The art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss. –Rebecca Solnit
“Letting go is easy,” one of my meditation teachers once said.
He sat in front of a group of us who had gathered for the weekly dharma night teaching and pulled his keys out of his pocket. He held them for a brief second and then dropped them to the floor. “See,” he said. “It’s just like that.”
Just like what? It’s not that easy, I thought.
He did this over and over again – reaching, holding, dropping, reaching, holding, dropping …
It clearly took some effort for this elderly man to continually reach to the ground. His movements were awkward and uncomfortable.
Well, this is embarrassing, I remember thinking.
What is he doing?
Is anyone getting this?
Now, reflecting back, I clearly see what he was teaching.
What is your experience of letting go?
For me, it’s a bumpy ride.
When I discover I’m longing for another reality (if only I was different, if only that was different, if he were here, if I hadn’t said that, etc.) my first response is usually chagrin. There’s typically some embarrassment – some judgment. Why am I letting this get to me?
Then, if I’m lucky, my mindfulness practice kicks in. I’ll try to be gentle, remind myself that I am human and this natural. I ask myself, what is true? I bring myself back to my environment.
When things are particularly intense, sometimes I take a few breaths, phone a friend or go outside for a fresh perspective. This is the easy part.
Letting go is easy. It’s the doing it over and over again – revisiting the same drama you thought you took care of years ago – that’s the challenge.
It’s when these same stories keep reappearing, that I begin to feel frustrated. I immediately associate my inability to move on as inadequacy. I’m doing something wrong. I keep struggling; keep needing to re-ground myself only to arrive at the same truth I uncovered the last time this thought arose.
Have a grown at all?
What am I doing wrong?
Is there a book I need to read?
Will I ever I truly release this thing that has a hold over me?
The body knows
We live in a culture of to-do lists and checkboxes. We want our letting go to fit neatly into this linear frame. Problem. Solution. Next. This is progress. This is growth. This is #winning.
But we forget that this is not the way of our cyclical yet ever-changing world and it’s not the way of our cyclical yet ever changing bodies.
The reaching, the holding, the dropping, it’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable and it’s the dance we’re designed to do. We fall into it like a needle in the groove of a well-worn record. This is the body’s natural process of letting go. There’s nothing wrong here. We will keep reaching to reclaim whatever is dropped until it no longer registers as “lost.”
This is the dance of letting go
What does Rebecca Solnit mean by “rich in loss?” I can only think that it’s an additive perspective. It’s where we arrive after touching over and over again the pain of letting go. In this place we think not about the story, the wish, the relationship, the thing, but rather what has been gained through the process of continually letting it go. It’s the lesson learned, the special moments remembered, the confidence gained, the empathy uncovered.
When my grandmother passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, I wailed. I rode my waves of sadness on a flimsy raft feeling insignificant at the enormity of my grief. She was gone. How could it be? The things we would never do, the trips we would never plan, the restaurants we would never critique. She wanted to see the ocean.
I touched that pain over and over. I was not ready to let go. But that touching brought forth the relationship I have with my grandmother now. When I think about her, I don’t think of loss, though I still miss her, I think of the gift of her unconditional love and the simple, yet magic moments we shared like sitting on her couch watching HGTV and eating chocolate ice cream bars. We did that a lot.
An appreciation surfaces — some wisdom is uncovered as our hands time and time again pick up the keys. Though repetitive and exhausting, it’s through this process that we wear through the sticky quality of these struggles to uncover the gifts they carry that have just been waiting to offer their richness.
An Invitation: Drop your Keys
We can learn to “let go” in our mind, but we vastly deepen our understanding of this teaching when we also learn to let go in the body.
What “letting go” is working on you?
A frustration with yourself or your life?”
Anger or resentment?
Choose one to work on this week.
When it arrives pick up an object, any object. Put all of your longing for a different reality into this object. Hold it. Hold on tight. Feel it. And then, with little fanfare let it drop. Hear the sound it makes when it hits the ground. What do you feel? Notice your breath. Do you believe you’ve let go? Do this over and over until the practice feels tedious. This is how you know it’s doing something.