Last week, I posted a poem about letting go, something that I’m working on in many ways in my life right now. In the last week, both of my adult children have, coincidentally and separately, asked me why it is that yoga is appealing or relaxing, given that the poses look so uncomfortable. So, I’ve spent some time thinking about how yoga, and a raw food diet, seem to be good for me in terms of letting go (not that I’m there, but I think I’m much closer than I would be without).
Letting go of the fruit of action,
the intelligent of unified intuition,
liberated from the bondage of birth,
go the way free from misery.
~ Bhagavad Gita
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells us that letting go is about doing what is right because we believe it should be done, not because of the success or failure of it. This is the yogic principle of detachment. When I first started practicing yoga, I didn’t “get it.” Why, I wondered, would I want to detach from things? Why would I want to lose my joy and my sorry and replace them with apathy? Why shouldn’t I be proud of my successes and responsible for my failures? Now that I’m a tiny teeny itty bit more enlightened (small change, microscopic almost), I think I’m beginning to understand that detachment isn’t necessarily an overall state of being. It’s a process that we have to work through, day by day. And, it doesn’t mean not feeling our feelings – instead it means feeling them and naming them and then changing how we respond to them, understanding what the values are in the process of each experience (regardless of outcome), and letting go of our judgments of self and need to control.
This is hard for most of us, I think, and harder for some of us. I’m what some people would probably call a “control freak.” I’m a people pleaser. I’m success oriented. I’m the rule follower and the “good girl.” I was raised on the value of success and I internalized it to the Nth degree. When I see what I consider an issue (in any part of my life or the lives of those I’m connected strongly with), I want to swoop in and fix it. If I can, yay. If I can’t, I tend to berate myself and obsess over what I can do instead. More than once in a while, I keep myself up for hours planning how I might solve a particular problem, help someone out, succeed at some task, move “ahead” in something, etc. It’s been a fruitful way to be in terms of keeping up with my work and developing a reputation as someone who gets things done, but it has been very hard on me psychologically. Even succeeding at a task causes stress from this frame of mind, because I always wonder – “Could I have done it even better?”
So, where does yoga and raw food come in here? Well, since the yoga connection is more established, and probably more powerful, let me begin with raw food. When I’m following a raw food plan, and managing to keep my surroundings stocked well with fruits and veggies so that I’m not pulled from it by hunger, I pretty much stop thinking about how much I eat and judging the calorie content or whether I ate too close together, too far apart, or too near bedtime. I just eat when and what my body seems to be asking for. I enjoy the taste in the moment and then I move on. I’ve noticed that I don’t seem to crave (obsess?) over food that I want in the same way when I’m observing a raw food plan. Even if I think about something yummy, like carrot cake or pecan pie, I can pretty much just think about it, acknowledge that it would taste good, and then move on. I don’t find myself in the kitchen eating 12 other things trying to stifle the urge for the one “bad” thing that I really want. So, for me, raw foodism seems to help me let go, somewhat, of some of my issues with eating.
Now yoga, that’s been the driving force for me thinking about letting go. As I listened to my instructors and read about yoga and the philosophies and teaching behind it, I’ve been intrigued by the possibility of letting go – of engaging the process without such focus on the outcome, doing what I believe is right for the sake of doing it – not for the rewards that come with it. This brings me back to the question my sons asked about how yoga can be relaxing when it’s so difficult. I’ve already admitted that there are times when a competitive spirit creeps into my yoga practice. So, I’m not going to pretend like I’m all super-yogi with this. But, during a yoga practice, this is a time of day when I’m most likely to be able to let go of my attachment to a goal and just be there, in that moment, in the process of doing yoga because I think it is good for my body and my mind. And, interestingly, even though I don’t spend much time in yoga thinking about other parts of my life (which is part of what I find relaxing about it – that is 60-90 minutes where I’m not worrying over job/family/friendship/society), I come out of it thinking more clearly and less judgmentally about the other things happening in my life. If I do yoga on a regular basis, I seem to be less likely to yell at a child for a bad behavior (which partly goes right back to my desire to succeed – because I’ve obviously failed as a parent if my children are making mistakes), or get upset over others’ negative appraisals of me, and so on.
But, it’s a day to day thing. When I butt up against something really difficult in life, or a problem that isn’t “mine” but “belongs” to someone I love, it is very hard not to slip into control mode. And I do. However, I think I’m at least able to recognize that this is what I’m doing and begin to reflect on the futility of blame and emphasis on outcome. I do better at acknowledging the pain or sadness, naming it for myself, and working to not judge myself for having those feelings or for my own imperfections.
To hark back to the 70s… I’m letting go one day at a time.