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Letting Go and Parshat Beshalach

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

In this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, we learn about Am Yisrael's experiences after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. Standing at the Red Sea, they see the Egyptian forces approaching on chariots. The people cry out in panic and ask sarcastically if they were brought to the wilderness because there were no graves in Egypt.

"It is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness,” they moaned. They lacked faith in Moses and in G-d. They were enslaved in Egypt for 430 years and although they received their freedom, they brought the heavy baggage of their past experiences with them such as being passive, timid, and dependent on their masters for their daily bread. Now that they were free and had G-d and Moshe to rely on, they didn’t need that baggage anymore. They could have shed those traits.

Nevertheless, they continued to cling to the mindset of a slave.

Similarly, in our own lives, we often cling to things that don’t serve us well, such as habitual worries, past experiences, bad habits and automatic reactions. In some cases, especially when it comes to the past, all you can do is accept whatever it is you’re holding on to, and then work on letting it go.

That’s how to bring about change and growth. Painful feelings can be familiar and comfortable, especially if they are all you know. Some people have trouble letting go of their pain or other unpleasant emotions about their past because they think those feelings are part of who they are. Carl Jung said, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” Internalizing that, however, is not so simple. One way to do so is through mindful meditation: becoming aware of what we are experiencing in this moment, and noticing what thoughts or feelings about the past or future are intruding on our minds. When we stop trying to hold on to these thoughts, feelings or sensations, or whatever it is that doesn’t serve us well, we actually become freer to live with ease. Meditation is one of the best ways to practice this. When we meditate, we notice how thoughts, sensations, and events are dynamic and changing. We practice letting go—rather than getting caught up in our thoughts and feelings and treating them as a personal threat. Whatever we yearn to let go of, we can practice letting go by checking in with the body and by consciously inviting a gentle release of whatever we are holding onto. One way to explore this idea o letting go is the practice of a body scan. As you go through areas of your body and notice different sensations, thoughts or feelings, take a few breaths. And imagine lightly resting your attention there, softening and letting go. Letting go is a practice of acknowledging and also surrendering what no longer serves us. It invites us to connect to the present moment by giving attention to and observing the body and the mind. This can bring a softening or release. Let’s try a short body scan with the intention of releasing or letting go of what lies heavy on our minds and hearts. Getting settled into a comfortable position– seated or lying down. Closing your eyes if you like. And noticing the contact that your body makes with the surface that supports you– such as the chair, cushion, or mattress. Taking a few conscious breaths. Allowing your body to sink a bit more with each breath (pause)

Noticing the air as it enters your nose, and as it leaves your nose or mouth. Noticing the movement of your chest as you breathe. Noticing the rise and fall of your stomach as you breathe in ….and breathe out.(pause) Gently scanning your body for any sensations – tension, tightness, heaviness, warmth, trembling, or lightness. So taking some time to check in with your body. (pause) And imagining directing your breath to an area in your body with a sensation or sensations that you notice (pause) Noticing your mind right now– is it alert, distracted, bored, relaxed, or something else? And paying to attention to your thoughts –such as the thoughts that might be automatic and self-critical. Is there a thought that you could let go of right now? A thought that doesn’t serve you or is holding you back? Is this thought true? Does this thought help you? Imagining with every out -breath that you are slowly releasing this thought. (pause) Noticing any reactions of resistance to letting this go. Noticing any feelings of lightness or freedom. Shifting our attention to our hearts and the area around the heart. Breathing towards this area. Noticing whatever feelings or sensations are coming up right now. (pause) Imagining releasing whatever is making your heart heavy right now such as a worry, frustration or regret. Breathing freely. Noticing if there are any sensations of lightness. As this practice comes to an end, can you take a moment and appreciate the effort you’re making to live more with ease and let go of the things that burden you? When you’re ready, bringing your attention back to the room and slowly opening your eyes if they were closed. Perhaps making an intention to do this practice on a regular basis. Letting go of what we don't need is difficult but can free us up to be more present in our lives and live with ease. It requires us to trust in ourselves (and others) and believe that we will be taken care of, just as the Israelites were taken care of at the Red Sea. Holding on to the past not only holds us back from growth but also prevents us from experiencing the fullness of life.

Shabbat Shalom


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