The art of letting go

“A young monk was walking on the side of a quiet river, trying to decide where to cross. Suddenly he observed that on the other side was a great Zen master. Convinced that his problem was solved, he shouted to the great master:

“Teacher, how can I cross to the other side of the river?”

The great master answered:

“But you are already on the other side of the river!”

I’ve written numerous times about my need to slow down, or to be grateful, or to regain balance. It seems it’s a recurring topic, one of those life lessons that keeps coming back until you’ve learnt them properly.

I’ve been fighting insomnia, anxiety, restlessness and the likes for the past half year. I’m sure many of you can agree that once your head hits the pillow and you start building to do lists (kind of like Sarah Jessica Parker in “I don’t know how she does it”) it becomes a second nature. Somehow, late night seems to be the only time when long forgotten tasks jump up and suddenly seem 10 times more important than in daylight.

So what can one do when faced with a mind unable to rest? Other than writing blog posts in an attempt to self-educate?
Read books about insomnia. Read books about anxiety. Read books about emotional balancing. All providing very nice logical advice about how to slow down and how to talk to yourself in a nice soothing manner. It works wonderful once you know how to do it and once you actually STOP to do it.

But I don’t. Easier said than done.

And somewhere along  I found an old friend, the Eastern mindset.

I’m not going to describe its teachings, because not everyone feels in line with them or could adopt them. I’m just going to tell you what I found works for me.


1. Accepting reality as it is, without trying to control it.

Did I mention that anxiety comes in a “Buy one, get one free”-pack with the need to control? And of course, once you try to control the end result and it doesn’t come out 100% as you want (perfectionism, anyone?), you get anxious again.

Accepting reality – being late, not delivering 100%, the imperfections that arise no matter what – can set you free. Understanding that you are nothing but a leaf in the wind, and that your influence is limited, can be liberating.
I’m not talking about sitting there and doing nothing. I’m still taking the garbage out and getting upset when the dishes are in a pile in the sink. But I don’t want feel the need anymore to complete all possible tasks in a short time frame. I will stop filling up my weekend with social tasks that I “have” to do and running from a place to another. I want to stop worrying about the “inevitable big bad thing” (“drobul de sare”) that might come. If it will come, I will deal with it.

2. Exercising compassion and altruism

Essentially, all people want to be happy. Matthieu Ricard says “nobody wakes up in the morning saying “May I please suffer the whole day?”” You are the same. I am the same.

Then we should support each other with that. Accepting that behind any apparently mean action or word, there is a need of that person to be happy. If we could address that need directly, instead of responding in a rash and mean manner back, maybe we could do a better good.

So I choose to not respond anymore to the devil on my shoulder that compares me with everyone else. “But if he did that, why couldn’t you?…” I want to recognize and address the need to be understood.

3. Mind needs exercise just as much as the body does.

So if you train your muscles 3 times a week, why would you not do the same with your mind?

It is said that regular meditation soothes the mind, clears it out and makes it sharper.  I can only say that it helps with sleep issues. I’ve got no clue if what I’m doing is right. And maybe there is no such thing as “right”, as long as it works for me.

I’m just sitting there, cross-legged, for around 15 minutes, and try to think of nothing except for my breath. If my thoughts drift away, I just bring them back. In the same way, during the day, if my thoughts drift away to anxiety or annoyance, I bring them back. Not all the time, of course…

If you’re interested in meditating, don’t think you have to build a place or a time for it…it’s really not that difficult. All you need is a few minutes of uninterrupted silence. And, just like working out, you have to do it regularly. It is said that 10 minutes of daily meditation is incomparably healthier than 2 hours weekly.

Dani from Positively Present (a blog I highly recommend for anyone who’s looking for some inner peace and positive inspiration) also wrote about her experience with meditation. We’re all beginners here…all it takes is a bit of time and willingness.

4. Taking life – and myself – less seriously

This is long work in progress and perhaps the area where the most work is needed. Any tips on how to laugh more, anyone?

“Sometimes in order to have a different perspective on the world, you need to bend over and look at it from upside down.”

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!



  • Catalin
    February 26, 2012

    Excellent, excellent article!
    No 4 has always been easy for me (though I couldn’t possibly be able to give any advice for it, sorry ;) ), but number 1 is the one I frequently need a reminder for. As soon as I just ‘let go’ and stop trying to make everything perfect, things slowly creep back into my head in a few weeks and I get the urge to get that 110% done.
    I really enjoyed the article, and it comes at just the right moment.
    Now to get back to that long ToDo list… ಠ_ಠ

  • Fin
    February 26, 2012

    Hi Maria,

    I know what you mean about exercising your mind. I’ve been working at it for a while now. It started because of anxiety, as well as other things.

    I’m kinda glad it happened otherwise I wouldn’t have found out about things like meditation and how to life a life free of the stresses of daily life.

  • Maria
    February 27, 2012

    Thank you Catalin! You, a perfectionist? hmm, I would have said differently, you seem quite laid back most of the time :)
    I guess appearances can be deceiving…

  • Maria
    February 27, 2012

    Thank you! yes, self-awareness is definitely the starting point for us all, isn’t it? And I also feel quite less stressed since I’ve given some time to meditate and, well, let go. Perhaps we’ll never be 100% stress-free, but hey, it’s worth a shot, and in the end it’s the journey there that matters.

  • Catalin
    February 28, 2012

    Yes, I am a perfectionist in some aspects of work. Indeed, when I have free time, and I’m on vacation, or far enough from work that I KNOW there’s nothing I can do, I tend to be relaxed and laid back.

    But for the project I’ve been working on for the last year and a half, which is probably the most important project for me in my whole work-life, I’ve been really pushing for perfection :)

  • Catalin
    February 28, 2012

    Ok, so my use of HTML is not that great apparently :) Sorry for making all the comment with bold. I only wanted to emphasize the some word :)

  • Maria
    February 29, 2012

    As long as it’s constructive and contributes to a better result, I guess perfectionism can be ok.
    Like any vice, in small doses it may cause very little harm :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *