We’ve heard it so many times… just let go, let it go, surrender—but what does that really mean?
Many spiritual teachers and groups have often taught that letting go is the only tool we need to find our happiness. Non-attachment is the fastest way to enlightenment. Surrendering and giving it up is the way to attaining our ultimate freedom.
But it’s easier said than done. And even if we know we have opportunity to let go, how do we actually do that for real?
When my mother was dying, too sick to get out of bed anymore, I sat by her side as she slept. A few times when she woke up and saw me sitting there, she was irritated and unhappy. I tuned her looks and sideways glances out. I assumed they were about the fear and anger she must have had from facing death.
After tossing and turning in bed, Mom bursted out, “I just hate not being in control!” I knew she was really upset because she always said “hate” was too strong of a word.
“Why don’t you surrender, Mom?”
That really pissed her off.
“What does that mean? Surrender? What do you want me to do? Take a deep breath? I keep taking deep breaths and nothing changes. I still have no control.”
Mom seemed helpless and I didn’t know what to do. I knew I said the wrong thing. I sounded self-important and not compassionate. She was fighting.
I remembered the line from Dylan Thomas’ poem, Rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light. This line embodied my mother. I just wanted to make it easier.
I understood that when we can’t do anything—have no control whatsoever over our circumstances, even in the face of death, eventually we come to letting go. But obviously, I had never faced my own death before and I could hardly imagine the scope of it. I felt badly that I even suggested it.
Letting go can sometimes feel as frightening as facing the end of our life—it feels like a death, because in many ways it is, which is why we grip and hold on and put up our fists to fight in many circumstances.
It’s why we suppress and repress, pushing our feelings down and putting them aside.
It’s why we express negative feelings believing that expressing our feelings frees us from the feelings when in fact that is contrary. The expression of a feeling tends to propagate the feeling and gives it greater energy.
And it’s why we try to escape to avoid the feelings, as we’re terrified to face our inner selves.
The mechanism of letting go is explained perfectly in Dr. David R. Hawkins book Letting Go – The Pathway To Surrender.
“Letting go involves being aware of a feeling, letting it come up, staying with it, and letting it run its course without wanting to make it different or do anything about it. It means simply to let the feeling be there and to focus on letting out the energy behind it…
The first step is to allow yourself to have the feeling without resisting it, venting it, fearing it, condemning it, or moralizing about it. It means to drop judgment and see it just as a feeling.
This technique is to be with the feeling and surrender all efforts to modify it in any way. Let go of resisting the feeling in any way.
It is the resistance that keeps the feeling going.
When you give up resisting or trying to modify the feeling, it will shift to the next feeling and be accompanied by a lighter sensation. A feeling that is not resisted will disappear as the energy behind it dissipates.”
When I read this I understood why so many spiritual teachers said that rather than tell ourselves to “let go” we should let be instead.
Looking back, I wonder if it might have been more helpful if I lovingly said to my Mom, “Let be.” Maybe that would have put less pressure on her and helped her to feel safer.
But really, it was my opportunity to surrender myself and say nothing at all. To allow my own feelings of fear, grief and anger at my mother’s pending death to be without trying to modify them by controlling my mother’s own experience.
From my mother I have learned. I’ve made this my practice now. Ultimately it was she who showed me how to let go and it was she who gave me the gift of surrender.
May we all let be and rest in the nature of impermanence.