How can we let go of something when we’re not even aware of how tightly we’re holding on?
There are countless books and songs about letting go. I used to read them and sing along to them. “Just let it go” was my daily mantra. But I was always left with one word—how.
How do I just let it go?
I’ve learned that there are no hard, fast rules to how it happens. It can happen in a split second, like a strike of lightning, a sudden revelation, a moment of complete clarity without any effort. Other times it takes weeks of inner work, meditating, journaling, and looking at situations in our past.
And then there are the things that take years to let go of. Years of experiences, of reacting the same way, of not seeing what is right in front of us.
And then one day it appears: Suddenly, we see what is holding us back, what we’ve been holding on to, and with that new filter, we can let go of the belief or the habit just like that—light as a feather flying away from us.
We can finally see that we don’t need it anymore and finally have the clarity to realize how much it held us back. We feel relief and gratitude for this new knowledge, but we also feel regret for all the time we lost by holding on to it and battling with it every day.
This is the way it happened for me when I was finally able to let go of the need to control my life.
Looking back, I am amazed that I thought I had any control at all over people and situations. I realize now with so much gratitude that the only thing I can control is myself—my thoughts, my reactions, my behavior, and my choices.
A truth is really not ours until we make it our own. No matter how much we read about it, talk about it, or think about it, no truth becomes ours until we live and experience it.
The desire to control things in our lives is as natural to us as breathing because it makes us feel safe.
We get caught up in thinking that we actually play a role in being able to make things and relationships with other people go a certain way.
We continue to have expectations that rarely get met and experiences of things not turning out the way we hoped.
We are constantly in a state of disappointment and overwhelm and frustration.
We do not have control over outside circumstances and other people in our lives.
However, we do have control over how we choose to react and act. Before we can let go of control, we have to realize that we are using it as a way to feel safe and notice when and where we are doing this.
I was lucky enough to learn how to let go from my teenage son—the perfect teacher for this lesson.
It all started when he turned 17. I’ve raised him alone, and it’s always been just the two of us. I was able to control him for years—or so I thought. Then, one day a few weeks after he turned 17, he decided he didn’t want to be controlled.
He wanted freedom.
It seemed to happen overnight, and the more I tried to control, the more he resisted. Suddenly, our household was in a constant state of tension.
We started to fight about the stupidest things. We felt like a married couple who’d been together for years and then realized they wanted to get divorced, but still had to live together for a while because of the legalities.
I remember one day I was on my way home from teaching a yoga class, and I actually stopped in a parking lot to sit in my car for an hour until my son left for work. It was that bad for both of us—we didn’t even want to be around each other.
Of course, I didn’t think it was me. I thought it was just his hormones, his need to rebel, or that maybe he was depressed. We made an appointment to go talk with a counselor, which really opened my eyes.
My son clearly told me that he was going to do whatever he wanted and that he wanted for us to stop fighting.
Those two statements brought everything into focus for me.
I had that strange feeling of time stopping for just a second. Suddenly, and quite clearly, I saw all of the things I was trying to get him to do my way. All of the ways I thought that I knew what was good for him in his life and what he should be doing.
This literally blew my mind.
Who did I think I was?
I was not allowing him to be his amazing, unique self. I was not letting him make mistakes and learn important lessons. I was trying to keep him close to me and do things my way instead of letting him grow up.
And instead of keeping us close and connected, it was dividing us.
My behavior was tearing us apart, splitting us up and placing us on two different sides, his versus mine. It was absolutely heartbreaking for me, as my son has always been my best friend and partner.
He’s been my hope, my joy, my reason to keep going in tough times, my daily motivation to be a better person, my inspiration to live a more meaningful life.
And the way our relationship had disintegrated into arguments and control battles was affecting me on such a deep level that I knew it was time to take a long, hard look at why I was trying to control him.
I was afraid of losing him. I was afraid of him growing up and leaving, and I knew it. But I also knew that this is what I’d been preparing him for—leaving. Since the first time I left him with a babysitter, the first day of preschool, I’d been leaving him little by little his entire life.
And freedom has always been so important to me, so why did I think it would be different for him?
And so, I began to let go. I started taking a look at the difference between what I wished for him and what I needed for him.
I wished for him to do his chores because I needed the house to be clean. I wished he would do his homework and get good grades because I equated that with him having a better future. I wished he would come home on time because I wanted to know that he was safe.
But I couldn’t make him do any of these things.
The only thing I could do was work on my attitude toward all of this and to take a deep look at these wishes. Were they for my benefit or his?
I decided that it was not that big of a deal—I could do his daily chores and he could put in a few hours of deep cleaning each weekend. It was my need to have a clean, orderly house, not his.
And did it really matter? No.
I decided to let him be 100 percent in charge of his homework and his grades.
I discovered that being a good parent was more about giving my son the opportunity to learn that his choices have consequences than just giving him my idea of a consequence, like taking his phone away or grounding him.
I opened up a dialogue about what he was doing and where he was going in the evenings. I found that as long as I knew where he was and what he was doing, I knew that he was safe, and I was able to release my control around curfews.
I realized that I was still treating my 17-year-old like a child and that it was time to have an adult relationship with him.
I let it all go.
I was so much lighter and less stressed. Not only could I not control a lot of things in his behavior and his life, but I realized that I really didn’t want to.
Not only did this change our relationship, but it happened within a week. We stopped fighting, he started sharing more, I began to treat him like the responsible adult he is and not the child he was.
I started speaking to him with more love and respect, asking questions and listening, instead of setting rigid rules and barking out orders.
We have come full circle and are back to being best friends. It has been the most amazing lesson for me. And of course, once something appears in your life, you begin to see it over and over again.
Suddenly, I saw all sort of things I was trying to control in my life that I could choose to let go of. My relationships with other family members began to change and my relationship with myself did too.
The biggest thing for me has been to realize that my son is his own person and wants to do things his own way. My way is not the “right” way.
And the more I trust that he knows what is best for him and let him have multiple opportunities to make mistakes and imperfect choices, the more he proves to me that he is right.
He teaches me every day how to be a better, kinder, less serious person.
When I listen and get out of my own way enough to connect with him as a person, not as my child, he teaches me how to mother him.
Now, three months later, I can truly say that there is an enormous relief that comes with letting go.
There is so much peace that comes when we let go and open ourselves up to things being different than we expected. To realize that we do not need to rely solely on our own strength to make things happen. That we can let other people make their own choices that are right for them while also placing our trust in something larger and knowing that we are always supported and never alone.
Each of us is on our own unique journey with our own unique lessons to learn. Every experience we have is an opportunity for growth, connection, and an amazing experience to learn more about ourselves and others.
I look back and see that the circumstances have not radically changed in terms of what was happening in my life, but the way I look and feel about everything had made a radical shift.
Once again, I was able to see that our thoughts define our feelings, our feelings define our experiences, and that our experiences become our reality.
If I can leave you with one thing, it’s simply to say that you can only control yourself—everything else you can let go of. Begin close in with yourself, and then see how it radiates out from you to everyone else in your life.