There will always be things we don’t want to happen, but have to learn to accept. Things we don’t want to know, but have to learn… and people we don’t want to leave but have to learn to let go of.
My thoughts of late have been revolving around two concepts that are often very closely linked: letting go and faith.
As I have said in the past, many spiritual traditions preach the ability to let go. In the Daoist tradition I am a part of, we begin to learn this life-long lesson from the minute we step foot in front of our teacher. We start off by letting go of physical tension (whilst in seemingly tight and uncomfortable postures) allowing the body to become more balanced and for alignments and old tensions to begin to correct. Often times our inability to let go is rooted in our need to feel in control – when in fact when we look at it with honest eyes, we are never really in control of anything, anyway.
With time this ability to let go begins to seep into other aspects of our lives and can be seen in our reactions. Where we would have been annoyed, worried or upset that our plans didn’t go according to our projections, we find that it really no longer bothers us. We begin to simply flow (often with laughter) through our lives. We plan one thing, something else happens and we go with it, only to find we have planned something else and again our plan changes.
Growing up, I found this idea of surrender completely impossible. I remember a time when for me to change my plans for the day, came with a great struggle – often meaning I had to set aside time to ‘get my head around it’. Time to change my perception of how I had imagined my day was going to go. I couldn’t just get up and go do something completely different on a whim. Even people calling up to ask for help with something often caused me much stress because it didn’t fit into my original plan for the day!
This is a very rigid and unhealthy state of mind that was reflected in my emotions and my body. My emotions were harsh and I was very rough around the edges, often snapping at people close to me for no reason! My body was very tight and closely bound (well, more so than it is now anyway!) and came with aches and pains that I just couldn’t understand. I actually remember throwing my back out slightly just by sneezing at only around 18 years old!!
Whilst I have made leaps and bounds (in hindsight) with regards to my ability to let go, there are always going to be many more tests presented. Some are so small compared to our ability that we don’t even realise that it is a test at all, until we see the reaction of others around us.
Other times these tests are still difficult and will push the boundaries of our ability. I find the hardest things to let go of are people, or should I say our perceived relationships with people. We can try to be logical, telling ourselves all the good reasons for letting go of someone or something, but when emotions are involved there is often no room for logic. We can try to flip the script and turn our hurt or sadness into fuel for something positive. In what seems like many lifetimes ago, this was a main tool of mine (not saying I don’t, albeit very rarely, still use it nowadays!), turning any type of hurt into anger and using this to fuel my martial training or weight lifting.
There is however another option – that is to truly let go. This is no mean feat and requires a very trained and conditioned mind. I find our ability to let go is fuelled by time, the more time we have the more we can (usually) allow ourselves to let go. The skill then simply comes in decreasing the amount of time we need to let something go. Hopefully progressing from needing years, months or weeks, to only needing a few moments… or even so short a time that it doesn’t even register that there is anything to let go of. An event hits our heart-mind and simply has nothing to stick to, no emotional adhesive with which to become attached. To aid in this, I find it is always important to remember to keep (even a small) smile on one’s face. This will gradually begin to subtly change our emotions and create expansion – stopping many things from latching on in the first place, as well as creating room for release!
Like clouds against the blue sky, we may have our sight darkened or obscured sometimes, but always remember that if we can just let them fade, there is always a blue sky behind them.
So what about faith? I find this makes for such an interesting subject. When many people hear the word ‘faith’ they immediately assume we are talking about religions, deities, the creation of the cosmos and the meaning of life…
Whilst this is an interesting subject, and one I could be tempted to explore in the future, this is not what I am talking about.
I find most of (if not all of) what we do is rooted in faith. The faith that we are making the right decisions and are on the right path. The faith we place in others, in our teachers and our peers as well as the faith we place in ourselves.
There are not many who would purposely choose to make a ‘wrong’ decision, a decision with an undesirable outcome. So when we are making decisions, we usually weigh up the possible outcomes in our mind, based on our own ‘logic’ and the information we have, filtered through our acquired mind. We then decide that action ‘X’ is the best option for us… However, there is always a degree of faith as we can never know for sure the outcome of any of our words or actions.
Now from a personal point of view, I can clearly see how faith in my teachers through this life is a huge factor. Especially in the internal arts (although I am not exclusively talking about this realm) it is very important to have faith in one’s teacher. To believe they are honest, sincere and knowledgeable. To believe they are willing and able to pass on what they know. I think it is important to truly understand that there is quite a degree of faith that you are placing in your teacher and the path they are walking down. With so many pitfalls and deviations that can be made, it is important to realise the degree to which faith will play a part. This goes for everything in life from your studies, hobbies, diet, lifestyle… The list goes on.
I also find there are many times in my life when I have to simply place faith in dao, in the flow and path of my life and the cosmos ‘around’ me. This can be revolving around my personal circumstances, my relationships or my studies and practice. The key here, as always, is the ability to let go and simply have faith. This is the crossover between these two subjects that have been revolving around my psyche for a while. The ability to let go and have faith that events are ‘happening’ as they ‘should’ and that in time and in retrospect all will have served us in some manner. I am not saying I always have this faith or ability to let go and trust, or even that everyone should. However, it is often when times are challenging that many will begin to lean on faith. I have also found through personal experience that the more I begin to let go of plans, perceptions and most importantly fear, the more I begin to have faith that there is a larger picture in my life. I begin to see how the pieces fall and fit together like a jigsaw creating the canvas of my life. How events are happening, how and when they should to lead me in a certain direction. It is when we try to change this ourselves and fight against the grain that life can seem harder.
In the end, where, how, who and in what framework we place our faith as individuals is a very personal and unquestionable matter. Whilst our faith may change through the course of our lives, where it is at the moment is simply where it is due to our own lens through which we view our existence. Therefore, I do not believe we ever have the right to question any one else’s faith on any subject. All we can do is learn to let go and continue seeking purpose and evolution.
What would this article be without finishing with four poignant lines from the first verse of the Dao De Jing:
He who can free his mind eternally of desire and attachment, Can perceive the very essence of Dao.
He who is not free of desire and attachment,
Will only encounter the outer forms of this world.