The Struggle to Let Go

So many people I know are struggling lately. Feeling overwhelmed by day-to-day frustrations–work, chores, traffic, bills. Dealing with parenting struggles, anticipating upcoming holiday stress or family drama, or facing the health crisis of a loved one. When I talk to friends or clients about their daily stressors, so much of our distress comes down to helplessness.

One of the greatest human struggles is the desire to feel in control. Our society, especially grind culture, really feeds into that desire… constantly telling us to do more, accomplish more, and prioritizing productivity over emotions. “If you do enough, work hard enough, you will get what you want, you will be happy,” or so we’re led to believe. For those of us that are natural doers, it’s easy to focus on doing as a way of escaping feelings, especially the feeling of being out of control.

But, when you think about it, there is so much of life that we cannot control… the weather, traffic, the mood of a boss or coworker, price of food or gas, how our children behave at school (or anywhere), health of family members (or really anything about our family members)… we even try to control ourselves–our weight, our energy, our productivity, creativity, prosperity… build your fortune, make yourself successful. We even live in a culture that likes to convince us that we are in control of these things–there’s always something to do or buy that will “fix” things or make ourselves happy (because success = happiness, right?). Yet, every day we wake up to face a world full of things and people we cannot control… and all those feelings that come from not being in control–frustration, irritation, impatience, anger…

It’s Really Helplessness

Inner Bonding teaches us that those feelings are all just masks for the existential fear and helplessness of human existence.

Ultimately, we are helpless in so many ways, but especially over the behavior of others. When it’s strangers we pass on the street (like with traffic) or mother nature (with weather), our helplessness may just manifest as frustration. But when it’s our loved ones–when a spouse ignores the warning signs of a serious illness and ends up in the hospital or when a child starts to fail in school–then helplessness can be accompanied by fear. Because helplessness over the survival of our loved ones is one of the scariest of human experiences.

In so many ways, we are confronted by helplessness all the time. And though we all cope with it in different ways, it often results in trying to control the uncontrollable. What if, instead of trying to control it all, we just give ourselves a little compassion… gentle acceptance, of ourselves and our reality, permission to be exactly as we are in this moment?

Letting Go is Hard to Do

This is where the yogic principle of aparigraha (non-attachment) comes in. Because it is our attachment to a specific outcome, goal, or destination (i.e., control) that is causing our suffering. If we can let go of the need for control, surrender to and let the feeling of helplessness pass through us, we can exist in the present moment with acceptance.

At least, that’s how the theory goes. Of course, this is so much easier said than done… believe me, do I understand. And the struggle to let go is even harder when we care so much, when it’s about something or someone we love. Though I’ve been practicing Inner Bonding for a long time, sometimes helplessness can really hit me hard. This past week has been filled with helplessness in a way that sent me reeling… and in those moments when I was triggered into survival, when my fight or flight response was running high, it was difficult to remember how to take care of myself in the midst of feeling so out of control.

When things were really rough this past weekend, I turned to the advice of one of my mentors, Rebecca, and her lovely newsletter issue on “a game plan to get out of the tender places” (you can read it here). She reminded me that self-care really needs to go hand-in-hand with letting go… because letting go of trying to control the uncontrollable doesn’t mean we’re not still triggered. When I say “self-care” here it doesn’t necessarily need to be anything big like getting a massage (though it certainly can be); it can be simple, like calling a trusted friend, reading a good book, watching a funny movie, taking a bubble bath, or drinking a cup of your favorite coffee or tea… whatever you need to get out of your head and remember what if feels like to feel good again.

That’s Why We Call It Practice

Of course, it’s going to look messy sometimes. We’re going to mess up, because we’re human and humans make mistakes. But there is a reason we call it a practice. Practicing aparigraha means waking up every day and simply trying to let go of that which we cannot control. Often this will mean facing the feelings of fear and helplessness that come up. Instead of hiding from or burying them (which is exhausting), recognizing these feelings and allowing ourselves to experience them frees up our energy to focus on what we can control–starting first and foremost with taking care of ourselves.

So when you struggle to let go, I want to remind you to hold space for your feelings, knowing that fear and helplessness are a normal part of the human experience. When you’re able to honor your helplessness over others, you can start shifting your focus to yourself–giving yourself what you need to feel cared for. And if you’re unsure about where to start:

  • take some deep breaths
  • feed yourself nourishing food
  • give yourself plenty of rest and
  • do something that feels good to you.

A helpful reminder comes from the insightful Rachel Macy Stafford of Hands Free Mama, with this photo from her Facebook page: