I can’t remember which came first—the e.e. cummings poem or the yoga class lesson: “Let go. Let it all go.”
Regardless of when the words came to me, I pulled them in close and clung on. I understand the irony in this: squeezing tight to the mantra of release.
Still, despite my clenched fingers through the years, I have successfully let many things go. Negative emotions, grudges, bitterness, sadness, unfulfilled expectations, unmet demands, empty promises, physical injuries. Not to mention, the overstuffed bags of clothes, boxes of college novels and texts, pages upon pages of old writing, a ziplock baggie full of tarnished and too small jewelry, a dented cooking pot or two, a broken bookshelf, a crooked lamp, our letters, envelopes full of pictures, shards of my grandmother’s glasses, an apartment, and a torn coat, and a quarter of my heart. I left these by the curb or in the dumpster or wedged onto the stoop of a Salvation Army loading dock.
Have at the wreckage, world; it is yours for the taking.
In yoga, I’m told that we are to let things go so that we may make room for that which serves us: positivity, optimism, health, balance, peace of mind, energy, enthusiasm, breath, love. The strong, centered, confident yogi in me understands this philosophy. The exhausted, overwhelmed, and disappointed 31-year-old single woman in me thinks this theory is total bull shit.
Let me get this straight: Life is a constant conveyor belt carrying off the burdens we’re unloading and bringing in the new baggage we’ll pick up?
Awesome. Do we get martinis while we wait for the delivery?
Only, of course, if we promise to go to yoga to sweat and detox afterward.
Here’s the thing: as hard as I’ve worked to “let go,” to embrace that simplest and most powerful of yoga (and life) philosophies, it dawned on me recently what I have, somehow, failed to understand these many years.
I used to think letting go was finite. I used to think that by inhaling those words, sucking them up through the straw of my yoga practice or my runs or my long talks with my girlfriends or my drives home to Pennsylvania, and swallowing them whole, taking the two words down like vitamins or energy boosters (or pain killers), that I was accomplishing the act. I was succeeding. Because I was consciously telling myself, “Let go.” I was consciously thinking, “Let go.” I was wiping the chalkboard of my mind with an eraser of “Let go.”
One clean sweep is all I needed, right? One big gulp? One precise and purposeful and conscious decision?
That’s what I thought “let go” meant.
No irony is lost on me that my recent epiphany that this is, actually, not at all what “let go” means came by way of—you guessed it—a miserably hot, miserably humid, miserably difficult yoga class.
It was Sunday afternoon, and the morning’s lingering rain and fog followed me into the crowded studio, promising of a humid class. Even the walls beaded moisture. A man next to me settled onto his mat, smiling my way, smelling like the rich, black soil of spring. From the record player came the rhythms of an old Krishna Das album, and as we began rising and sweating, his voice hung low, draping across our backs, like vines, wrapping around my legs and up my arms and rooting in my ear. I felt as though I could have been practicing on a carpet of moss deep within a thick, hooded jungle. Everything—my breath, the air, our collective movements, the swells of the music and our bodies—seemed of another time and place: earthen, primal, ancient.
I wanted so badly to enjoy the eerie sensation of it all. Instead, my thoughts hitched on all the “unproductive” things: worry, frustration at my stiff joints, irritation at the teacher, a lingering sting of disappointment. At one point, as we held ourselves in a long downward dog, I watched a trickle of sweat run down the ridge of my tricep and over my elbow joint and across the slope of my forearm before reaching that curved web of skin between thumb and forefinger.
I was marred in minutia. And I was holding it all in, entangled, thorned.
Class worked its way through, and when I rose to leave, my legs swished and buckled like an overturned bucket of water. It took me 15 minutes just to get out to my car. I sat in the driver’s seat for another 10 minutes more, waiting for the waves of nausea to pass.
As I drove home, I got to thinking about how, even though I’d told myself repeatedly throughout that class to “let go,” I clearly hadn’t. My finite, once-and-done command hadn’t worked. Then, I thought about the days when I practiced my yoga six times a week and felt incredible—and then remembered that’s not my reality anymore, and that’s okay. I thought about the moments I’d enjoyed him best—and then remembered those moments are nostalgic wanderings into the past and are not reality, and that’s okay. I thought about this here blog and how I never write the way I used to—and then remembered this is my space, and if I chose not to come to it, that’s okay. I thought about my old apartment—and quickly remembered I will never live there again, so get back to reality, it is okay. I listened to the song blasting on the radio—”Love Lost,” Temper Trap, in anticipation of their live concert in a few weeks—and heard my favorite line, “Keep me in mind. When you’re ready, I am here to take you every time,” and felt a sudden, sharp jolt of sadness for that sweet line, that sweet sentiment, and then remembered the very best poetry and love and sweetness of my life is still to come, and that is, absolutely, unequivocally, okay.
I noted and processed each passing thought. I processed.
And it hit me: that is letting go.
It is not finite. It is certainly not once-and-done. It is not, I guarantee, a one-time swipe across the chalkboard of your heart or your mind. It is not leaping from the present moment of pain into the beautiful, pain-free promise of the future.
Letting go is, just like my yoga, a daily practice. Methodical, medicinal, momentously difficult but also magnificently easy, because all you really have to do is show up, and try, and breathe through whatever comes. It will never be perfect or clean or even pretty.
Because letting go is not snipping the ties neatly—rather, it is unbraiding, piece by piece, with your fingernails, the knots that have held you asunder. That could take days. It could take years. I’m certain, for some, it could take a whole lifetime.
And, perhaps most of all, as I sped home, sweat still drying on my skin, the fog still rolling in off the ocean, the sweet, muddy smell of turned earth wafting across the lawns, I understood, fully, that “letting go” doesn’t have to mean giving away for good. There is great fear in releasing something, because we perceive that release as loss. But, look at us—we are all undone anyway.
Besides, no matter how much I let go, no matter how many bags I fill and throw in the trash, no matter if I never see you again, no matter the course life takes, that which is, truly, most important cannot be lost. That which matters, those who do good, who love, who fill my life, and all the poetry, and all the poignancy of our past—
It will stay with me, always, ribboned tightly ’round my heart.