Having flown the earth for 300 million years, dragonflies symbolize our ability to overcome times of hardship. They remind us to take time to reconnect with our own strength, courage and happiness.
This truth is what gave my Aunt Deb hope in the midst of her health challenges. Even when she struggled to move, struggled to breathe, she strived to overcome so many hardships. She was vivacious, fun-loving and compassionate and her laugh was one for the ages. We celebrated her life last week by gathering and sharing stories and photos. We ate and drank and laughed and cried. She would have loved it! In her last days we talked a lot about letting go: letting go of regrets, letting go of pleasing others, letting go of grudges. She was working hard at finding peace in her present circumstances and I’m grateful she glimpsed moments of it.
It sounds simple: stop, do nothing, let go. But if it is so simple – why is it so hard? Why is it a struggle to not do something, to just let things be? Why is it so hard to not think about the drama occurring in life, to let go of the stress of a job or relationship problems? Maybe it’s because letting go is not valued in our culture, and what is not valued is not practiced. It does take practice to learn how to let go and let things be.
Ajahn Brahm is an entertaining and provocative monk. He was trained in the Forest Tradition of Buddhism in Thailand, originally hailed from England, but now is the abbot of a monastery outside of Perth in Australia. He has a number of specific stories that show both the importance of letting go, and the challenge in doing just that.
In his book Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond, Ajahn Brahm shares this illustrative example from his own teacher: he would hold up a cup and ask his monks, “how heavy is this cup?” Before they could answer, he would continue, “at first it is very light, but after ten minutes of holding it up it begins to be heavier. Imagine how it would feel after one hour of holding?” The obvious answer is – quite heavy. Now, what is the wise thing to do if something is getting very heavy, too heavy to continue to hold up? The wise thing is to set it down for a little while. Then, after a short rest, you can pick it up again, and it is once more quite light and easy to bear. It really is that simple!
And yet, how many burdens are you carrying in this moment? When the stress of life, obligations and responsibilities become really heavy, are you wise enough to set them down for a little while and take a rest? Or do you believe that you should keep struggling and keep your arm up forever? Stress takes a heavy toll in our lives: it can create illness and exacerbate disease. It poisons relationships and ages us prematurely. There is a simple remedy: set down your burden! Not forever; not even for very long: even a short rest from your responsibilities, a brief letting go, may help you pick them up again and bear them more appropriately.
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, nature is calling us to let go as we enter Autumn. Shorter days have historically meant less time for doing. More time for being still; being quiet.
Seasonal changes also remind us that the only constant in life is change. As such, we must learn to let go of anything we no longer need and embrace that change.
I’d love to hear from you. How do you briefly let go? What does it look like to take a rest from life’s stresses?
Consider joining me in practicing yoga. Maybe this gentle, contemplative practice is just what you need during this season of life. There are many opportunities online and in-person. Please reach out if you have any questions.