The art of letting go

Most of my friends know that I am a pretty anxious person—okay, I’m a really anxious person. And I’m a very nondiscriminatory worrier too, because I will panic over the miniscule details of my day just as much as I will panic over important life decisions.

I rush to every class and every meeting, thinking I am late every time, and always end up arriving ridiculously early. I’m incapable of playing any sort of musical instrument in front of an audience without my hands shaking so much that I create an entirely new piece altogether. And if I have so much as half a latte before any sort of remotely stressful situation, I am sure to have a panic attack (which is really unfortunate, because I happen to like lattes a lot).

I am the kind of person who will think about one question on an exam from the moment I hand it in until the moment I get it back, wondering and wondering if I forgot that one negative sign (I probably did). And sometimes, when nothing is stressing me out, I start worrying that I’ve forgotten about something that should be stressing me out.

Am I making you nervous yet?

Anyways, bearing all this in mind, I was sure that my first few weeks of grad school would be a completely traumatizing experience, but to my pleasant surprise it has been quite a happy transition. And I think that it is because lately, I have stopped trying so hard to always be in control.

Because life isn’t about always being in control—it’s the opposite. It’s about letting go.

I went to this yoga class the other day and it was in this dim room with a few earth-toned tapestries hanging on the walls and bookshelves made of dark oak. As I sat on my mat thinking about how unlike other yoga studios this place looked, I realized (with some embarrassment) that there was a shirtless young man doing handstands on my right, and grew increasingly self-conscious when I looked around the room and saw that a little more than half the class was actually male. Suddenly, the instructor said okay everyone lie on your stomachs, turn your head to one side, and close your eyes

And then he started spouting the most philosophical poetry I had ever heard. I actually peeked my eyes open for a second to see if he was reading off anything and was impressed to discover that his eloquent words were completely impromptu.

can you feel that? can you feel what’s in this room?

At this point I started to get worried because no, I didn’t feel anything, what was I supposed to feel?

can you feel your heart against the floor, can you feel your breath? now stop and just notice this moment. notice the present. feel that jumble of neurons in your mind, all the cells that make up your body. do you realize just how many cells that is? And you think “this is my body! I want to control my body!” but just relax. you don’t need to control every one of those cells. don’t you see how your body breathes without you having to tell it to? let your mind be still, trust yourself, and let everything calibrate on its own…

It wasn’t a life changing moment. It didn’t knock the breath right out of me. But the words just stuck with me, you know? They kept echoing in my mind…

A couple of days later, I came across a Native American story in a book I found while browsing through a second-hand book store (the best kind of book store). In the story, a Native American elder said, “There is a river flowing now, very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and suffer greatly. Know that the river has its destination.  The elders say we must push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open and our heads above the water…”

I don’t know about you, but I’m a romantic so I am a giant cheeseball when it comes to life metaphors. And I particularly liked this one.

It’s kind of a relief to know that it is okay to not worry, to simply let life happen on its own. And I’m not telling you to give up, to lose motivation, or to wing the rest of your life. I’m just saying that it’s going to be alright. I’m saying that it’s completely okay if you don’t know what’s supposed to happen next, whether it’s the next day or the next couple of years. I’m saying that even if you plan something meticulously and it all falls apart, life will go on.  

It’s good to know what you want, it’s good to have a plan, and it’s good to care enough about your life that sometimes it even causes you unnecessary anxiety. But if that anxiety is not benefitting you in any way, it’s time to let go.

“Let go of that which does not serve you,” as they say…

Take responsibility for the things you can control, but learn to let go of the rest. Keep your head above the water, but don’t try to fight the current.

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