I was so moved by the message given in the Ash Wednesday service I attended this year that I had to share it with you. In the past the messages I heard this time of the year were about “giving up” something – like chocolate or coffee shops or sweets or movies – as in letting go of something we enjoyed.
But the message I heard this year was “letting go” – as in letting go of those things that burden us like a heavy stone we carry. I am sure you can begin to see the difference from my earlier understanding. Instead of deprivation, the message I heard this year calls for a time of self-reflection, so we recognize what fails to serve us, what causes suffering in our life. With that awareness, we can begin the process of “letting go.”
You might ask how we know what the real problem is? Why do we seem to be facing the same struggles again and again? And, even if we discover “the real problem,” how do we let go?
The teachings of yoga tell us that we all have patterns of behavior, of thinking, of responding that have become so ingrained that we may be unable to even see them. These are called samskaras. Samskaras may be positive or negative; they may support us or cause us suffering.
All of us receive messages as children from parents, institutions, and our culture that become part of how we look at the world. All of us, as we live our lives, experience events or face situations to which we have responded in ways we later regret. Most of us have had experiences that left emotional scars. We may have feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and anxiety, among other debilitating responses that cause us to continue to suffer.
Our work in yoga is about eliminating our suffering. To do this we develop self-awareness as we work in postures, breathing practices, meditation, chanting, or apply other tools of yoga. Yoga’s message is always svadhyaya – self-study –no matter what our practice. Through the process of self-observation, we can come to see patterns blocking us from living fully. Our relationships offer a huge mirror for us to observe our patterns. Likewise, a trusted teacher can help us to see patterns causing us pain.
When we see the samskaras that burden us, we can start the process of change. We can begin to let go of the power these samskaras have over us as we move to replace them with something positive. The old ones never completely go away, and we may find ourselves letting go of them again and again – but yoga offers tools to keep the old small while growing new positive samskaras.
As we move toward spring, we might keep in mind the image of the March winds. As they blow, we can make an intention to be observant so we can identify the burdens causing our suffering. We can imagine the freedom of allowing them to blow away on the winds. We can visualize making room for something new and special to take root and grow and allow that image support us as we begin the journey of letting go – of healing.