Letting go of ‘should’: opening to the here and now

 On Tuesday Ben and I took part in a magical cacao ceremony with Joel and Aiste from the Wild Food Cafe, supported by the beautiful music of Antarma. We played the singing bowls, danced, sang, drummed and prayed and it transformed what had been a challenging few days into new horizons and rememberings. Before the ceremony, we each pulled an animal card and mine – the turtle – resonated deeply with a lesson I have been exploring both in Costa Rica and, even more so, back on London soil: it simply said “STOP TRYING to make things happen”.

It reminded me not that I should stop doing anything, stop moving forward, drop out of life – but that the effort to make certain things occur or align according to how I think they should is futile, limiting and a huge misdirection of energy. How many times a day, week or month do we come up against disappointment, judgment and criticism of ourselves or others because things did not go how we presumed they should? The timely turtle card and a deepening awareness of the mystery of life show me that it doesn’t need to be this way.

This move toward letting go of goals, of the shoulds that populate our lives, and moving instead towards a space of surrender and flow, is key if we are to be fully available to the present moment and all its abundance and possibility. And it seems to me on most days that we are navigating such a fast-paced environment and mentality that this can feel almost impossible. We need to pay the bills, get things done, constantly plan and populate our future… Yet with a little awareness, to which I hope here to slowly open the door, we can recognise when we are acting according to goals, expectations and ideas of how the future should be, and take small steps back from this, moving instead toward the present and the mystery of the now.

From my own experience, what letting go of expectation really demands is trust. Trust that things are unfolding as they should; trust that we do not need to try and control the uncontrollable; trust that abundance and love will look after us on our path. Trust is not something that comes easily to many of us – myself included – and a lifetime spent battling fears of all shapes and sizes means that this knowing and surrender often feel like a distant dream. But slowly and surely if we battle through that which frightens us, we can learn to live less in the voices and stories of the mind and more in the peace of the heartspace, that inherently knows that all is as it should be. And not for nothing did Ben pull the wolf card alongside my turtle, reminding us that “YOU ARE SAFE and protected at all times”. Not easy for our minds to remember but our hearts know it.

Of course life needs direction, an idea of where we are headed, a vision – even if it is constantly evolving. And discipline, too, is not to be undervalued in our spiritual practise as well as in work or daily life – it is something I am trying to foster more and more of as old habits are broken down and new, more constructive ones slowly take their place.  But this constant impetus to build and achieve new goals, to act according to how life should be, to foster fixed ideas regarding where we are supposed to head according to where we are coming from, tears me frantically away from the fullness of the present moment. And it feels like dropping the goals and the shoulds is an important key to acceptance of what is, and realisation of how much we have to be grateful for here and now.

As our teacher so often reminds us, it is the constant expectations that we attach to life that cause so much unease and disappointment with what reality presents us. All of our suffering lies in the gap between what we think reality should be, and what really is: learning to let go of this desire to control and shape the unshapeable, and accepting the here and now, opens up a whole new way of living that is rooted in trust and surrender. In my experience, when we find a way to let go into the flow of life and be fully present to all the magic, joy, pain, mystery and treasures that it presents to us, there is less fear, less of a sense of struggle, and less energy wasted on fighting against that over which we have no control. This might be through meditation, dance, ceremony, sharing circles or simply returning to the sensations of the body and what is being experienced right now in it. Whatever your tickets away from the mind and into the moment, nurture them every day and keep exploring where they lead you. 

So whenever we catch ourselves, to quote the bygone wisdom of Carrie Bradshaw, “shoulding all over ourselves”, it’s good to take a moment to step back and ask, what is behind the should? I usually find fear there, in one shape or another. It should be like X otherwise Y will happen and I don’t want it to. A little investigation shows us the emotion behind and if we look it in the face it often disappears. Then we can make a decision not from the mind but from reality as it is right now. In the moments when we can find a little trust and live from the heart, there is no expectation for reality to have to meet; and there is no disappointment that this doesn’t happen. We are open and free to see what comes next, and embrace it as being OK. 

As my good friend Gaya succinctly reminded me the other day, “reality is always right. What to do?”

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