Letting Go without Losing Your Self

I was dreading writing this post.

I dreaded it because this week's "Befriending Emotions" topic is sadness, and I didn't feel particularly sad. More accurately, perhaps, I didn't want to feel sad. I didn't want to lose anything. I didn't want there to be anything "wrong" with me or my life that I would have to let go of and be sad about.

At the same time, I was afraid of not being connected to sadness, because how else could I possibly be effective leading a workshop on it? So I started digging in.

It turns out that I had plenty of sadness to work with. Sadness that after so many months of working on this Gift of Happiness project, I still find it hard to explain to people what I'm doing and why. Sadness that progress is so slow. Sadness that there are things I knew I wanted to do six months ago that I still haven't done, and that I feel like I've wasted precious time. "I wish life were easier," said Sadness. "I wish I felt more successful, more courageous, more impressive. And I wish it was all just automatic, no hard work or growing pains required."

Shame tells me those are childish, petty things to be sad about, that it is fantasy to expect myself to be perfect, or for life to line up exactly the way I want it to. "Don't say those things!" says Shame. "Look at your amazing, blessed life. People will think you're just a naive, whiny little girl." Shame has a point, of course, but emotions aren't easily bossed around. They have messages to deliver, and they want to be heard. So what to do with all that sadness?

The answer became clear to me in my Thursday morning yoga class. Malu walked us through a whole series of exercises to let go and be held by the earth -- and they were hard! Instead of feeling grounded and steady, I felt unbalanced, inflexible, and inadequate, not able to do anything as well as I wanted to. But then it dawned on me, that that's what there was to let go of, not just in yoga but in my life: the belief that things should somehow be different, easier, and that I should somehow be able to control it all. It is an impossible expectation! When I finally stopped fighting and just allowed myself to be supported and cared for, I cried for the first time in a long time, tears of relief and gratitude.

What I realized was that "letting go" does not have to be about losing anything, or giving anything away. It doesn't mean there is anything wrong with what you had before. Sometimes it can be as simple -- and as difficult! -- as acknowledging that a situation is bigger than you are, and that you could use some love.

I hope you will come to my Befriending Sadness workshop this Sunday. We will not be doing any yoga, but we will be talking about sadness: how it works, what it's for, and how it can help you move through situations that feel "stuck." I look forward to seeing you there!