It was my late twenties, after a three-week meditation retreat in India, I decided to go hiking to the base camp of Mt. Everest in Nepal with some friends before returning home. We were walking on a narrow trail on the edge of a ravine when I saw a long thick vine hanging from above. I thought it would make for a cool phoro and asked one of my friends to hold the vine so I could hang from it, while another would take the picture. On the count of three, my friend let go of the vine and before I had time to think I was already in the air off the trail at a dangerous height. I made the quick decision to hang on, thinking (and hoping) that the vine would swing out and eventually swing back to the trail where my friends would catch me back and all would be fine.
As the vine swung to the deepest point over the rocky ravine, to my horror, I heard a crack and found myself falling helplessly backwards onto the rocks below. After a moment of sheer terror, I mysteriously found myself in a profound state of letting go of everything, with a vast feeling of peace and inherent perfection, even as it occurred to me that this could be the End!
With incredible good fortune, I landed perfectly on my back with arms and legs up. The big backpack I was carrying with my sleeping bag, absorbed most of the shock. I looked up from the bottom of the ravine to the terrified look on my friends face, and I yelled up, “I’m ok…I’m ok…”
As I reflect on that experience, and think of the transformative stories of people who went to the brink of death, I wonder if perhaps the secret to their transformation, is that they were able to let go. The idea of letting go at the time of death seems utterly natural to me – not that I assume it will be easy when I reach that point.
What if letting go in life, is as significant as letting go in the face of death?
I spent about 15 years of my life meditating two hours every day practicing letting go…of my ideas, fears, desires, everything I was attached to...I even did a six-week solitary retreat where my instructions were “Let everything go, let everything be as it is, 24 hours a day”!
Although much of it was struggle, and often it seemed an impossible goal, when it happened, it was effortless, bringing a profound sense of peace, freedom, and joy at the infinite open space I experienced inside of me. That made me wonder what does bring about letting go.
I don’t often meditate anymore at this stage in my life, as I am more interested in what I can “do” in the world. Still, I find that letting go has profound value in “doing”. By not identifying too rigidly with my ideas, feelings, identity, and sense of self-importance, I have the space to always discover more and push the boundaries of what I can do and what I can give.
I was struck at a dinner one night with a professional tennis player who had been ranked as one of the top 3 players in the world. He shared with me how he had a really tough year, both in his personal life and professional life, losing much ground. He surprised me by adding that it was the best thing that could have ever happened to him as he realized there was so much more to life than being a tennis player. The loss in his personal and professional life actually led him to let go and make room for more of who he truly is, bringing him much joy. It reminds me of a blind woman I met at a TED conference, who said “I lost my sight but I found my vision.”
Though sometimes it may take extreme or tragic experiences to bring us to a point of letting go of our attachments and fixed ideas, we don’t need to wait for such events to happen. Although letting go can indeed be an outcome of tragedy, it can also be an outcome of curiosity, and of love.
We could not let go if we were not curious about life. When we are curious we open ourselves to what we don’t know, we are willing to suspend our ideas – whether about life, politics, a loved one, a mistake we made… there is a vast seemingly limitless universe filled with discoveries that have yet to happen. Curiosity inspires us to let go of what we know, expanding our hearts and minds beyond limitations.
Letting go also seems a natural outcome of love. Love often moves us to put aside our self-importance, our certainty about entrenched ideas, or feelings we have. I find it incredibly moving when I hear stories of parents who have very traditional and rigid ideas of how their children should be, and yet because of their love they are able to accept their children’s differences and ways of being that do not fit into the norm.
So in the end, maybe letting go is not such a big and difficult thing. Maybe what makes it seem so challenging is the tension created by idea that we have something to lose or something to get for ourselves, as I thought for so many years.
And if this is true, then the key that unlocks this secret is simply the well of curiosity and love that is inherent in all of us. In our curiosity we can find an infinite space for discovery. And in our love we can find how much more our hearts can embrace.
Written by GERARD SENEHI