. But, it becomes scary when we’ve tangled our sense of self-worth with a particular position.
If I approach life without holding onto anything too tightly I’m ready to access the most appropriate response rather than overlaying something from the past, or applying an idea or concept that might not be wise in the situation at hand.