Letting Go

I think I'm going to be wondering about and working on letting go for the rest of my life.  It seems to me a process of relinquishing the mistaken idea that we have control of anything at all. 

There are some people who give up everything in an instant: to join an ashram, for example, is to give up your sense of self, to dedicate yourself instead to serving others and to meditation/prayer, to let go of any individual ideas about getting anything or going anywhere.  But I am quite a slow, considering person and it takes me a long time to quietly mull over things; grand gestures of letting go are not my thing, it would seem.  I regularly ask myself if I could give up my home, my clothes, my writing, my life here, my self-determining freedom in the service of something much bigger and more important than I am.  I think that the answer to most of those questions is yes, but give me time.

The Buddhist nun I met on Holy Isle embodied an extreme version of letting go when she told me that after her three month retreat, her teacher (Lama Yeshe Rinpoche) had asked her to come back to the monastery at Eskdalemuir and that he had plans for her, but she had no idea at all what those plans were.  Can you imagine trusting your teacher so much, having given yourself to something so much, that you would do that without question (where? how? when? for how long? what about me and what I want?). She was a feisty, opinionated woman, this is not some passive giving up on life we are discussing here, but she had dedicated her life to something which she considered to be more important than any concerns she might have about her individual self.

One of my students refers to this as the call.  The call is the thing that is pulling you in a certain direction - sometimes you are aware of it, sometimes not.  I love being a yoga teacher, it is no effort for me to want to do my best at it, because it is what I love to do, it feels like what I am here for; every time I teach, whoever I teach, I have a deep sense of rightness, of being in my element, of being in the flow of life exactly as it was intended.  But I only started yoga because my friend told me it was great, and when I began I only wanted to do super-bendy Astanga yoga and push myself to the limit in every practice, whilst working in my office-based creative and (as I saw it then) glamorous day-job.  I was moving in the right direction, but I certainly didn't know it.  If you had told my 20 year old self that I was going to be a yoga teacher one day I would have snorted in your face; it would have sounded ridiculous to me.

What have I let go of in the process so far?  The idea of impressing my parents/grandparents/extended family with my high-flying career and how much money I can earn; reliance on my intellect to prove that I am worthy and important, I didn't lose my intelligence by becoming a yoga teacher, but I did have to face people who thought I had wasted my talents or who assume that the path I have chosen is for not very clever people (cf my nan: 'I don't know, our Sarah, all that education and you've ended up a yoga teacher); wealth; I've let go of living in someone else's daily routine - commuting to work, staying there from 9-5, coming home again, weekends off - that might sound like nothing, but ask yourself how much those routines underpin your life; or look at what people who lose their jobs say about how fearful they are of the days that stretch out before them. 

There are more things I could tell you about, but you understand the point I hope.  A lot of life is letting go of one thing, so that we can have something else that serves us and those around us better; and a lot of holding on is actually based in fear - fear of change, fear of the new, fear of doing something different that will challenge us in new ways, fear of making oursleves vulnerable. 

The truth, as we all know, is that life is anarchic and chaotic and we can never protect ourselves against the changes that we can't predict, but which are definitely coming.  Life is nothing but change.  We can hide away as much as we like, we can fill our days with whatever we want and we can persuade ourselves to stay in one spot because it is sensible, or safe, or because we don't have a choice.

Or we can work at not holding on so tightly, so that we become willing to uncurl our bodies and our hearts and to allow our lives to evolve naturally as those inevitable changes come upon us.  If you look back on your life, you will be able to discern the unexpected turns it took which led you to places of value and deeper understanding; the hard work is to look forward and to trust to that same unfolding, to let go so that you can continue to grow and to move forward, and hopefully to give more to the world than you have previously been able to.  A bud doesn't stay determinedly shut in fear of what being a flower might feel like, and nor should you.



  1. Richard Rohr is a wonderful Catholic Priest who specialises in helping men exercise their 'being' rather than focusing on achieving. He has made a big difference to me. One of his six, tough mantras for men is 'you are not in control' and there is much to think about in letting go and living fully in and for each moment. The 'call' then forms itself gradually, over time, in the stillness of these moments.


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