“Two monks were on a pilgrimage. One day, they came to a deep river. At the edge of the river, a young woman sat weeping, because she was afraid to cross the river without help. She begged the two monks to help her. The younger monk turned his back. The members of their order were forbidden to touch a woman.
But the older monk picked up the woman without a word and carried her across the river. He put her down on the far side and continued his journey. The younger monk came after him, scolding him and berating him for breaking his vows. He went on this way for a long time.
Finally, at the end of the day the older monk turned to the younger one. “I only carried her across the river. You have been carrying her all day.”
Clearly, this is a story about letting go. Anyone who has been in the world of yoga for even just a minute has heard a teacher say, “Let Go.” For a long time, I didn’t understand what those words meant. It is my experience that even with the passage of time, every one of my painful memories has stayed painful, that every tragic event and moment of sadness in my life still invoked the same feeling it always had. Trying to will a thing to go or even telling myself, “Let go. Let go. Let go.” never worked. In fact, trying to force the feeling to go away only made it worse. At times, I may have come into a functional relationship with certain aspects of my life, but I certainly was not the one in charge of the letting go. Rather, the event/relationship would loosen its grip on me but without my facilitating it. IT let ME go.
I also thought the act of letting go would somehow arrive at a peaceful resolution or reconciliation. I thought letting go meant I no longer had an emotion tied to specific events in my life. I thought let it go meant we made peace with our painful memories and that peace meant we no longer felt a pang of sadness when remembering our worst stories.
Here’s what I learned through yoga: let it go means completely immersing yourself in the present moment. When we are completely immersed in the present moment, staying attentive to our breath, to the sensations in our bodies, we are ‘setting the woman on the side of the river’. When we are completely integrated which can only happen in the present moment, the mind is at peace. The mind can’t concentrate on the present moment AND our old stories. Letting go is setting the old story down, taking a moment of respite from the mind, and engaging fully in what’s right in front of us. This is how to find peace.
Our stories will still be there, and the feelings surrounding those stories will still be there. When we want peace, we don’t engage the mind in telling the story again. We set the story down. We immerse ourselves in the present moment. This is letting go.