Our breath provides an apt metaphor for how we live in the world. As we inhale we take in what we need to nourish us and as we exhale we release what has been used up. In and out; it is a natural flow that is controlled by both parts of our brain, conscious and unconscious. Its rhythm reflects our emotional states and its actions mirror our day to day activities of receiving what is new and letting go of what is done.
Death, economic loss, going to sleep, children growing up and away, relaxation, healing, hurricanes, falling it love.... these are but a few of the lessons in letting go that come with our earthly life. Some are exhilarating experiences. I remember a theatre exercise during college where I was asked to dive off a platform into the outstretched arms of the rest of the cast. Fear initially paralyzed my ability to jump, but when I finally let it go and flew through the air, my first thought after landing was that it was the most amazing thing I had ever done and I wanted to do it again. Other times 'letting go' experiences can feel devastating, with the only visible bright side being how we are able to draw together to support each other, as a tragic death in our town recently demonstrated. And some of our struggles with letting go simply and quietly erode the quality of our life; if we cannot let go our thoughts of the day, restful sleep eludes us.
If the exhale is such a natural thing, why is it so hard to let go? I suspect it is all fear based; holding our breath is a pretty common response when we are scared. Perhaps it is the fear of not knowing what will happen that drives us to hold onto what it is we think we do know, even if it is not a positive thing. Perhaps it is not trusting that we will be able to handle the next new thing that makes us cling to what is familiar, even when we have outgrown it. Perhaps it is simply not recognizing what we need to do and how to do it. The act of releasing is not always an automatic event, especially if some consensual belief has interfered either consciously or beneath our awareness. Surrender can take the shape of a three part process that includes first the awareness that I need to let go, making the decision to let go, and then taking the actions necessary to manifest the surrender. And sometimes we finally let go only to grab it back again, needing to repeat the process over and over until we eventually relinquish our fear and relax our grip.
There is a teaching story about a monkey who was delighted to find a huge jar of nuts during one of his excursions. He reached his hand into the jar and grabbed the tasty morsels, but was alarmed to discover that his fist full of nuts was too big to come out of the opening of the jar. As hard as he pulled, he could not get free and his unwillingness to release his prize in order to escape led to his capture.
Letting go is perhaps the most difficult thing we do. Did you know that some asthmatics experience breath impairment not because they cannot inhale, but because they cannot let go of enough of the old breath to allow room for new air to come in? As with our breath, releasing and letting go makes room for the new in our lives.