The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity….
William Butler Yeats
This well known poem by Yeats is remarkably prescient, as we are experiencing a global pandemic, disastrous climate disruption, the extinction of countless species, extreme political polarization and conflict, a rupture in our social networks and for many, the loss of their livelihood. Things have indeed fallen apart. Life for many of us no longer conveys a coherent or meaningful picture—but only a fragmented image of our former life. At such an ambiguous and uncertain time, it's easy to get derailed and succumb to feelings of powerlessness and confusion, depression and anxiety. Or we grew increasingly numb, feeling overwhelmed by contradictory information from our politicians and the media.
We’re often not aware of the sadness and grief we carry because of our feelings of estrangement from the life we formerly knew. We seem to be searching for a lost connection, wanting to return to that unmistakable sense of home and the experience of belonging to the world we remember. Yet, the days grow longer, the afternoon sun feels increasingly warm, as spring has infallibly arrived. There are things that we can count on.
In the Buddhist tradition there is a deceptively simple way to come back home to ourselves. Through the alternating gestures of holding on and letting go we can discover a self-directive principle at our core. When we let go of our self-doubt, preoccupations, and hesitation we might discover a source of uplifted energy that's already there, in spite of the multiple stressors that confront us. Holding on is knowing how to creatively handle this energy, how to cultivate it, so that we can experience joy and aliveness.
The cycles of breathing whisper the message that if we want a fresh breath, we must surrender the breath that we’re presently holding. Such sacrifice echoes a natural law which has an edge to it, especially when we have to let go of someone because our respective journeys are taking us in different directions.
Bringing awareness to our breathing aligns us with the natural rhythm of beginnings and endings. The ordinary cycles of breathing are modeling for us that we can’t hold onto the nearest and dearest people in our life—not to spouses, children, parents, nor to the experiences that are most exquisite. They’re passing, and so are we, moving irresistibly in the stream of time. At the same time, breathing is a doorway leading what which transcends us. With each breath, we draw from a vast atmosphere that connects us to what is not us.
The continuous cycles of breath remind us that something larger than us holds all of it. There’s a boundless energetic pattern, an interconnected web within which life occurs, one that maintains and sustains us. We are being breathed by the totality of life which lives through us, transforming us into mysterious beings much larger than our personalities and our personal history.
The practice of letting go and holding on, however, each have polar opposite expressions. One expression puts us in touch with a self-directive principle or what we might experience as inner guidance, while the other goes against it and puts us at odds with ourselves and others.
On the ground level of everyday life, we practice by letting go of what has served its usefulness and no longer provides nourishment for either ourselves or for those with whom we’re involved. We gently release our grip, letting go, letting out—-and letting be. We gracefully release what we’ve been holding onto and what has its hold on us, when it sabotages or compromises our spiritual path. We let go of our stale beliefs, assumptions, and expectations when they are out of sync with our current situation. This often evokes feelings of loss and sadness, and can precipitate a period of grieving for who or what we are parting company with.
Letting go returns us to the space of openness, where out of emptiness, something new can emerge. We let go of the passing moment so that we can open to this immediately refreshing moment, which is all we really ever have. As we release our hold on what we are attached to, a door of possibility opens, inviting us to step through.
On the other hand, letting go could be tone deaf, a denial of deep listening to what's best for us. It could be an expression of carelessly letting it all hang out, letting go of any sense of restraint, dropping our decorum or sense of propriety. This would amount to dramatizing or acting out our grievances, disappointments, and regrets without concern about their impact on others. We just couldn't be bothered. Letting go in this case would be giving up on caring and concern for others, or ourselves, or at worst, giving up on life itself.
The gesture of holding on could be an expression of holding someone or something close to our heart, honoring and cherishing who and what we value. To hold another with affection is to express our deep sense of caring and compassion, the very thing that makes us truly human. We cultivate what is true, good, and beautiful, the loving relationships we do have, and the qualities necessary for them to deepen—generosity, humor, patience, and wise mind.
In its negative aspect, holding on could be an expression of resistance and stubbornness, a refusal to give an inch. It could be a refusal to acknowledge the validity of perspectives different from our own. Such stubbornness is when we insist that our point of view is the right one, and often amounts to an unwillingness to negotiate or compromise with others to get through an impasse. Alternatively, holding on could reflect our insecurity, as we cling to who or what we've become dependent upon, fearful to let go into new territory— the unknown.
As we mature in the dual practice of letting go and holding on we discover that an uplifting energy is always available to us, regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Letting go is the ongoing willingness to drop whatever we're holding and to open to what's here, now. This keeps us inquisitive and sharp. Holding on is the practice of cultivating and nurturing what is fundamentally good, which provides stability and self-assuredness. Consequently, our feathers do not get so easily ruffled by chaotic circumstances. We’re able to skillfully ride the energy of situations through this dual practice, so that we can embrace who and what we love, while letting go lightly, again and again.
We hold on to the faith that our life has purpose, and we cultivate our aspiration for what is still possible for us. We let go by not losing heart even when we fail, we don't give up hope even when we meet with loss, and we don't remain stuck in despair even when we've lost someone precious. Instead we hold on in the sense of nurturing our capacity to give birth to new life out of the ashes of loss and failure. Through the gesture of continual openness, we embrace what is here, now, cherishing the moment, even when we don't know what lies ahead. We foster the faith that the good draws the good to itself.