Life is a balance of holding on and letting go. It’s important to know how to do both.
One of our most primal instincts is to grasp. If you put your finger in a baby’s hand, it will latch on to it with superhuman strength. And that is crucial for a baby’s survival.
To grasp is an innate human survival technique. If you are walking down the stairs and lose your balance, that instinct can save you from falling.
But this skill doesn’t always serve us well. You certainly don’t want to latch on to a hot plate.
There’s an ancient Indian story of The Monkey Trap. The trap is a hollowed-out coconut, chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be grabbed through a small hole. The monkey’s hand fits through the hole, but his clenched fist can’t fit back out. The monkey is suddenly trapped – but not by anything physical. He’s trapped by an idea, unable to see that a principle that served him well – “when you see rice, hold on tight!” – has become lethal.
If the monkey took a step back to observe the situation, he would release the rice, pull his hand out and turn the coconut upside down and get the rice!
And we start to see how we mentally and emotionally grasp, which can be such a cause of suffering for us. We all have the tendency to grasp, grab, latch, clench, hang on bit too long when it’s time to let go.
Rather than beat ourselves up over all the stuff we cling to, whether it’s a bag full of old clothes; a garage filled with memories of a time of our life that has passed; relationships that no longer work; outdated and inaccurate self-images or even a job that no longer fulfills us, just acknowledge that the instinct is a good one.
But to move beyond that clinging, we must take a step back like the monkey and see what we are actually trying to accomplish.
The things we cling to, whether they are thoughts, emotions or physical items, are symbolic of something else.
Remaining in a stale relationship or job because it’s familiar is an effort to stay stable and safe. But it also hinders any opportunities for growth and transformation.
The first step is to just create a bit of distance between you and the object you’re clinging to. You can do this by simply observing what’s happening and being compassionate to yourself by acknowledging that it is an innate instinct.
Just by stepping back and watching the process, it is impossible to participate in it. You can go back-and-forth quite rapidly between watching and grasping; but you cannot do both at the same time.
You slowly start to return to your centerpoint, which is always calm and confident and trusting. You know that you will always be OK no matter what unfolds in life, because all of the tools you need to survive and thrive are within you.
And in this way you’re able to slowly let go of whatever it is you’re holding on to so tightly.
And it may take hundreds of attempts. And you may release and think you’re done, but you look up and you’re doing it again. All of this is OK. It’s all part of the process.
Grasping is instinctual; releasing is a skill. Being a yogi is mastering both.
In the illustrious words of Kenny Rogers:
“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run.”
Have a great week, yogis!