Should I stay or should I (let) go?

This year has been one of a lot of new beginnings, and most of them are because I spent a month at PYC training to become a yoga teacher. I have two new jobs, tons of new yogi friends, and a new set of life goals. The Costa Rican jungle has a way of doing that to you. When I’m faced with all of these new things, it usually means I have to clean house: I have to make space for everything coming in by getting rid of the clutter.

In the last month, I’ve let go of a pretty hefty arm-load of “things”: a career path I’d dreamed about since adolescence, a grudge that’s eaten at me for a while, and a relationship that was draining my energy, despite any intentions to the contrary. And if I can distill any lessons from all of this, it’s that there are two ways to let go. I like to think of these as passive and aggressive, yin and yang.

The aggressive method is a bit easier. A long time ago, I made a plan about who I was going to be when I was “grown up”.  I was going to be a professor, an academic. I’m a planner by nature, and had everything set in stone (at least in my mind). I’m like most people, and have had some pretty radical things happen in my life that have changed me in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated. I became a different person, but didn’t update my plans to account for the new version of me. Taking my personal practice to a deeper level with my yoga teacher training forced me to acknowledge that my plans might not fit so well anymore. I was holding on fiercely to my idea of what my path should be.

Tell that to my beautifully frank roommate during my teacher training. She point-blank asked me if I was passionate about what I was doing, and the honest answer was that I didn’t know. Sitting in the hammocks looking out at the Pacific, I watched one of the most fiercely brave people I know take a huge career leap: she quit a job she didn’t like to pursue the things she loves. With that example, I was feeling just brave enough to re-design my plan, and here we are. I start a new job on Monday and don’t know what my plan will be even a year from now. I’ll see if everything still fits when I get there. Jumping off the cliff, letting go of the ledge, is a bit easier when you have a guide.

Just because aggressive is easier doesn’t mean it’s painless. Some things you can’t have, or don’t want, a model for. We’ve all had relationships that we hold on to out of a sense of duty, or a feeling that something should work. We want to maintain friendships because they challenge us, help us grow, or support us in times of need. I have a bad habit of trying to “fix” everything that I perceive to be broken. Recently, I’ve had to deal with the fact that an acquaintance and I are simply better off not pursuing a deep friendship.

It’s draining for me to patch up our frequent clashes, and exhausting for them to tip toe around sensitive issues. So I decided to do something that for me was radical: take a breath and move on. Feels a bit like a vinyasa practice. Inhale, commit, exhale, change. I’m trying to practice non-attachment to this relationship the same way I do with postures. I don’t fret about moving from Warrior II to Triangle, and don’t begrudge chaturanga for leading the way into upward facing dog. Sometimes interactions don’t lead to strong relationships. I’m learning to accept my limits, knowing when I can really be a positive force for someone, and letting go when the would be better served with me at a distance.

Even though I think that I’m making the right decision, I can feel negative emotions creeping in to the space where I’d hoped a friendship would be. Releasing emotions requires a subtler approach than a job or a person. The passive letting go is the hardest yet, in the same way my yin practice sometimes feels like torture. I can’t back away from what I don’t like or just count a couple of breaths until I’m allowed to release (I’m looking at you, revolved triangle). I have to sink down and deal with my issue–or my hip flexor–straight on.

The only way to move through my anger, resentment, and regret was to sit in it. I always picture it like a mud puddle. Not the kind you put on your overcoat and galoshes and stomp in, but the kind that sneaks up on the edge of your boot and sends you sprawling face-first into the sludge. But instead of getting up and brushing yourself off, you just sit in it, feel how dirty and wet you are. I let my feelings be that puddle, and sloshed around in them for a while. Eventually, all of my horrible feelings began to wear down and slip away. The wearing away involved tears of frustration and quite a few attempts to ignore the problem. But sitting can actually solve it, if you sit long enough. If you hang out in a mud puddle for too long, the sun will come out and dry the whole thing up. So you end up happier and with a killer tan.

Letting go of the things I’ve mentioned certainly won’t solve all of my hang ups. I’ve still got plenty of those. From frustrations with friends, family, and my own unmet expectations to my (always tight) left hamstring, there’s a mountain of work left to do. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it’ll get easier as I go. They say that practice makes perfect, but so far I’m just grateful that my practice makes progress.

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Aubrey Blanche is a yoga student and teacher based in Palo Alto, California. She has spent most of her life trying to learn, well, everything. But lately she has been trying to find stillness and a bit of peace while finishing her Master’s degree and working at a Silicon Valley start-up. When not feeding kale to anyone she can force into her dining room, she teaches vinyasa and yin yoga with an emphasis on stress relief and yoga therapy for people suffering with PTSD. She is a graduate of Pavones Yoga Center‘s 200-hour Multidimensional Yoga Teacher Training.

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