I've worked hard my entire life. Really, really hard. From a young age I bought into statements like: "Nothing in life comes easy," "You have to fight to make it in the world," and "If it was easy, everyone would do it." I pushed myself to win every award I could in high school. Then I pushed myself to become one of the first few people in my family to go to university. Then I worked my butt off to get 90s in all my classes. Like a blacksmith working hot metal, I spent countless hours trying to hammer my life into the shape I desired.
And guess what? I achieved a lot. But I still wasn't happy.
The protestant work ethic that has plagued North Americans for over 100 years has brought us many successes. We have cars, electricity, clean water. We can travel anywhere in the world and eat pineapple in the middle of December. But I think we're also more miserable than we've been at any other point in human history.
Many of us wholeheartedly believe that we are in control. We think that we need to force our lives to unfold on our schedule. We need to slave away at a job we despise so that we can keep up with the Jones's. We need a mortgage, two cars, two kids and a white picket fence so that we can prove to everyone around us that we've "made it."
What if, instead of pushing so hard to make life happen, we decided to let go and allow life to happen to us? What if, instead of trying to always be in control, we surrendered control to something bigger than ourselves? What if, instead of working so hard to figure out the answers, we allowed ourselves to be guided to the solution in perfect timing?
This approach flies in the face of what modern society tells us to do. But the beautiful thing is that if we're willing to trust in the process, it works.
If you look back over your own life you will probably notice many times when trying less actually brought about the result you desired. Whether it was an unexpected job interview that popped up just when you decided to stop sending out resumes, or a chance encounter that led you to your soul mate just when you'd given up on dating - often when we let go of the reins, the universe is happy to show us the way.
When I was close to finishing my PhD, I became unsure about whether I wanted to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a professor. For some reason, my gut was telling me that I was meant to do something different. I applied to several non-academic jobs but never got an interview. One Friday, I made a last ditch attempt by applying for a position as an IT Research Analyst. I almost laughed as I pressed the "send" button to submit my resumé. Why on earth would anyone hire me to do IT research, when I'd spent 10 years studying psychology? So I let go of my attachment to the outcome, shut down my computer for the day and headed out to a pub with some friends.
Well, guess who just happened to be at the pub that night? The CEO of the IT company where I'd submitted my resumé. Oh and guess what else? The CEO just happened to be friends with one of my friends. I was introduced, and a few months later I was hired as an IT Research Analyst - a job that taught me so much, not only about technology, but also about how to let go and follow my heart.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not suggesting that you should simply give up and accept whatever life throws at you. I think it's important to have goals and work toward our dreams. The trick is that we need to strike a balance between effort and ease.
I use this example quite often when I teach yoga. When my students are holding a difficult posture, I encourage them to use their breath to find some sense of ease in the pose. This practice teaches them how to work hard and be relaxed at the same time. Their muscles are working, but their breath flows freely. Their bodies are pushing an edge, but their minds are at ease. I think we need to bring more of this balanced approach into our daily lives.
Personally, my workhorse mentality is still alive and well, and I often struggle to maintain my sense of balance. My default is to try to make things happen, as opposed to letting things be. Many times I feel like a fish trying to swim upstream against a strong current. I push and push and push and nothing seems to work. The good news is that I've become better at catching myself. During these times, I now have many tools that I can draw upon to help me switch gears, go with the current and be guided downstream. Whether it's through meditation, yoga, or spending time in nature, one day at a time I'm learning how to surrender my life to a power greater than myself and trust that I will always be guided in the right direction.
I don't care if you believe in God, Allah, Buddha, Spirit, angels, your cat, or nothing at all. This isn't about religion. This is about acknowledging the fact that there is so much in this universe that we still don't understand. One of the things that we're just starting to appreciate is that there is a force out there that's willing to guide us if we're open to it. I often like to think of this force as my True Self. When I take the time to get silent and listen to myself, the answers always appear. They might not appear exactly when I want them to, or in the exact form that I expect - but they always come.
This month, I encourage you to let go of the wheel and experiment with divine cruise control. Start by answering these questions:
Once you've narrowed things down, let go. This release can take a variety of forms. It might be that you decide to take a week off from job hunting. Or you stop trying to force your family to conform to your standards. Or you ask your spouse to cook for you. Whatever it is - do it.
Many times, our insistence on forcing the outcome that we desire gets in the way of the outcome that would be most beneficial to us. When you let go, things often turn out exactly as they're meant to be.
So please, give yourself permission to release your iron grip. Trust that you are being supported.
Surrender control and allow yourself to be guided to the outcome that will be of the highest service both to you and to the world.
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out Bethany's book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution here.
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