It’s the end of the year and most of us are making lists, wishes and introspections about the past year and the new one to come 🙂 Of all the things great or small that I wish for this new year, my mind focuses on thing: this year I want to Let Go. But this is such a mysterious thing for me. What on earth is letting go, how do we know what to let go and what to focus more on? Which things should we keep, and how to spot the ones we should get rid of?
(This is part of a letter I received from a friend.)
Letting go is such a big idea that I could begin presenting it from many different places, but I decided to start from a quote that comes from the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most important books of Indian knowledge and the source of most of the knowledge I present in the Yogilates classes. The Bhagavad Gita is a beautiful story about a character called Arjuna who is in a moment of deep crisis. He has a big, huge issue he needs to resolve and he is humble enough to ask for help. This help comes to him from a teacher in the form of knowledge. And one of the first things his teacher tells him is: ‘There is no reason for grief. The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead‘. The rest of the book is basically an explanation of why this is like this, of why there’s no reason for grief.
I would like to explore here this idea from the point of view of letting go.
Why do we grieve? Why do we suffer? Of course we can find thousands of reasons, and actually thousands of books have been written about it, but in my understanding, the reason why we grieve is really very very simple. We grieve because at any particular moment we are not getting what we want. Either we are getting what we don’t want, or we are not getting what we want. As simple as this. Yes, we will probably need to think about this for a while, it sounds too simple, even simplistic; but please do think about it: THE REASON WHY I SUFFER IS BECAUSE AT ANY MOMENT I AM NOT GETTING WHAT I WANT.
It has always been like this, for thousands of years, but especially now, when we live in this special, amazing time when everything is possible, when the opportunities we have to get what we want have never been better. And because of these possibilities we believe, more than ever, that whatever we want, we should get. If we live in a more or less developed country it seems that our mantra is: I want what I want, the way I want it, and I want it now! Not long ago this was not so clear and you sometimes got what you wanted, but sometimes you didn’t. And that was OK. But it is not OK now.
Letting go is the vision, the understanding, that what I want is only one part of the equation. The other part is what the Total wants, the Total being the whole millions and billions of happenings, occurrences and laws (known and unknown) that come together at any moment to create each thing, each moment as it is.
We have closed our eyes to this vision, and we only see our needs, our wants, our ideas of what is supposed to be. This blindness is an aspect of what is called the American dream: I can do it, I can make it happen, I can get what I want. Of course this American dream has several positive sides, and what makes it so interesting is that from one point of view, yes, it’s possible. We have the technology to make this happen… at least to a certain extent… except that, in the process, we may also be destroying the planet, emptying it’s resources, killing nature. Rosia Montana is an example of this modern mantra, but there are thousands, or hundreds of thousands of ‘Rosia Montanas’ going on all around the world. And actually we don’t need to go to the planet to see this. Why is it that we have so many difficulties with people, why are families so disturbed, why is there so much stress and violence and negativity and unhappiness in our everyday life? Because we believe we should get what we want, without the vision of the Whole, without caring for the consequences. And because of this, we push through, and we either damage what is in front of us, or we damage ourselves.
Of course it is OK to want what we want, we all have our preferences, we may prefer vanilla to chocolate, but we may get what we want, or we may not. Our happiness does not need to be so attached to getting what we want but more connected to what is good for the Total, to what is actually happening, to what is. There is a bigger reality and we need to be in harmony with that bigger reality.
Letting go is the vision, the understanding, the seeing, that at any moment, at any second, what is happening is the consequence of a big reality that I am not in charge of.
Of course what is happening may not be what I want, or would like, or believe that should happen, and so I can try to change that reality.
My responsibility with whatever change I want to bring, be it on the large scale of the planet or on the small scale of another person or myself, is to do whatever it is that can be done by giving it my best. Doing my best is not something I can let go, it is up to me. But the result of that effort, of that best, is what is not up to me. If my best will bear the fruit I hope or not – if the planet will change, or if the other person will change, or if I will change – is not up to me, but it is up to the Whole*. And so the result based on me doing my best is what I need to let go.
There is one more thing I also need to do to let go. What is ‘my best’ based on? Well, if what I need to do is a physical activity, like running faster than anyone else, my best will be based on my physical strength. If what I need to do is solve a mathematical problem, my best will be based on my mental capacity, and so on. And in all these cases I will also need discipline, attention, focus, in one word, will-power. But where does my physical strength, my mental capacity and my will-power come from? Did I create them? Did I decide when I was born that I was going to be very strong, or very intelligent, or with an unstoppable will-power? No! All these things were given to me. I did not create them.
Also, to do my best I will need a certain emotional maturity. And where does this maturity come from? Well, it depends, in part, on my upbringing, the kind of parents that I had, the kind of experiences I was confronted to when I was very young, to the kind of school and teachers I had when I was a kid, the kind of neighbourhood I grew up in, the opportunities I was offered in my youth etc. Was I able to choose any of these things or were they also given to me? Of course they were given to me.
And so, after I do my best, I also need to let go of it, because even my best is not up to me.
This understanding is not easy – it is like walking a tight rope – because even though it’s my responsibility to do the best I can at any moment, a responsibility I cannot let go of, at the same time, I need to understand that my best is not up to me, and so I need to let it go…
To sum up: At any moment, there are two things going on. What I want, and what is happening. What is happening may be what I want, or it may not. If it is, we are all happy :). If it is not, and my mind is lost on its own desires, I may try to destroy what is happening so I can get what I want, this being the essence of wrongdoing**.
But if my mind is more alert, I can try to modify what is happening so I can get what I want maintaining a balance between what I want and what is happening. To do this – which is my responsibility – is to try to do my best, but since the result of my best is not up to me, I let go of the result of my action. And since I understand that even my best is not up to me, I let go also of the idea that my best should have been different from what it was.
And if I am able to look deep enough (and this is not always easy to do) I will see that any moment, at any time – which means THIS MOMENT RIGHT NOW, since this moment right now is all that ever is – is a consequence of the Total, which includes my best attempts to adapt it to my own desires. Now, the Total is obviously not up to me, but is not either the result of my best attempt to modify it. And so letting go is the embracing of the moment as it is – including anything and everything I may find in front of me – because I understand that WHAT IS is what has to be.
It’s the wisdom to see that no matter what is happening, there is no reason for grief.
* For a more in depth explanation of this idea, please see HERE. ‘Dealing with Worries. The Science of Life.’