Before we started the opening chants this morning, Justin instructed us to take two yoga blocks and hold one in each hand, with our arms stretched out. Shoulders down. Breathe. The blocks are not so heavy, but after just a few seconds of holding them, I started to feel the weight. My shoulders wanted to tighten, even as he instructed us to loosen them.
Finally, he told us to put the blocks down. We weren’t holding the blocks for long, but my arms were tired.
The blocks were a metaphor for all the stuff we carry around with us each day: the “shoulds,” the lists, the planning, the problems, the obstacles and the fears. The blocks are the junk that fills our minds each day. We walk around with them, with our arms outstretched – the most fatigue-inducing position possible.
The exercise was effective in illustrating this point in a palpable way. And Justin’s point was simple:
We can put down the blocks at any time. We can simply let it go.
This is easier said than done, of course.
It’s also easier to see it in others. How often have you counseled a friend to “let it go,” while simultaneously holding on to something in your own life that wasn’t serving you?
In my work with my clients, I can easily see where they are holding on to stories, patterns and expectations that don’t serve them. It’s easy for me to illuminate these areas for them and counsel them to “let it go.”
I’ve made tremendous strides in my ability to see my patterns as they start to emerge — and I don’t diminish the importance of this is the first step.
But the letting go is still a challenge.
Sometimes during class I am able to really find true presence and let go of the chatter in my mind. Ironically, in today’s class about letting go, I was having more difficulty with this than usual. I noticed how much I was holding on to various thoughts. Planning. Figuring. Mentally going through my day and my week. In almost every pose, a new thought would come up, and it buzz around like a mosquito, immune to my attempts to swat it away.
This, of course, is the reason it’s called a practice.
Which, I knew. Intellectually.
Except that I had the wrong goal in focus as I worked on implementation.
For so long, I thought that the goal of meditation and spiritual practice was that, eventually, I would be able to eliminate the “negative” thoughts and emotions that get in my way. I thought that if I practice enough, eventually those thoughts won’t enter my mind. When the thoughts creep up in the middle of yoga class or meditation, I am inclined to get frustrated. Why isn’t it working? Why am I failing at keeping the thoughts out?
Perhaps I needed to dig into my arsenal of personal development tools and step up my positive affirmations. How many repetitions of “I am love,” “I am abundance,” “I am a wellspring of positive energy” would it take to drown out the negative thoughts and fears that infiltrate my mind?
Those didn’t help either.
I was operating under the assumption that the goal is end these thoughts completely; to stop them from ever returning. And if that was the goal, then the practice of meditation was to “practice suppressing your thoughts.”
As it turns out, I was wrong on both counts.
The goal is neither to swat the thoughts away, nor to prevent them from coming up in the first place.
In fact, I’ve come to realize that there is no goal. There is only a practice.
(If, like me, you’re conditioned to be a high achiever, you’re probably spinning from the concept of “no goal.” Grab a seat and take a deep breath. It will be ok.)
The practice is to allow our thoughts and emotions to arise, to acknowledge them, and then release them.
If you really need a goal, then I offer you this: the goal is to engage in the practice.
The heart of the practice — and the art of the practice — is in the letting go.