September 16, 2016

“Letting Go” is a Result, not an Action—Here’s how it Really Works.


The buzz words “let it go” often make an appearance as a way to counter the anxiety and stress of our modern society.

To let things go rather than to hold on with our claws extended helps us find peace and mental health, and achieve an overall sense of well-being.

By now, it has become clear to many that holding onto past grievances, resentment and disappointments are a recipe for ill-health and mental strife.

We get told to let go by yoga instructors, spirituals teachers, Instagram and Facebook, good friends, wise family members and our own higher self.

We know it’s good for us, this letting go business. Just let that sh*t go. Just do it.

But have you ever cringed a little when someone told you to “just let it go?”

I know I have. I have felt a disingenuous smile appear at the honorable suggestion of simply deciding and then enabling myself to drop something that is causing me grief.

The reason it doesn’t sit well with me is because I believe that telling someone to “let it go” when they are going through something they find difficult is like telling someone to just wake up after they haven’t slept all night: Just do it—make yourself awake. Just snap your fingers and be awake. Just tell your brain it isn’t tired anymore. Tell your brain it doesn’t need to be cleansed of toxins, and bathed in neurotransmitters.

The things we need to let go of are often bound to deep adaptive and protective responses that we have learned over the course of our entire lives. The source is often influenced by deeply held beliefs. Those beliefs have been reinforced countless times in our lives and we end up functioning in habitual ways with certain tendencies.

Often, our beliefs can be distilled down to the feeling of not being enough in one capacity or another.

Smart enough, good-looking enough, capable enough, good enough, worthy enough, loveable enough.

The ways in which we protect ourselves from feeling difficult feelings are any one of these: defensiveness, avoidance, judgement, procrastination, hyper vigilance, perfectionism, and/or self-sabotage.

When we hold onto something, it is because one of our deeply held negative beliefs has been activated. One of our wounds has been poked at. A deep-seated fear has been illuminated by another’s actions, and so our lowliest fears have been reinforced and our limbic systems are going haywire. Indeed, letting go then becomes a challenge when the thing we need to let go of is attached to something mired in complexity from when we were still in grade school.

We can think of these experiences that activate our fears as the junk that fills up the suitcases of our life.

Nobody is free from acquiring clunky objects inside their suitcases.

As we walk through life, we accumulate more contents in our suitcases. They are heavy, those suitcases, and we bring them with us everywhere we go. Once and a while we put them down, but when we move along to the next place, we often feel compelled to pick them back up again. Their heaviness is cumbersome so they affect our gait, our posture and our endurance.

While they are indeed uncomfortable to carry around, they are all full of our stuff—the stuff we think we need. The contents inside of them is the familiar garb we know will protect us and dress us into the person we are. We often become comfortable with the uncomfortable because it is what we know. It is what we are familiar with and familiar and comfortable frequently trumps the unknown and uncomfortable, even if it is not in our best interest.

It is not always easy to just throw away the things that we have been using to protect and comfort us our whole lives.

That is not to say it is impossible.

Sometimes it is.

Sometimes, in an instant, in a moment, when someone reflects to us our insanity, when someone gives us a proverbial slap—we can just do it, spontaneously and effortlessly.

Sometimes we drop them when they’re too heavy to hold for any longer. Like the grocery bag filled with pineapples, whole cabbage and half a dozen mangoes, the bag snaps and drops. Sometimes we get distracted long enough to let it go. Sometimes, it is done through dogged hard work, meditation, psychotherapy, spiritual guidance, or time itself.

All of these things take their own sweet intrinsic time.

They cannot be forced. The same way we cannot force ourselves to digest a heavy meal we just ate more quickly because we’ve got some laps to swim in the pool. We cannot force ourselves to do things more quickly than the natural order requires. We cannot force the bag to snap, we cannot force ourselves to drop our suitcases until something inside of us organically and genuinely lets go of its own accord. Even if we distract ourselves, there will be moments in the day where we remember. Until the moments we remember become less charged. This, too, takes its own time.

Having someone tell us to just “let it go,” or telling ourselves, is often not enough to actually make that happen.

What we can do in the meantime is love that thing. That sh*tty thing, that difficult thing.

When it comes up again and again, we love it some more. When we think it is ugly and toxic and cantankerous, and we are desperate to release it, love it instead. Being loving means being spacious, being accepting, being kind, being generous, smiling, breathing and letting it be there…instead of rejecting it and pushing it away.

So the next time someone says “let it go” or you think that you must let something go but are finding it hard to do so—try instead to love it, accept it, and let it exist.

What we resist persists.

I remember the epiphany I had when I started to apply this to moments of anxiety.a

I used to abhor the feeling of anxiety. In fact, I’ll be honest—I still do. I have to remind myself in those moments not to resist the anxiety. I remind myself that it is okay that I am feeling anxious and that I don’t need to push it away. The difference between pushing it away and letting it be is the difference between having anxiety all day or having it for a part of the day. When I resist it, it doesn’t go away. When I embrace it with kindness, it starts to shift.

The next time you notice something come up that you aren’t feeling good about, you might try to give it some space to exist, and send it some loving kindness. When you feel it surface, smile a little, take a deep breath and say, “Yes I am feeling this right now…and it’s okay.”

Letting go, for me, is the outcome of other techniques, rather than the technique itself.

Letting go unfolds like a bud blooming into a flower, a flower shriveling into dried petals, and the petals decomposing into earth. Letting go then is a graceful process, not a forceful one.


Author: Rachelle Tersigni

Image: Used with permission from Charles Bayonneoakenroad/Flickr

Editor: Catherine Monkman

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