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“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.” ~ Ann Landers
When I was seven years old, my mom and her partner Stephan took me on a fishing day trip.
We strolled for a while through the dense, shady forest until we finally found the ideal location to begin fishing: a secluded and peaceful spot beside the water’s edge.
We sat by the rapidly flowing river and took out our fishing rods. I was beyond excited, and my childish delight definitely showed.
What I didn’t know about fishing is that patience is a virtue you must possess if you want to enjoy the process. Patient I was not, and my excitement gave way to extreme boredom in no time.
That day in nature was supposed to be about fun, togetherness, and enjoyment. In stark contrast, I was growing grumpier by the minute. Stephan, wanting to cheer me up, suggested that we go to a nearby salmon farm, where the odds of catching a fish were about 100 percent.
As we settled by the artificial lake, I threw my line into the water with gleeful anticipation. Instantly, the soft fishing line became tense, indicating an unlucky salmon had been cheaply tricked into thinking my hook was some kind of luxurious breakfast.
As I eagerly pulled the fish out of the water, the reality of what was occurring finally dawned on me. Attached to the other end of the line was a struggling creature, squirming on the dry ground where it did not belong, furiously fighting for its life. Worst of all, I had caused this to happen. This sight terrorized me on such a deep level that I turned around and ran for my life.
All I can remember of that moment was how frightened I felt—the salmon was determined to chase me down. The faster I ran, the closer he got to me. I screamed in fear while zigzagging in panic across the grass like an ostrich on bad acid.
In the background, between my shrieking and my mom’s unrestrained giggles, I heard Stephan’s simple yet wise advice: “Emilie, drop the line! Let it go!” They both almost choked to death from laughter.
Even though “let it go” seemed like a simple and reasonable solution, I still chose to run wild and yelled for a little longer before putting the advice into action. When I had reached the point of exhaustion, I finally decided to drop the line.
I felt an odd mixture of surprise and relief when I realized that the fish was no longer pursuing me and my fiery ordeal was over. I quit fishing altogether on that day.
In our adult lives, most of the things that hold us back—those that cause us pain and stop us from living the life we truly desire—are like the salmon and me. We are connected by a fine, invisible cord, yet we sometimes forget that we hold the power to let go.
During the past few decades of my pursuit for spiritual alignment and my T. rex appetite for everything related to self-growth, I came to realize that the most powerful wisdom always comes in simple forms. I’ve also come to understand that simple rarely equals easy.
Whether it’s a relationship, a habit, a way of thinking, something in your past, or your own ego, it can be an overwhelming challenge to let go of your attachment.
There are no special tricks or mysterious ways to go about it. If we want to move on to the joyful, fulfilling life we envisioned for ourselves, we just have to drop that damn fishing line!
“I tried to eat healthier, but I don’t think it’s for me. Everything tastes so boring, and I mean, I don’t even drink, so I think a bit of food indulgence is totally fine. I’m letting go of this,” a friend of mine once said. This same friend had claimed just a few days before that she needed to make better food choices after complaining for months that she felt sluggish and unhealthy.
This is called abandonment. Even though the line is fine between both, letting go is not the equivalent of abandoning.
Abandonment is weakness. It’s an excuse we create to get out of a challenging situation that causes us temporary discomfort. If we simply persisted, it would allow us to achieve the goals we had set for ourselves and leave our life enhanced.
Letting go is the opposite. It’s a lofty act of self-love, courage, mindfulness, and strength. It’s making the right call to move forward instead of backward. It’s a conscious choice to forgive and release all of our worries, insecurities, and fears about our past and future.
To let go can be a simple physical action. It can take many forms: walking out of your toxic job to never return; purging your closet and giving your excess clothes to charity after realizing you’re a shopaholic; throwing your wedding ring out of a moving car after signing your celebratory divorce papers; or shaving all of the precious hair from your head to leave society’s beauty standards in the dust.
