I remember when I went to my first intensive course in mindfulness, meditation, active imagination, and energy work. I was in a very stressful marriage, about to lose my hard-earned spousal health insurance, retirement savings, pension plan, life insurance, and maybe even my house. I signed up for this intensive course so that while I was facing the loss of all of these things, I could at least endeavor to not lose myself in this shedding process. I have always been a hard worker, and striving and effort were points of family honor. Pushing through, trying harder, straining to the utmost. Anything effort can bring, all the way to the trembling breaking point. It doesn’t matter how you feel, as long as you can keep going. Push yourself for the long haul. Effort. Striving. Heroism. The person on the couch was despicable. I was the one holding everything together. It was my duty.

So like many Westerners I came into this course ready to go. I am at the edge of my seat, ready to meditate! I will strain to relax! I will hurry up and become patient! Not judging, accepting what is? Tell me how! I will do my best! Non-striving? I will strive to get to non-striving. I will try so hard! Trust? Okay, sure, tell me what I can trust and I will practice trusting it. The universe? Whoa, that is a big chunk to trust. What is going on here? Letting go? I am losing enough! I just want to keep myself intact and not lose myself amidst all this loss. So I have to hold myself tightly, grip the life vest, and navigate these dangerous waters. I plan to meditate to hold myself together, and I am willing to squeeze hard to do it. So tell me how to do that. And my teachers told me.

Open your mind. You cannot open your mind with tightness. You cannot open your fist with anything but a very loose hand. Breathe slowly. Loosen your tight muscles. Slack your jaw, allow your eyes to fall closed. Relax and observe. What is going on inside you when you slow down and listen and watch and feel? You expand. You clear space. You make room.

Withhold judgment. Just observe. Not banishing or fighting your reactions, but watching them float down the river and around the bend like fallen leaves. No one is fool enough to step into the river and try to change its flow. So don’t push the river. Don’t flounder in your thoughts. You are more likely to drown. Just sit quietly and watch from the shore this time. Release your thoughts. Let them go. Watch them disappear around the riverbend. No one wastes time chasing dead leaves and trying to tie them back onto the tree. The tree has released them for good.

Be patient. You don’t have to figure it all out the first or second or third time. Many things take an hour to learn and a lifetime to master, as you go deeper and deeper into circles of experience. Let it be what it is, own the experience, and let it unfold. More will be revealed. You and I have a mutual friend who never lies – Time. The universe is still unfolding. Breathe into relaxation, breathe into more peace and quiet. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Let it be.

Trust. Trust that you are on your path. That you are right where you need to be at this moment. That you are intact and you are okay. That you are resilient and will find your way back to balance and joy over time. Trust yourself to navigate through your current situation with the help and support you can access from people known and unknown. So much is available to you. Trust that you will get through this and come out stronger, wiser, and even more compassionate, through this experience.

Release. One of the hardest things for strivers is to move from the clenched fist to the loose and open hand. To let go of what no longer serves us. We can be like hoarders in our own bodies and our own space. We don’t want to lose anything! But what about the tension and pain we hold in our bodies? Wouldn’t that be a sweet thing to let go of? What about the repetitive and intrusive, gut-wrenching memories of betrayal or other past wrongs? That would be nice to quit reliving. What about our harsh and demanding inner critic, who tells us that if we can bear something, we must, for the sake of others? What about releasing our false sense of duty to something that is dead and cold? Because there is no obligation to keep gathering and relighting a fire that someone else has scattered. Make your own fire, and be warmed.

As we moved through weeks of training and practice, and these concepts were revealed to me among others, it seemed too good to be true. I can make things easier on myself by letting go and being patient, rather than striving? What? I can open my mind and accept what is happening without so much judgment and disdain and fury? I don’t really need righteous indignation to keep myself intact? I can trust the universe and let go of my specific intended result, trusting that I will land where I need to?

It was hard to believe. But eventually, by holding my life and my hopes and dreams in a loose hand, and letting the rest fall away, I found that I had so much more free space for the things that truly mattered to me. So I offer you the question. What matters to you, and have you made room for it? It is a question I continue to gently ask myself, and then I do my best to stay quiet enough to listen for the answers, as the universe unfolds.