How ‘Bahala Na,’ the Filipino Spiritual Practice of Letting Go, Helps Me Embrace Uncertainty

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Whenever I make a decision, whether a life-changing or ordinary one, I say a prayer and hope that it's heard. After all, things work out in weird ways—and when we are open to serendipity, we are more likely to experience it. No matter if I'm sending out a job application, taking a test, or joining a raffle, I know in my heart that if something is for me, then it will come to me. If not, then I can move on to other things. And either way, I keep my faith in the idea of a divine or universal plan: If I do what I need to do, things will unfold in accordance with that greater plan. That is the philosophy of the Filipino phrase, “Bahala na!”

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According to Mark Joseph T. Calano, PhD, assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Manila University, in the Philippines, “Bahala na!” is about accepting one’s fate. “This is an act of surrender,” he says. “However, it can also mean trust."

“Bahala na is an act of surrender.”  —Mark Joseph T. Calano, PhD, assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Manila University

The exact origin of the phrase isn't totally clear. Scholars such as Rhochie Matienzo and Ronaldo Gripaldo believe that the word “Bahala” comes from “Bathala,” which is the name of the supreme deity of pre-colonial Filipinos. However, others say the term has Sanskrit origins. In any case, we know that it reflects a kind of trusting spirituality.

“If we focus on the fatalism and the trust aspect of the term, then there is something universal in the use of ‘Bahala na!” says Dr. Calano. “In that sense, it can be used even by non-Filipinos.” And by extension, it may also be used by people who aren’t necessarily religious; although it has spiritual origins, “Bahala na” has more practical applications.

Personally, I’ve been using this phrase and practice since childhood, and I'm certainly not alone among my family and friends. It’s a common trait among Filipinos, ingrained at a young age. After studying how various Filipinos used it, psychologist Alfredo Lagmay concluded that “Bahala na” is typically invoked when the consequences of an action or the outcome of a situation can’t be determined, when there is a lack of resources or information, and when there is little time to do something.

As an example, take my early experience with durian, a spiky, smelly fruit. My family loves it, but I had never really been inclined to eat it. One day, they encouraged me to just try it and at least see if I might like it—so I said, “Bahala na” and took a spoonful of it. It’s creamy and too strong for my taste, but at least now I know what it’s like. Not to mention, I got to try something new, and I strengthened my rapport with my loved ones who were laughing the entire time at my reaction to eating it.

Years later, I used the phrase ahead of auditioning for a play. I arrived at the venue, tired and anxious after a long day of work and needed some additional courage. So, I said, “Bahala na!” and went through with it. I laughed when I found out that I got the part.

The same thing happened while I was recently applying for a job. It was a good opportunity, and many people were applying from all over the country, so I figured my chances were slim. But I said, “Bahala na! We shall see. Whatever happens, at least I'll know I tried.” When I heard that people were receiving responses to their applications, I got anxious because I hadn't received anything. I reached out, they told me to look in my spam folder, and there it was—I was shortlisted! Then, after the preliminary training, I said again, “Bahala na! Even if I don’t actually get the job, I know I was shortlisted, and I had a good time at the training. That’s enough for me.” But then, a few days later, I got accepted.

Of course, "Bahala na" is not a guarantee that you will get what you want. But even if what you expect or hope for doesn't happen, perhaps by using the phrase, you'll feel a little less disheartened in the end.

Beyond the ways in which I've used “Bahala na” in my own life, the phrase can be used in many other ways, including around heartbreak, health issues, and career woes. What I've found is, we tend to flow with the world and move with the eternal wheel of fortune (what we Filipinos call “gulong ng palad”). And as a result, “Bahala na” has never disappointed me; when I use it, I have already let go of the outcome and taken the leap.

“Bahala na!” encourages boldness in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

A common—if reckless—English translation for “Bahala na!” is, “Screw it!” This implies that one is anxious, unsure, and unwilling to understand the consequences of one’s actions. We often say, “Screw it!” before doing something we know we might regret and would rather not think about. It’s an empty statement: There’s no hope and no trust that things might work out. But when we say “Bahala na!” we throw the sentiment upward, and someone or something catches it. Call it God, call it the universe, call it cosmic wisdom. There’s some force out there beyond us that knows what’s best for us and can guide us along this universal plan. By using “Bahala na!” we're calling upon their influence.

“Bahala na!” encourages boldness in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We don’t have to suffer the futility of pushing against something that may be inevitable. After we’ve done our best, we can let go of the anxiety and worry that goes along with an uncertain outcome. Yes, things might not be fine right now, and no matter how hard we try or how well we plan, we might fail horribly. But we can have some faith that we will be fine in the long run, regardless of where we are and what we may have to face.

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