This time of year is full of transitions from summer into
fall and then winter. It is relatively easy to let go of the heat and blossoms
of summer and begin to enjoy the blessings of cooler mornings and the beautiful
colors that begin to paint the leaves of fall. The truth of impermanence is
palpable and we can let go of summer with the knowledge that it will come
In the rest of our lives, however, impermanence can be a bit
harder to adjust to and accept. We like to hold on to people, ideas, beliefs,
objects, ages, abilities, routines, jobs, reputations, health, etc. and when
our relationship to these things are threatened or destroyed we can experience
a great deal of pain and suffering. This week has been particularly poignant
and heart breaking for me as I’ve learned (and sometimes experienced) stories
of loved ones who are experiencing the end or alteration of important relationships,
the unexpected end of jobs, the death of a friend, a significant change in
health status, and the end of a business partnership. These are familiar
stories we all will likely witness in our lives.
In the midst of it all, I am comforted by the teachings in
yoga and Buddhism that point to a way of being that allows for these changes in
our lives to be just as they are with less struggle and pain. Aparigraha, or
nonpossessiveness, is one of the yogic teachings that can be interpreted as
nonattachment, nongreed, nonclinging, and nongrasping. This teaching points to
the truth of impermanence—it is the nature of all things to change. When we resist change we are caught in the
struggle to keep something that is already gone and the more we try to control
or possess, the more the situation controls us.
The first noble truth of Buddhism speaks to the changing
nature of all things—“whatever has the nature to arise will also pass away.”
That goes for people, places, and things. Although we might not always sense
the suffering inherent in this incessant change, with awareness we can come to
realize that nothing can be counted on to bring lasting happiness because
nothing lasts. Instead of that being a real downer, it can be a great teacher
directing us to live fully in the present moment with as much clarity,
attention, and kindness as possible.
How do we stay fully engaged, deeply caring, enjoying fully
and loving without reservation when we know life will continuously ask us to
let go of the things we love? Here are a
few suggestions for practices that remind us to let go and trust in the process
1. Mindfulness of breathing – This simple practice of being aware of the breath coming in and the breath moving out can be a way of experiencing the changing nature of life. Each breath is different than the next. Each breath in nurtures us and each breath out is a letting go of what we don’t need. We can trust that the breath may be different but it will always be available to us as long as we’re alive. Spend a few minutes each day in an awareness of the preciousness of the breath and the practice of letting go.
2. Equanimity practice – This practice asks us to balance our desire to make positive changes in our lives and in the world or to have life be a certain way with the reality that you cannot control the actions of others, their expectations of you, or the conditions of life. Suffering or happiness is created through one’s relationships to experience, not by experience itself. “May I be at peace in the midst of it all” is a great mantra for being with the joys and sorrows of our lives.
3. Loving and letting go – Loving doesn’t mean that we possess someone (although at times, I admit, I hoped it were so). Loving is a continuous practice of letting go. If we really love someone, we let them go to be who they are in every moment. Just like life, people change. Deeply loving someone means that we stay present and current with people as they are each time we come in contact—listening, learning, and opening to what is true in this moment.
4. Open to the new – When something ends, we can be a little apprehensive of what’s next. But, if we can cultivate trust and faith in life and in ourselves to meet whatever life brings then we can open ourselves up to new possibilities that are only available to us through endings. Beginnings can be exciting and fresh and bring new lessons to be learned. Opening to beginnings is opening to opportunity.
5. Acknowledge the pain – No matter what, sometimes change will bring sadness, fear, and other difficult emotions. None of these suggestions are a shortcut through the feelings that are bound to arise. Honor what you are feeling by naming it and care for yourself in ways that are gentle and kind. Connect with those who love you and let them support you through difficult times. Good friends and family want the opportunity to show their care.
Living a cling-free life is not about giving up, being discouraged, or being apathetic. It does not mean that change doesn’t hurt, sometimes deeply. Letting go of clinging to life staying the same when, in fact, it is always changing is the only sane solution. Be open to the life that is actually happening and live in a world of unlimited possibility. This is the path to freedom.