Letting Go, Not Drowning
By Travis Koke, October, 2012
Hurricane season is upon us. Some people may feel a sense of anxiety or fear; others feel excitement, and travel from afar to be near.
Imagine bathing in the ocean and all of a sudden a massive wave comes and tosses you around like a rag doll in a washing machine. What do you do? Will you survive? Will you drown?
When people drown in these situations, it is most commonly because they have used up all their oxygen, and are no longer strong enough to keep their mouth closed. The body kicks into a primitive brainstem response called “agonal breathing”—a last-ditch effort to reverse extreme hypoxia. If agonal breathing continues for too long, the ability to keep the mouth shut is lost, the lungs fill with water, and consciousness moves out of the body.
Any big-wave surfer will tell you the trick to surviving this circumstance: first, take your last breath in, ditch whatever you may be holding on to, and dive as deep as you can to try and avoid the white water. If you get caught by the powerful force of the churning pool, allow your body to become limp, and protect your head with your arms, using as little of the body’s oxygen as possible.
This “limpness” is a form of letting go—not just of the muscles, but also the fears of the mind. Lack of faith will cause anxiety, and the estimated hundred-billion neurons in the brain love to use up our precious oxygen during these states of panic. The brain, being only two percent of the body’s weight, uses roughly twenty percent of our energy. Letting go, calmness of mind, and faith are essential if a person is to endure the turmoil of waves—not only out at sea, but also in each moment of our lives.
The choice to let go is within each moment, and it can be made a reality faster than the speed of light. First we must gain awareness of what we are holding onto: what thoughts or perceptions may be causing us to feel anxiety, and what muscles and organs we tend to hold our stress in. The perfect place to start is on our mat. When we remove all the tension, fears, and wasteful anxiety, we can then be fully at peace in the present moment.
May October’s transitions help us all dive deeper into this awareness. May we begin to allow the rough seas in our life help us to see what it is we are really grasping on to. Through this clarity, perhaps we will find joy in the present moment, even in the presence of big waves.