Seems I’m in a “thin place” on this subject, with metaphors, stories, and possibilities popping up all around me. (In the Celtic tradition places that give us an opening into the magnificence and wonder of Presence [or truth, or clarity, or, or …] are called “Thin Places.”)
What does it mean to “let go?” I have been skewing the issue by asking the wrong question, by using “letting go” as my working definition of not controlling. (Yes, I’m aware of my awkward language here, throwing in a negating “not” in place of a positive stand-alone verb. The fact that I can’t adequately articulate the problem indicates the depth and obscurity of this mental thicket.) I have been looking at letting go as a passive process, an absence. A not-thinking, if you will; a state I wishfully imagine accompanied by a Zen-like sense of serenity. Talk about setting myself up for failure!
It doesn’t seem to work that way, and trust me, I’ve given it more that the so-called good old college try.
If letting go is not absence, then what sort of presence is it? It dawns on me that perhaps it is a matter of active suspension. Suspension of judgment, of expectations, ideally, even suspension of thinking! Rather than a list of specifics, holding myself to a set of standards, having a laundry list of “I’ll stop wanting this or that, stop doing this or that,” perhaps letting go means consenting to uncertainty. Perhaps letting go relinquishes the need to know, surrenders to what is now, even when what is now is hard; even (especially?) when we cannot see where things are going.
I need to give myself some credit here, too. I need to realize that just the act of being willing to wrestle with another day, to bring gratitude to bear in spite of heartaches and unknowns is as important to this process as is the attitude of consent. Indeed, perhaps willingness simply to show up is the vehicle of being able to consent.
Letting go, it seems, is agreeing to cooperate with the universe, instead of fighting with it. When I let go, I abandon thinking that “I know best.” (Think about it: trying to control is the ultimate arrogance, really – thinking that my way should be the way.) I accept whatever is, whatever comes, (whatever!) as a gift, as what is necessary for me right now in this very moment.
In the moments I come even close to this altered state, I get a glimpse of that Zen-like serenity after all, proving that it’s not circumstances that need to change, it’s how I view them. Fear evaporates. Release tiptoes in, relieving me of the awful burden of being In Charge. How freeing it is not to be in charge! I can start to look around me with awe, cleansed of the need to solve everything, softened to possibility, knowing that “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” to quote once again those lovely words of Julian of Norwich.
Right in midst of these thoughts, this entry by Martha Beck came in my inbox. I include it in its entirety, because it speaks so powerfully to this same issue:
Zero Attachment, Zero Anxiety Insight from Martha
I have put myself on a very strict health regimen this summer. It has nothing to do with eating or exercise; it is a thought/emotion regimen, which, in the end, has many more concrete results than any physical diet one could undertake. My program is the “zero attachment, zero anxiety” diet. Mind you, shooting for no anxiety or attachment at all is extremely ambitious, and not something I would have undertaken five or even two years ago. It was only after twenty-some years of meditation and daily “mental hygiene” (noticing and dissolving all thoughts that cause suffering) that it even occurred to me to shoot for absolute clarity.
So far, I am failing abjectly.
Nevertheless, my goal has helped me see many glaring issues that before seemed so minor as to be inconsequential. The most striking thing I’ve realized is that the thought of “magnetizing,” or drawing things toward me, contains the assumption that what I want is “out there” in the world and I have to go find it. It creates a feeling of distance and inaccessibility. When I release all attachment and all anxiety, I notice that the things I want feel present and inevitable, as real as humidity in summer air.
When the temperature of a day reaches the dew point, the moisture in the air, which is invisible to the eye, suddenly appears everywhere. It was always there; it just needed a certain temperature to become visible. Similarly, everything we need to make us happy is waiting for the “temperature” of our inner life to create the dew point where it can become material form. The dew point temperature of all your desires is a feeling of normalcy. It is not high excitement, nor grasping, nor yearning. All of those emotions contain anxiety and attachment — try them right now, you’ll see.
To give you an example of what this feels like, think about the feeling you have watching a beautiful sunrise. You may experience awe and intense gratitude, but you will not be thunderstruck, amazed or hysterical. A sunrise is glorious, but it is normal. We aren’t attached to the sun continuing to shine because we are sure it will. If you can feel that way about the arrival of your soul mate or the success of your business, my recent experience convinces me it will appear around you like dew. Everything you want is there right now, waiting to become visible.
The emotions I’ve learned to soften and dissolve during my “no anxiety, no attachment” regimen are things like intense excitement and amazement. Even amazement implies that a good thing was unexpected or incredible, not that it was normal. Try replacing amazement with awe in your own life. Replace yearning with the knowledge that what you need is inevitably yours – that you are actually pushing it away with any grasping or yearning you may feel.
I realize this is exactly the opposite of the advice I wrote down years ago in my book, The Joy Diet. This is why we must always keep up with current research. I take it back and expect that all of you will graciously forgive me for my previous oversight, because I live and work with the most incredible people in the world — which is absolutely and totally normal.
I’m uneasy about being so long-winded and aware of communicating more frequently than I usually do, but the synchronicity of all these thoughts coming together, coupled with so much feedback from many of you, encouraged me to do so.