“Let go.” This seems to be a buzzword in the world of yoga, mindfulness, and compassion meditation that I have recently immersed myself in. In such practices, we are instructed to “let go” of cognitions, emotions, and behaviors that are not presently serving us well. Lying on my mat in the candlelit yoga studio or sitting on my meditation cushion listening to my instructor’s soothing voice, letting go of my daily stresses about upcoming assignments or graduate school applications is relatively simple. While this brings temporarily relief, I am now realizing that I, and perhaps many of us, have difficulty acknowledging and letting go of our deeper demons. So if it is not our daily life hassles, what must we let go of to cultivate internal peace? Expectations? Rigidity? Black-and-white thinking?
If you have been reading this blog, you know that, for nearly two years now, I have been struggling with a mysterious leg injury compounded by my body’s autoimmune conditions and inability to heal. However, as a compulsive runner, I must do a Turkey Trot every Thanksgiving. This tradition began in high school, when I was severely anemic and ran an unofficial Thanksgiving Day 5 miler in a forest preserve with my aunt. This was followed by 10k road race PRs, along with a 5k on crutches. Since I was unable to run last year but just had to participate, I speed-walked the 5k, which probably strained by legs more than a slow jog would, and then spent the rest of the morning crying on the elliptical, feeling sorry for myself, and working my body to the point of physical and mental exhaustion. When my dad asked me if I wanted him to sign me up for this year’s Turkey Trot, my initial thought was of course- it’s Thanksgiving, I am runner (but haven’t been able to run in months,) I must do a Turkey Trot. But I slowly turned inward and began confronting my feelings…I had trained my brain to find joy in suffering, yet I realized that alternate paths existed that were not characterized by suffering yet resulted in the joy, challenge, and growth that I craved. Turning to such a healthier outlet from the start would have been the logical choice, but humans are more than just rational beings.
“Be stubborn about your goals and flexible about your methods”
For a strong-willed perfectionist like myself, this is very difficult, yet also quite rewarding. I reluctantly let go of this year’s Turkey Trot and instead participated in back-to-back gratitude themed yoga classes. While I did not achieve exactly what I had initially envisioned, these activities involve the same goals- physical challenge, self-improvement, and a profound sense of community. As I reflect on the past two years and my resistance to let go of running, I still feel rather conflicted. Running remains a central tenant of my identity- I still read my Runner’s World each morning, listen to running-related podcasts while on the elliptical, and fantasize about destination races. If I have held on to something that is not physically serving me for two years, maybe that means it is a critical part of who I am. Maybe I shouldn’t just let it go.
But at the same time, I have found great joy in being a beginner yogi. A few weeks ago, I heard a podcast interviewee, a runner who had recently discovered triathlons exclaim, “It’s really fun to be a novice at something,” and I’ve been thinking about my personal experience with this ever since. In my first year sidelined from running, I never thought I could possibly find another pursuit I truly enjoyed and was therefore reluctant to try any new activities- I was good at running and I would soon be back at it. This has not turned out as planned, but letting go of my rigid beliefs and learning to accept, rather than expect, has allowed me to discover a new passion. In fact, being a beginner means no expectations, measurable improvement, and childlike play and curiosity- what prevented me from realizing this sooner?
Letting go is difficult, scary, and uncertain, yet also quite liberating. I cannot say that I have fully (or even nearly) let go of running, but I am okay with this. While standing on my mat on Thanksgiving morning, my teacher offered the intention, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” My heart and mind were radiating happiness that morning, embodying the gratitude of my newfound passion. Gratitude for my yoga community. For finding joy in being a beginner. For persisting in my goals yet relaxing my methods. For finally beginning to let go.
It truly was a wonderful Thanksgiving.