Whether it is through our personal journey or through supporting others in their own transformational process, one of the challenges that we inevitably face is letting go of something that has served us well, yet now no longer does. Perhaps it’s an accomplishment that we are particularly proud of or a program or structure that we worked so hard to create.
However, the most challenging thing to let go of may be how we identify ourselves in the world.
The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
When things are going smoothly for us, these words may not have a particularly strong impact. However, when we’re climbing the hill of a steep learning curve, or when the foundation of our identity is shaking, Lao Tzu’s words can take our breath away. In my own experience, I’ve learned that when something takes my breath away, it’s usually because, deep down inside, I know I’m touching truth.
When life gets really hard and we’re struggling, it’s nearly always because we’re holding on to something. And when what we are holding on to is our identity – how we see ourselves, who we believe ourselves to be, or how we need for others to see us – then it can be even more difficult to let go. Some part of us knows that if we truly let go of that identity, everything will change.
Yet, as difficult as the letting go may be, it also brings liberation. There is nothing so freeing to the human spirit as living our truth. It’s true that there may be a cost. Yet what is the cost of not being true to who we really are? What is the cost of not becoming what we might be?
Michelangelo said, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that we aim too high and we miss it, but that we aim too low and we make it.” The soul will not invest in anything less that its greatness. It thrives on learning, growth, and adventure. It came here with a mission – with a purpose. Many people say that they feel the most alive when they are fully engaged in the pursuit and creation of their best life. What is your best life? What must you let go of in order to live your best life?
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
I was privileged to spend time recently with John Philip Newell, one of the most prominent teachers of Celtic Spirituality and Western contemplative practice in the world today. John Philip spoke about “faithfully letting go” of what has been. He told of an extraordinary group of Irish nuns whose order is now dying out. He spoke about their very conscious process of accepting “what is” and of the ways in which they are embracing what will come. They are no longer seeking new members to try to keep the order alive. They realize that the order’s time is coming to an end, and they are being incredibly intentional about “faithfully letting go.”
“Faithfully letting go” is a proactive process. It’s a powerfully intentional act of blessing and witnessing the passage from what has been into what will come next. “Faithfully letting go” means having faith that something else will come if we will just let go of what is no longer serving. We “let go” into the next unfolding, the next emerging truth, or the next chapter of our life journey.
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
John Philip introduced a simple breathing exercise to help facilitate the “faithfully letting go” process. I’ve adapted it slightly for our purpose here. In preparation for the exercise, take a moment to notice that when you breathe in, your body naturally lifts up ever so slightly. And when you breathe out, your body naturally sinks down a bit. Then continue with the following exercise.
Take a few deep and full breaths and allow your breath to settle into its own natural, steady, even rhythm. Then, imagine that you are breathing in and out through your heart. Give yourself a few moments for this “heart” breath. Even just this alone can be a gift.
When you are ready, ask your heart, “What is it now time to let go of?” Accept whatever your heart tells you and rest in that awareness for another moment as you continue breathing in and out through your heart. Then ask, “What is next for me? What is it that I might become?” Again, just accept what comes and rest for another moment in that awareness. Take your time, and when you are ready, continue with the exercise.
Become aware once again of the natural “lifting up” as you breathe in and of the “sinking down” as you breathe out. Then as you breathe out, focus your awareness on letting go of whatever it is that it’s time to let go of. Continue your natural, steady flow of breath, and each time you exhale, “let go.” Take your time.
As you start to feel an energetic shift that comes from letting go, it’s time to bring the “lifting up” aspect of the breath into the practice. As you let go of what has been, there is something that is now emerging – something that wants to be lifted up. It’s the part of you that is now ready to shine.
And so, as you breathe in, let your breath lift up whatever is now ready to shine. And as you breathe out, continue faithfully letting go of what is now ready to fall away. Then breathing in again, lift up that which is ready to shine, and then breathe out that which is ready to fall away. Continue this breathing exercise for as long as you wish.
When you feel complete, spend another few moments in the silence to take in what you have just experienced. Before you leave the exercise, make a commitment to yourself about when you will come back and do the exercise again. In this way, you begin to build a practice.
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It is a practice. It doesn’t happen overnight. However, if you commit to the practice, day by day, week by week, the letting go of what no longer serves will happen, and what you might be will begin to emerge.
Letting go doesn’t have to be a struggle. It can be a gentle and compassionate process when you practice the conscious act of “faithfully letting go.”
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