Is the thought of letting go of your everyday self exhilarating, or comforting, or terrifying? Yes. It happens daily, without hesitation, when we drift off into daydreams, cinema, or into sleep. Choosing consciously to let ourselves go, on the other hand – choosing to lose our self for a while, is another matter, isn’t it?
Sometimes a client will come into my office so completely overwhelmed – perhaps with the hurt of betrayal, or rejection, or grief, or fear that one of her darkest suspicions may be true – that she can barely breathe. In a moment like that, the possibility of letting go of suffering for a minute is very welcome. We want respite.
In a moment like that, we are not usually worried that if we drift off, we may lose our way, and not be able to return to our unfolding drama. When our lives become a bit too much to bear, we willingly, gladly let go, trusting that our unanswered questions, unfinished work, screaming spouse, unfulfilled hopes, and the conversation replaying in our head, will be back later.
Choosing to let go, when we are not exhausted or desperate for relief, is different. We want to know what benefit could possibly come of setting aside the self we have spent years constructing. We are often so attached to our habits and our assumptions and our relationships that they seem inevitable, as if we would cease to exist if we were not depressed, or angry with ourselves for past mistakes, or compulsive about food, money, love. Sometimes we become so caught up in our social entanglements, the ok ones and the disturbing ones, that we lose awareness of the universe. The point of letting go of familiar self is that when we disengage gears, we may encounter fuller possibilities within us. Perhaps, later, we might re-engage differently. Scary thought.
Letting go of self is a spiritual practice that is, needless to say not in everybody’s repertoire. Nonetheless, the need for respite from self is real. When we seek to take a vacation from self, instead we may use other, more familiar means; some of these possibilities can be risky. Intoxication, for example, is a time-honored way to lose ourselves, though it involves little introspection. We sometimes numb ourselves from unwelcome emotion, or confuse our impulsive words, spoken under the influence, for freedom from crippling inhibition.
Sometimes we lose ourselves in love. Have you ever encountered someone who, on finding “the one,” forgets her old friends or her old consuming passions, in order to give herself fully to a relationship? The intoxication of new love can invite us to forget who we are, for a while. The risk of this kind of loss of self, though, is that we may lose the qualities that make us unique and interesting. Intoxicating love can make us more vulnerable than we realized. Some partners find this an opportunity to replace our wants, goals, and visions with their own. When we sacrifice our selves, we become only what the relationship makes of us.
Loss of self takes healthy forms, of course. Letting go of self in a safe setting, allows us to relax into an inner state in which we can risk encountering the deepest desires of our heart, without manipulation. In that state we can let go of stuff that keeps us stuck, without sacrificing what really matters to us. Many traditions of meditation practice, though using different techniques, share the intent to help us quiet our thoughts long enough to notice who we truly are, when the drama is paused and the anxiety becomes quiet.
What happens to us when we relax our grip on our self? We enter a state of being in which the details fade. We are fully in the present moment, aware only perhaps of the chair, the birds outside, and the sensation of breathing. Then even those things go. Letting go is legitimately scary, because we do not control it. Appropriate care is wise. Yet, we do this all the time, when we go to the movies.
We always take a risk when we lose ourselves. The benefit is that we are likely find more of ourselves, the parts formerly obscured by suffering, anxiety, and habits of thought that no longer fit. We awaken from the journey inward, to reclaim the questions that seem important, the eternal love of chocolate, and the people who nurture our spirit. Moments in which we lose our self have healing potential, offering fresh questions, though rarely easy answers. Then, neither does therapy, if we do it right.