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Practice vs. Letting Go (Abhyasa vs. Vairagya)

A few days ago I returned from a week of fun exploring the great outdoors in the US of A. My partner and I flew to Denver where we met up with two of our friends. One who flew in from the peach state Georgia and another who had relocated to Colorado. We had met these beautiful humans during the chapter of my life where I lived in South Florida. It is quite remarkable that years later, living across the continent from one another that we were able to coordinate this epic adventure.


This entire week we lived within our own bubble, pushing ourselves to conquer near 15 mile (24 km) day hikes, jumping into cold lakes, bouldering rocks near our camp site, seeing remarkable geysers and hot springs on a volcano, working together to make meals happen, exploring Jackson, drinking coffee overlooking mountains for sunrise, watching the sun leave for the day as it sank behind the mountain range... We fully immersed ourselves in the beauty of the world and boy was it ever stunning. Creating space for ourselves as cell-service was limited forcing us to be completely present.


Two Sanskrit words kept popping into my head as the week progressed. The first word is Abhyasa which means to practice; the second is Vairagya which means to let go. These two words have a symbiotically relationship. However, achieving that relationship is where the challenge lays. How do you know when the time has come to let go of something you have been practicing? Does it correlate to failure? Does one outweigh the importance of another? This is the internal clash of thoughts my mind conjured up as I continuously thought about these two words.


This thought first beckoned when my friend who is a nurse began discussing the emotional impact each night has. How being a newer nurse means there is SO much to learn and many mistakes to be made along the way. The balancing act between starting new and needing what feels like endless guidance and practice between wishing you were experienced right off the bat. In essence my takeaway from this individuals life experience is to keep practicing, even if that means while placing your first catheter you miss the urethra and accidentally have it go into your patients vagina. Try again; eventually you will get it.


This explains the need to practice but how do you know when to let go? How to recognize that you are walking the line between destruction rather than construction or productivity? How do you cope with a patient who dies? It comes back to the concept that if you don’t show up for them, no one else will. As my friend stated in the medical field when a patient comes in “more often than not you are fighting an uphill battle.” All you can do is show up for them, try your best, be compassionate, learn, evolve and continually move forward.


I kept applying this knowledge to my own life and found that “practice” and “letting go” are fundamental to achieving balance. However, accepting this outcome involves you to push your ego aside and see the bigger picture. So much easier said than done eh? For instance take look at a relationship you have, had, or witnessed that is rocky. How do you know when to keep working on it or when it’s time to pull the plug? How do you practice this non-attachment/letting go concept; when us humans are emotionally attached to everything it seems?


Work; how do you know when you have learned everything you can, giving it your all, and when it's time to walk away to push yourself in a new direction?

Working out: you keep showing up, day after day, practicing, getting stronger; but how do you know when it’s time to admit defeat and know that the one arm pull-up you have been working towards just is not in your geometry?


Abhyasa and Vairagya hugely impact our reality, how our world is shaped and most importantly how we view ourselves. I know I struggle with the concept of appearing weak inside and out. So the concept of pushing my ego aside and analyzing my situation to see if I could benefit more from practicing, letting go, or perhaps both, is difficult. These concepts are entirely situational, unique to the individual, their journey, experience and feelings.


Abhyasa and Vairagya commonly occur within my physical and mental practice of yoga. For example, let's take a look at my handstand practice. I keep practicing being upside down because it provides me peace and comfort but sometimes I fall on my face. I then let that miniature failure go, now allowing it to bruise my ego like a dropped peach, and I will try it again. This is an example of the two forces working in unison; both are present, allowing me to learn from the mistake, move forward and try again. I am trying to be more level-headed and adopt this attitude in other components of my life. This way I can direct my energy in ways that benefit me and move on when it no longer serves me.


In essence; to achieve balance among these two concepts is to look within; keep practicing until you have given it your all and are fully accepting of letting go. Sometimes both practice and letting go happen simultaneously. And sometimes you have to practice letting go as its a vital part of humanity.

Delta Lake - Grand Tetons National Park, WY



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