Letting Go

During a recent silent meditation, I found myself feeling distracted. As the minutes wore on, I wondered how much time was left and felt restless at the thought of sitting in quiet solitude any longer. To my relief, the familiar bell soon rang signaling the end of the practice.

I’ve had this experience during meditation before: just when it starts to feel that I can’t hold my focus any longer, I’m snapped back to attention with a welcome bell tone. Afterward I find myself wishing that I could have stayed focused for the entire duration, without the thought of “This has to be almost finished” entering my mind. Nonetheless, this nagging voice of impatience surfaces again and again.

How often have you found that just when an experience starts to feel unbearable, it ends? Or suffered through something only to think, “That wasn’t so bad” when it’s over? How often has your anticipation of an event been worse than the event itself?

It’s natural to worry about how things might turn out, or to become so caught up in the desire to get out of something that we fail to notice the joy and opportunity it brings us in the moment.

Lately I’ve been noticing when things work out better than I’d expected or when something I’m worried about fails to come to fruition: when I’m feeling overbooked and a commitment gets rescheduled, when an expense ends up costing less than I anticipated, when good news comes in the midst of a stressful day.

There’s a wonderful Dutch saying, Don’t fret. It will happen differently anyway. It’s become a favorite of mine over the years, and one that continues to manifest itself in my life in different ways.

Sometimes an entire day can unfold in ways we didn’t expect. Sometimes it might be a whole year or even several. There’s a unique beauty in being able to live so fully in the moment that we can release our expectations on the present and simply be open to the days’ events as they unfold.

Imagine all the energy you could get back that you spent worrying about final outcomes. Imagine how it would feel to experience things exactly as they are, knowing that they are neither a fulfillment of nor a deviation from your expectations.

Things don’t happen a certain way because we believe that they will; they happen entirely independently of our predictions. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t work hard for what we want or take precautions to avoid disappointment.

But we can do so with an awareness that things might happen differently anyway. It’s reassuring and gratitude-inducing when something works in our favor, all the more so when we didn’t expect it to. It can feel discouraging though, like a betrayal even, when something turns out worse than we’d imagined.

It’s hard to loosen our grip on the present, to give up some of the control we might exert over how things unfold. But it’s also rewarding: to tune into the intricacies of the moments before us, to develop a curiosity about the world around us, and to trust that what doesn’t work out creates more space for what one day will.