However, in most cases, letting go is usually a tricky and complex mental process. I say tricky because if it were so easy, we would all stop indulging in our negative thoughts and move on instantly from our trauma and exes in a heartbeat. We would all be bitter-free, forever-happy, miniature Buddhas.
Instead, most of us just seem to want to punish and torture ourselves with the repetitive, awful stories playing in our minds. We indulge in the scariest (most unlikely) scenarios and replay awful memories on loop, over and over again.
Why do we do this? It’s because of the way it feels. We literally become addicted to the familiar emotions that these stories create in our bodies. The repetition creates familiar neuropathways in the brainwaves; just like any other addiction, the more we activate them, the more we crave them.
For about three years, I held a vivid grudge about a coworker. Years ago, one morning before my shift at the restaurant where I worked, three other coworkers and I were called one by one for an impromptu interview in the manager’s office.
A customer from the previous evening had phoned in earlier that day to declare that someone had added a tip to his credit card receipt. He was certain he had left nothing, as he claimed the service had been awful.
Therefore, my coworkers and I were waiting to be interrogated as potentially responsible for the fraud. When my turn arrived, I found out that one of the other employees had thrown me under the bus, even though I had nothing to do with the incident.
When they questioned me, they said that this person had already told them I was responsible. I instantly started crying from a feeling of deep injustice and betrayal (in retrospect, it probably made me look guilty).
I was the newest employee, and to be completely honest, I was also pretty bad at my job. On top of that, I despised the food. I was fired on the spot. I fiercely resented my coworker, and recounted the infamous story countless times, each time funneling anger and drama into my inner world.
A few years later, I went back to eat at that same restaurant for a friend’s birthday party. Guess who was our server? That previous coworker who had thrown me under the bus.
I felt rage pulsating throughout my entire body, but kept it together so as to not ruin my friend’s special day. The server recognized me immediately and it was all very awkward.
Sometime before our food was served, I went to use the bathroom and ended up face-to-face with this person.
She said she was sorry for what had happened and explained what her life situation had been at the time—including her fears and why she couldn’t have afforded to lose her job.
I told her that I was okay and we were good. In that moment, all of my resentment toward her vanished.
The truth is that I had been good since the first week after being let go. I quickly found a job that I did not suck at, that paid me better, and I didn’t smell like the food from that restaurant. Win, win, win.
We obviously can’t bypass acknowledging and feeling all of our emotions. It’s crucial to express them, whether that be through spoken words, writing, or other forms of art. We need to allow ourselves the appropriate amount of time to properly grieve before moving on—it is an important part of the process. In my situation with my coworker, seven days should have been the correct amount of time to get over it—not three years.
This is where cultivating mindfulness plays an enormous role in the practice of letting go—unless you have some super-duper power to control your every thought (if so, hit me up—I’d love to befriend you and learn your magic).
My favorite mindfulness exercises are pretty traditional and acutely effective: journaling, a nature walk, meditation, and yoga. There are a plethora of practices at your fingertips, and you can choose whatever suits your world and brings you back to the present moment. Play a musical instrument, have a dance party, surf it out, focus on your breathing, or even hang out with a crew of baby goats.
To move on in positivity, we certainly need to make conscious choices about the thoughts that we indulge in (which is only about 10 percent for the average human). For all of the other 12,000 to 60,000 unwanted, negative, or repetitive thoughts that will flow in our mind without consent each day, the best approach is to release control, and allow them to pass by without judgment or engagement.
We must become the observer and learn to not identify with our thoughts. It’s the engagement with these negative thoughts that creates inner conflicts, making them so real that we feel them as physical reactions in our body.
There’s absolutely nothing that we can change about the past, and it’s pointless to be worrying about a future which we have absolutely no control over (COVID-19 is a pretty good reminder of that truth).
To let go is a sane, courageous decision. When trapped in the suffocating grip of what no longer serves us, we are robbing ourselves of the precious present moment. The opportunity to grow into the best version of ourselves resides in this present moment. This is where we will find all the open doors leading us to infinite possibilities—allowing us to create the life that we truly desire.
To chose to softly release is sometimes the boldest action we can take.