I don’t know how they do it.
Everyone talks about letting go, moving on, detaching themselves, being free—and I’m stuck. Angrily stuck, too: I’m not usually one for curse words.
I am in a 10-day-silent meditation retreat. Along with the Noble Silence we are observing, there is no reading, writing, exercising—we meditate, we eat, we meditate, we meditate, we meditate.
For me, on day one, this means I run circles in my mind, think of every possible worry or concern that I can imagine, go over every single thing I have ever done wrong in my life, mentally harangue myself for every moment I have every misspent (don’t worry, I see the irony, even as I am stuck in the mental cycle) and fall deeper and deeper into an abyss of despair.
I gaze at the 80 or so people surrounding me as they serenely breath with their spines straight and their eyes shut and their legs effortlessly crossed, not a creased brow or pained expression amongst them.
At the beginning of our session, a tape instructs us to “focus on our respiration” over and over. In my befuddled and heightened emotional state, I hear the accented speaker say “focus on our desperation” and am baffled how they know what I am going through!
My heart aches and aches and I feel hollowed out with despair, and the thing is: I thought I was past this.
I thought I had let this sh*t go.
I have completely lost track of exhalations or the physical sensations I am meant to be observing. I’ve lost my meditative state (not that I ever had one) and am stuck in a myriad of bottled up emotion, guilt, anxiety and remorse.
We read articles everywhere on it, post quotes on our bulletin boards, write Facebook statuses about it: letting go. It is made to sound so simple. Just let go. Just open your hand and let your burdens float away. Just empty your heart of its pains and move on. I desperately want to let go.
It isn’t that simple.
Maybe sometimes it is. But maybe sometimes we must come back to something again and again until we can completely let go; this commercialized process of flinging our arms wide and having the heaviness that is weighing on us float away isn’t always the way things work.
Perhaps it isn’t even the way things are meant to work. We humans are ever-so-complicated, and no two journeys can be the same. Perhaps this ”letting go” I’ve been striving for just isn’t for me right now.
Maybe we are meant to let go of some things, the heavier ones, bit by bit. Maybe sometimes, as with losses and grief, they never fully leave but become a part of us, a stone we hold sometimes in the palm of our hand on occasion to look at, remember, and tuck away.
I focus again on my breathing, and simply living through the meditation session. Afterwards, I ask my teacher about the immense emotional distress I find myself in—distress from things I had thought I had “let go.” She simply reminds me that these processes are deep and complicated and to focus on the impermanence of the emotion, the heart pain, the raw gaping wound.
On this little Earth-journey, all too often we don’t all fit into the prescribed method of healing, or even of living. We all need to work out what little rituals, what heart-steps, what tricks and journeys and side-roads that we personally need to get to where we want to be.
And as my wise teacher said, remember the impermanence of everything we feel or go through, both good or bad.
That I can strive to do.
Author: Keeley Milne
Editor: Caroline Beaton
Photos: Author’s own.