Letting go: a spiritual balancing act

We all have obsessions at some point – sport, a TV show, fitting in, looking good, achieving a career goal, love, rejection… But when we’re hung up on something and just can’t seem to let go, it can eventually take a toll on our mental health. 

Intuitively we know that when something feels stuck and uncomfortable inside our mind or body, it’s not healthy for us in the long run. But you are not a pressure cooker – your thoughts and feelings are not supposed to boil and simmer endlessly. They must be allowed to flow through you, even the very difficult ones. 

But what can we do when these thoughts and feelings feel beyond our control? 

Spiritually rebalancing 

Letting go is hard when you’ve built a story in your head – and nothing can convince you that the story isn’t true. Or is it? How can you be sure?

Holding on to a story that keeps us stuck is a bit like taking a breath in, but being afraid to let a breath out. 

It makes sense to ask: why is my mind so desperate to keep me frozen here – what am I scared of losing by letting these thoughts and feelings go? What underlying thoughts and feelings is my mind protecting/distracting me from? And while it can be incredibly helpful to dig into these types of questions with the help of a trusted friend, (or perhaps a trained therapist if you can access one), there are things we can do spiritually to let go easily and intuitively. 

Letting go as a spiritual practice. 

Surah Al Hadid, “Iron” – a chapter 57 in the Qur’an that addresses our propensity to delude ourselves with vain desires and get lost in wishful thinking, even when we know better – offers us a route to rebalancing our spiritual state. And it comes down to humility. 

1. Practise the art of letting go, by giving from your wealth. 

Allah invites us to give to charity in an intriguing way, by describing our charitable gifts as a “goodly loan”. This is a promise that in truth, we never actually lose anything by giving. In fact, Allah will repay us with better than we gave: 

“Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan so He will multiply it for him and he will have a generous reward?” — Qur’an 57:11

Giving in charity is a practical way to train your mind to “let go” of something and feel good about it. Giving away something that makes you feel secure (like money), and accepting the practical consequences of your sacrifice on your life, can be an important lesson. Making peace with the reality of giving away something we closely protect is a helpful teacher. 

So when you feel yourself spiralling, try giving.

And when you think you’ve been generous, why not give just that teeny tiny bit more. And let this feeling wash over you: it feels good to let go – I am safe in the hands of Al Kareem – The Generous One.  

2. Remember Allah (dhikr) with humility   

In Surah Al Hadid, we also are asked a second piercing question: 

“Hasn’t the time yet come for the hearts of those who believe to be humbled in the remembrance of Allah?” — Qur’an 57:16 

When you tell your story to Allah, does it still ring true? 

Humility is a balancing act – walking the path between: accountability and letting go, fear and hope, forgiveness and blame, mercy and justice, optimism and pragmatism. With humility, remembering Allah can be your fastest shortcut to uncovering your strengths and any weaknesses holding your heart hostage – like pridefulness, arrogance, despair or insecurity.

But remember, the goal isn’t to run yourself down for the sake of it.

In fact low self-esteem, and obsessing over your flaws and mistakes, is still a very ego-centred form of obsession.   

Allah’s presence places you in a bigger picture, and not simply at the centre. The world doesn’t begin and end with the things you’re clinging on to. Your heart is in Allah’s hands – the whole world is. And you don’t have to hold on, when you can ask Allah to hold for you.

If you retell your story with Allah at the centre, how does it change your narrative?

Without Allah: I am too ugly to be loved…  

With Allah: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – all people will perceive me differently. But what is most important to me is: am I beautiful to the One who created me and designed me head to toe? If Allah loves me, why is it not possible for Allah’s servants to love me?… 

Without Allah: I am a bad person. My sins are unforgivable and I deserve to be punished… 

With Allah: I was wrong, I am sorry and I will learn from this. Allah is the Most Forgiving so I always have the chance to start over. If I was a bad person I wouldn’t be feeling this way… 

Without Allah: If I had done X differently things would be different… 

With Allah: Nothing has the power to benefit or harm me but Allah – if it was meant for me it would have been. Allah is always with me. If I notice obsessive thoughts, I will redirect my focus back to Allah, to remind myself of my higher purpose…   

Without Allah: They are all I can think about, all I dream about, I need to be with them. I can’t go a second without them on my mind. I can’t focus on anything else…   

With Allah: I want what is best for me in this life and the next. I think I know what will please me, but Allah knows better. So I pray for what’s best and trust fully in Allah’s mercy and perfect timing. What is meant for me will be. And I will focus my energy on becoming the best version of myself, so that I am 100% ready for whatever Allah sends my way.  

Humility leads to acceptance, open-mindedness and importantly, a willingness to learn and move forward.

When we reach this state, obsessive thoughts lose their hold – though the subject matter might still be important or emotive, it doesn’t have to overwhelm or control us. 

Humility achieved through charity and remembrance of Allah is the spiritual state that can make us, as the title of surah Al Hadid suggests, like iron; strong yet soft enough to bend and reshape ourselves, and powerfully magnetic to things that are a match for us. 

Strong enough to let go.

Iron filings around a magnet. ‘Magnetism, Photogravure I–IV, 4/4‘ by Ahmed Mater