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The Practice of Letting Go
Allowing and Making Room for It All
Most people have acquired the habit of trying to control experience rather than let it unfold. The practice of letting go is an important one, allowing us to align with the external world more collaboratively. But letting go can be experienced as deprivation instead of the openness that welcomes unforeseen experiences. That is the wisdom of allowing, letting it be, and making space for what is here. It is not that we don't think or act, but thinking and acting don't dominate our experience.
Allowing is challenging and can feel passive but it is anything but that. For many of us, it's a radical act. For most of my life, I had an unarticulated belief that I constantly had to work hard, even when unnecessary, to feel purposeful or deserving of abundance. It took years of having a letting go practice to begin to trust in the benevolent and helpful forces that are there to help.
What is included in the practice of letting go? It can encompass a spectrum of what you believe you need to have to be content; wanting to be other than you are; wanting others to be different; attachment to things; beliefs of how things ought to be; stories we tell ourselves; fears; and waiting for the conditions to be right for us to be happy.
It is not as if we excise the attachments we have. Instead, we have a sincere willingness to try to let them go. Letting go means holding lightly to what we hold most dear, enriching our relationship with them. The paradox of letting go is that the more we can hold lightly, the more flexible and open we become, and the more that becomes available.
In the past few months, I let go of a couple of physical things I had attachments to. My little orange Jeep, which came from Brooklyn with me to the west coast, had been my companion on many road trips. I found an electric car that fit the parameters I was looking for, and it was time to take the plunge. I let go of the Jeep to move toward something that better met my values. Thankfully, a friend bought the Jeep, so I can still see it and know it has a good home. I am delighted with the new car after a brief ambivalence due to my attachment to the Jeep.
Recently, it was also time to say goodbye to my vintage Airstream, perched on a piece of land that is my slice of heaven in New Kingston, New York, in the Catskills. The mice put me on notice that if I continued to visit only twice a year, they were going to lay claim to the Airstream. I gifted it to my neighbors, who have two young boys. They will give it the attention it deserves and create happy memories. While I can still visit and occasionally nap in it, I will feel a pang of missing it when I round the bend and see my barn without the trailer adjacent to it.
A more significant and continuous letting go is leading from the mind first rather than the heart and body. Most of my life, I’ve let my mind lead the way, unaware that I was sometimes ignoring the body’s wisdom. The mind can get confused because it doesn't know how to relax and wait for the path to reveal itself. It still thinks its role is to reveal the way forward. Letting go of the mind's need to develop some action to discover the goal, which often doesn't work or at least uses unnecessary energy, is an ongoing practice for me. As I come to trust other ways of knowing, I ask my mind to be patient, knowing it still plays a vital role in structuring experience as it unfolds.
Questions for Reflection
What letting go practices might help you welcome something else into your life?
What might you let go of in the service of living more simply?
What letting go practices help you to say goodbye to what no longer serves your spirit (and maybe never did)?
Here is a practice that can help you set your intention to let go, so that you can let go of situations, beliefs, stories, material things, judgments – anything that you believe is getting in the way of what matters most.
Close your eyes and notice your breath for a full minute. Let go of asking yourself any questions. Watch the breath as it enters and leaves your body. After a minute, ask yourself directly, "What do I want to let go of?" or "What would help me to let go of?"
Write down what comes to mind on a small scrap of paper. If more than one thing comes to mind, write them all down, one on each scrap of paper.
Put these scraps of paper in a metal or ceramic bowl. Close your eyes and set an intention to let these things go. Put a match to the scraps of paper and watch them burn. (If there are multiple scraps, do it outside or open a window!)
Exercise 2: Guided Imagery
This 17 minute exercise encourages you to let go of anything that is not for your highest good. Guided imagery is a state of light trance, and something you enter every day naturally. To practice this exercise, you should set aside time where you won't be interrupted for 20 minutes, sitting up in a comfortable chair or lying down. After it is finished, allow yourself a few minutes to enter into what comes next in your day.
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