Letting Go

My son married his Lovely Lisa last week two days short of his 37th birthday. It’s an Irish tradition that sons marry later than in North America. And though they have been partners in all but legal terms for 8 years, it was a turning point for all of us who love them and who felt our own undercurrents of aging and parental redundancy come into sharp relief.

I’m a mother in law, when previously Lovely Lisa was my daughter-in-love. Regardless of my resistance to the roles assigned by social norms, something has shifted.

I noticed how my body/mind was responding to the call for realignment of our family. Sleep was elusive and so I got to practice prananyama and restorative yoga poses to calm my nervous system and reclaim the peace and joy inherent in celebrations.

In Buddhist philosophy, upekkha, a Pali word, means balance and is the culmination of the four bramavhiras: the inner realms of loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. It is the spacious stillness of the mind that allows us to be fully present with all the different changing experiences that constitute our world and our lives.

However, despite our actions and intentions, not all of what we intend may bear fruit. In short, our wishes may not come true. Upekkha acknowledges that most of our life is beyond our control. The karmic flowering of causes and conditions are larger than ourselves. While we churn throughout the full range of our human experiences, pain and pleasure, gain and loss, joy and anxiety, we are forced to let go of our desire that things be a certain way even as we strive to make our best efforts for the greater good.

In the end, everything is wasted or nothing is… it depends on how you look at it.

My son lives a continent’s span away from me. He spends more time with the rellies-in-law than with his birth family. My fierce mother-bear self wants to protect him from loneliness, grief and fear; from want or loss or pain of any degree. In Buddhist literature, upekka is often compared to the attitude of the mother who lets go of controlling her children as they mature, continuing to support them and wish them well but recognizing that the choices they make, wise or foolish, are theirs alone.

As life challenges go, a wedding is a small thing. We had to face a few days of anxiety and then let go into a sea of mingling, eating, dancing and celebrating our collective good fortunes.

But it is through such small moments that we train our capacity for letting go. And we begin to come to terms with the fact that we cannot control anything but the intentions we bring to our actions.

This is not a particularly warm and fuzzy insight. We can’t wrap ourselves in it like a duvet . It’s more like a fall off a cliff into cold water. We have to open up to the truth that we cannot manipulate many – if any – of the experiences worth having.

But we can open to the preciousness of every fragile and uncontrollable moment. We can know the incredible beauty of our human vulnerability. And as all our fantasies of security for our beloved children seep away into that knowing, in the free fall into emptiness, we come home to peace within.


Kelly Murphy is owner of Bend Over Backwards Yoga Studio in Nanaimo.