One of the biggest mental and physical health problems that people face is stress. And one of the biggest causal factors for stress is a feeling that one has no control over life circumstances. It could be a significant stressor — financial loss, the collapse of a relationship, or even the death of a loved one; or it could be mundane — a traffic jam or a delayed flight. Whatever the situation, the feeling that one is a victim of circumstances and can’t do anything about it can lead to feelings of constriction, anger, loss, and despair.
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had my own bouts with these kinds of feelings. Last week, I waited with increasing impatience for a contractor to show up at my home to do some renovation work. Their workmanship was excellent but their communication was not. I sat around all Monday morning, finally calling at 11am to find out they were not coming that day. I sat around Tuesday morning, until they finally showed up at 2:30pm for a couple of hours. I sat around Wednesday, this time all day, with several calls and emails unreturned. Had someone been in a car accident? Thursday morning they promised to arrive at 9am. By 10am I had begun to give up. Luckily, however, they did show up at noon and stayed until late that evening until they finally finished the job.
I went through a lot of emotions that week: Impatience, anger, frustration, and fear that I would be left high and dry. Finally I gave in to hopelessness and despair.
Of course, I knew I should be handling the situation better. On Thursday morning, after hopelessness had set in, I (finally!) sat down and meditated and came to the realization that I just had to Let Go and Trust. It was what it was. Afterward, I went about the rest of my morning not expecting them to arrive at all. I was at peace with the circumstance. Just as I do (more easily!) when the power or the internet goes out and I can’t get computer work done, I simply told myself, “The universe is telling me to do something else today!”
I had this lesson driven home even more deeply when I had a much more significant disappointment to deal with a few days later. I found out that the husband-wife-team clergy of my synagogue, whom I love dearly and have become close friends with, would likely be leaving this Fall. I was shocked and quickly went into grief. In this couple I had finally found a kind of spiritual nourishment I had been seeking in vain for many years within the faith of my upbringing. Now I would again be “high and dry”. I felt lost, abandoned in the wilderness.
This time, however, I remembered to turn within a bit more quickly. I knew that there was nothing I could do about this turn of affairs. I had no control over it, but I did have control over my response to it and over my own personal destiny. When I Let Go and Trusted, I found that I was able to release my feeling of constriction and realize that my future was open and full of possibilities. Maybe there would be new clergy that would satisfy me. Maybe I was meant to focus elsewhere for spiritual fulfillment. I had done this in the past, and I could do it once again. The future would unfold before me and I would find my way — using Active Consciousness and the many other tools and resources at my disposal. While I still felt loss and uncertainty about the future of my synagogue, I now also had a sense of positive expectation about what the future held for me.
Most of us do not like change, especially when it involves loss or loss of control. But nothing is as certain as change. With loss, no matter how painful, also comes renewal and the opportunity for growth. We can refuse it — we can constrict, shut down, get trapped in anger, regret, or sorrow — or we can eventually decide to Let Go.
The next time your body becomes tight with resistance and stress, try to remember to take a moment, and go within. Feel the tension and constricted sensation in your body. Try to focus on your body sensations rather than on your emotional “story line”. Then, consciously try to release that physical sensation. You might be surprised at the results! Re-reading Exercise 5 from Active Consciousness might be very helpful too. Don’t forget: both the physical and figurative closed fist may feel strong and secure, but the open hand allows for relaxation, release, and joy.
“By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go.
But when you try and try, the world is beyond the winning.”
— Lao Tzu