Letting Go - Relaxing Into Presence
“Just let go.” We hear this often as part of the meditation instruction and yet it can be one of the most difficult aspects of a practice. What does it mean to let go? And how do I do it? My mind is very good at hanging on to thoughts and feelings so why would I want to let go of those things?
Why do we suggest letting go as part of your practice?
Letting go allows space for life to happen for you. Think about the molecules that make up your body. Energy happens in the space between them, causing them to vibrate at different frequencies. You are energy. By letting go we relax into the spaces between - between thoughts, between feelings, between actions - and allow life to just happen.
The space we create from relaxing into presence becomes precious because that is where the unfolding happens. Life is a series of events that add layers to what it means to be human. Its like making bread, where we knead the dough, turning it over and over, folding in ingredients until it becomes a cohesive entity. Then when we allow the dough to rest, and rise, the folds come out. And you are left with this uniform sphere ready to become bread of any shape. Releasing into your practice is like that.
Our human experience can also be seen as a tangle of threads. My teacher Megan uses this analogy, where our life is a series of threads from different sources that can become entangled. If we just cut one or two, it all falls apart. But if we take the time to create space between the threads they can remain intact. By taking the time to untangle thoughts and feelings and actions, we can see between them. We start to see the relationships between the threads, and maybe how they became entangled in the first place. Untangling takes a lot more work but the result is more beautiful and sustainable than the reckless cutting of threads. This form of letting go takes time and patience.
By relaxing into what is, we give ourselves the opportunity to see more of life as it happens in the present moment. See life now instead of always looking behind or ahead. Let go in order to be here, right now.
Letting go can make achieving states, like a flow state, easier to reach. When I played competitive rugby, my best games were the ones I couldn’t recall. The plays were seamless, my ability to run was effortless, and everything just seemed to flow together. The games when this occurred came from a letting go. I didn’t have to THINK to play the game - I just did it. The ability to sink into this kind of flow state came from hours of focused practice, of attention to detail, of making the novel rote, so that when I needed to perform, I could do it without effort. That was all thanks to letting go.
What does letting go look like?
- Sit down and allow things to be what they are without seeking to change things.
- Let the noise be noisy. What happens when you stop trying to quiet the noise? Observe the noise of your thoughts, feelings and sensations without seeking to get rid of them. See what happens when you let go of the need to control your inner condition.
- Celebrate the moments when you wake up. Celebrate those times when you notice things.
- In the silence, thoughts no longer grab us. It is in the silence when we can listen to our heart. We don't try - listening, it just happens.
- "Create slack for deep work." Josh Waitzkin. The magic happens in the spaces. Letting go afford you time and space to allow the magic to happen.
- The nervous system is finite. We only have so many resources. This is why checking in and monitoring our system is essential. It also allows for space and awareness so we can refill our cups.
What distracts us from being able to let go?
- Conditioning is the unconscious creation of habits or patterns in response to avoiding feelings, thoughts or experiences. Are we operating under the conditioning of a behavior that is hard wired? How have we always done things? Does this continue to serve? These are all valuable questions that can be addressed during an inquiry practice.
- How is being busy serving you? If it isn’t, what can you eliminate from your schedule to allow yourself time to let go and sink in?
- When you are overwhelmed do you sign up for more? This is so often the case. Can you begin to recognize when you have taken on too much? Saying “no” can be the ultimate form of letting go. What do you need to say ‘no’ to?
- How familiar is the feeling of overwhelm and how does it serve you? Overwhelm is a state of being when our nervous system is flooded. This means that we are in a full state of trance, controlled by our stress hormones. When this happens, our ability to make good decisions is impaired. In fact, our ability to think in general is impaired. And yet there are many of us who live in this state because it has become so familiar. Finding time and space to relax and let be can mitigate against that habit of becoming overwhelmed.
- "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." Walt Whitman
- In mindfulness, the obstacle is often the asset. It is what we need to pay attention to and then also let go of. What is in the way of your awareness? What happens if you let go of whatever that is to make space for more?
How to let go?
Sometimes this looks like radical acceptance, of giving in, of full surrender.
- relax the momentum to keep thinking. Our minds can get intoxicated on the pull to think. Resist the urge to keep thinking.
- counter the pull to be distracted with focused thought. Direct attention to breathing or other anchors. Gil Fronsdal instructs us to keep a watch on our mind. Are we getting distracted by the thought that we are focused? This can be a fine line and one that can impede our ability to fully let go.
- meditation, or the act of letting go, allows us to be grounded. We need to habituate this feeling so it becomes more automatic. Doing so allows us to get out of our own way.
- guided relaxation with focus on the breath can be a simple way to foster the habit of letting go.
- ask yourself "is there any action required of me right now?" And then pay attention to the answer and allow that answer to direct what you do next.
- "what is in the way of awareness?" Nothing? Go deep. Something? Name it to tame it. What is the source of the tangle?
- inquiry. Turn "I have to..." Into "do I have to?"
- Obstacles are doorways. Resistance lies in the ego. Suffering is the ego seeing the obstacle as something to resist instead of something to learn from or move through.
- we are teaching our system how to be fluid. What would previously overwhelm and either send you into a spiral of emotion or dissociation is now something you can respond to more skillfully. Do you need to move? Does this need more presence? Do you need outside help?
Letting go is a pillar of any contemplative practice. I am not convinced that we are every able to fully master it as our mind’s ability to do so is state-dependent. Dropping in will be easier one day vs the next depending on what else you have on your plate. That said, it is still of noble pursuit to achieve a state of relaxed presence and just let go.
Author - April Prescott