In the natural world Fall is a time of release; the plants release their seeds, the trees release their leaves and the light releases its hold on the day giving over to more darkness. It is as if the world is taking a much-needed break from the productivity of the hot Summer to rest or senesce. As multi celled organisms we can take a cue from nature and create space to release thoughts, habits, patterns and behaviors that have served their purpose and are no longer serving us during this darkening time of year. Of course this process can be very challenging for us!
I have sat with many dying trees and wondered whether it was difficult for them to let go of their life force. When a tree dies its body eventually transforms back into the fertile soil that will nourish new life. It is not so different for us, yet we do everything we can to fight against the inevitability of death (both literal and metaphoric). Human consciousness is a curious catch-22; it allows us to fully savor this embodied human existence through all five senses while simultaneously bringing with it universal mental blockages that create tremendous tension around letting go.
This is why I practice and study yoga. According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras the purpose of yoga is to disarm the causes of suffering and bring about integration (samadhi bhavana arthah klesha tanu karanarthah cha ~II.2). In effect, yoga helps us identify and release the reasons why we suffer, even as it leads us to feel the deepest of human experiences.
There are five kinds of suffering described in the Sutras: avidya asmita raga dvesha abhinivesha pancha klesha ~II.3.
1) Avidya: forgetting, or ignorance about the true nature of things
2) Asmita: I-ness, individuality, or egoism
3) Raga: attachment or addiction to mental impressions or objects
4) Dvesha: aversion to thought patterns or objects
5) Abhinivesa: fear of death
Letting go is hard to do; sometimes we do it in fits and starts and sometimes it takes years to fully release something or someone for our lives. I recorded a simple meditation practice this week on the shores of the Pacific Ocean for you to use if and when you need a little support in the process of releasing. The natural energies of the breath (especially the exhale) and of the constantly moving ocean can support us in meeting, honoring and releasing our attachments.
The ocean is a potent ally in the practices of release and accepting change. Have you ever had the experience of sitting on a shoreline contemplating life or going through a rough patch and felt that this immense and seemingly endless body of water is holding you and holding your grief? I welcome you to invoke this next time you have a chance to sit with the sea.
The Water Element can support us in swimming through the shadowy parts of our lives. It is fluid and ever changing, the depths of the ocean are a dark place yet full of life, the sea is immense and beyond our control. For years I have been stuck on the surface, surfing each passing wave of emotion as a crisis or a high. It is through ongoing committed practice that I have been able to connect to the depths and more often than not experience a sense of abiding peace even as the storm rages around and through me. Verse 136 of the Radiance Sutras describes this so beautifully:
Another tangible practice for you this season is to work with each of the five kinds of suffering in a gentle and compassionate way. The process of release begins with noticing. While the idea of letting something or someone go might feel completely overwhelming when we consider it, we can break it down and make it more accessible by committing to observation. Observation is noticing something without judgment and is the first step on the path to freedom. I encourage you to commit to observing the next time you are experiencing attachment, repulsion, fear of death or egoism. Simply notice and name the experience, take a breath and when you can move on. For example if you are craving a piece of chocolate notice the craving and how it feels, attend to it, offer it a breath, and then if you still need to, go ahead and eat the piece of chocolate with gratitude for its sweetness and how it nourishes you. Or when you find yourself feeling resentful or angry with someone’s behavior notice this, take a breath, recognize this is your feeling and continue on with your business. These observation practices take time to ripen into peace and freedom, but I can guarantee you it is worth the effort! After years of attending to my human experience with the five kleshas I can honestly say life is more easeful and enjoyable, even under difficult circumstances.
Please share any thoughts or feedback in the comments below!