Life is an accumulation of experiences, causes and conditions which are always shifting and changing forms. After all, one of the only things you can count on in life is change.
Letting go is powerful. It frees the way for new experiences to come in. But it can be one of the most difficult things to do. It’s often wrought with apprehensions about what it will mean for our future, nostalgia for the past, and fear of the unknown. And letting go of too much at once can simply be devastating and destabilizing.
When you’re suffering, you have two options for dealing with the difficult situation and emotions it brings up. You can either resist it and wish it to be another way, or you can accept your situation and change the way you feel about it. Letting go means letting life be by allowing tough feelings to arise, letting them deliver their message and then watching them be replaced by new feelings.
In life, the more we try to control people and situations around us to push, pull and force things to be as we’d like them to the worse the situation usually gets. Through introspection, we come to realize that clinging to things we don’t want to give up usually only causes unnecessary suffering and unhappiness.
What are we trying to let go of ?
Criticism, blaming, fear, competing, people-pleasing, anger, resentment, jealousy and shame are some of the most compelling items on the list. When we trust enough to let things come into our lives at the right time and let them go as they need to, we’re able to find more freedom, peace and comfort. As the saying goes, “When one door closes, another opens.” Letting go and acceptance go hand-in-hand. With practice, it’s possible to accept ourselves and our lives for what they are, accept other people for who they are and maintain this attitude in each moment.
To know why letting go is so important, it helps to understand what letting go isn’t and what it won’t do for you.
Letting go means practicing acceptance, forgiveness, open-mindedness, patience and remaining realistic throughout the process.
But it doesn’t mean giving up or not trying at all. It doesn’t mean feeling defeated or hopeless, or allowing others to mistreat you. Letting go is surrendering and being willing to consciously give up control because you realize that you never really had it in the first place.
Why Letting Go Is So Hard ?
Ironically, it’s as hard to let go in life when we’re struggling as it is when we’re doing well. Sometimes we can’t let go of what’s familiar, even if it’s destructive or keeping us stuck. This is because change can be scary. We don’t like to throw ourselves into unknown territory because we think things might actually get worse. Bad habits persist because their outcomes are predictable. However, fear of change isn’t a good enough reason. It only keeps us feeling stuck, small, fearful and hopeless. Other times we have a hard time letting go when things are going really well. Clinging is common when we fear letting go of a percieved source of happiness.
The thing is, change and loss are both unavoidable. Seasons change, relationships end, people age and pass away, companies close, the money runs out and, over time, pleasures lose their ability to keep us happy and engaged. Pretending that we can hold on to material possessions, other people’s attention, power, prestige and youth is an illusion.
Builds our ability to accept the fact that moment-by-moment everything is changing and in flux. Nothing is permanent.
Bring to mind a difficult situation you’re experiencing and think about what you might be having a hard time letting go of. This might be easy and the situation obvious (you can’t forgive someone or get over the feeling of being let down), or it might take you by surprise.
Investigate where in your body you’re tensing, grasping or remaining closed off.
- Can you identify which aspects of the situation are causing you the most suffering?
- Are you blaming yourself for past mistakes and can’t forgive yourself?
- Feeling anxious about what’s to come in the future?
- Are you blaming someone else for wrong-doings while failing to consider the conditions they were under?
- Disappointed because things haven’t unfolded like you expected?
Several helpful ideas you can introduce to your meditation practice include: contemplating the end of life and your own mortality, reflecting on causes and conditions, practicing unconditional acceptance and loving-kindness and reciting mantras which build your trust in the universe.
While it won’t happen overnight, you can learn to be accepting and compassionate with both yourself and others. With time, you can forgive yourself for whatever part you played in the past, as well as forgive anyone else involved. You can let go of fears and expectations about the future, overcoming people-pleasing and being brave enough to face uncertainty.
Letting go is a commitment to stay present in the face of whatever arises. Change and showing vulnerability can be frightening, but both are easier when you consistently take good care of yourself. It’s not easy to let go of expectations, forgive, embrace your own imperfections and experience disappointment.
Show yourself some love during the process of letting go: give yourself massages, take soothing baths, walk outside, spend time at the ocean, write in a journal, dance, run or do yoga.
Practice mindfulness by staying open-minded; allow each moment to bring with it new feelings of hope.
Take stock of what’s around you with fresh eyes. Remember that happiness comes from going with the natural flow of things, respecting the impermanence of all that life has to offer and embracing whatever unfolds.
So how do we let go in healthy ways?
- Get clear on what is really no longer serving you. Most of us have a pretty good idea on this one – maybe it’s a relationship, a friendship, a job, or an unhealthy habit. Take stock and make a list, mentally or written of the anchors that are weighing you down.
- What can you loosen your grip on? It may not be appropriate, easy or even healthy to let go of everything at once. Pick one or two things that you can back away from just a bit… spend less time talking to that perpetually negative friend, cut back on the sugar or late night binge watching. Pick just a couple of things and start to make a change.
- Add something new and healthy and fun! Maybe it’s time to start looking for a new job, making a career switch or starting that workout routine. Adding something new to your life automatically makes less time for old stuff. Throwing something fun in the mix is well… just fun! And it helps to divert your mind away from any overly dramatic feelings of loss.
- What can you let go of completely? We all have something…. keep it small! If you want to let go of debting, maybe start by just leaving your favorite credit card at home. Choose something you can stick to for at least 3 weeks, it takes this long for a new habit to take hold but it’s great to get that “win” and feeling of accomplishment.
- Don’t start today. Yes… really. Give yourself a couple of days to think about this; plan, strategize and then take action. But DO plan and then YES, do it! You’ll have allowed time for the temporary enthusiasm to wear off and real practical resolve to set in.
Many times the things that we are most attached to are our habits, our beliefs and especially our (bad) ideas about what life is suppose to look like. They keep us stuck and struggling and unhappy in spite of our desire for happier, healthier lives.
Clinging to something too tightly is almost always out of fear; Fear that we’ll make a wrong choice. Fear that we won’t know how to handle the new and different. Or fear of ridicule, rejection or failure. Ease into it, take small manageable steps, and never apologize for following your own path to a truer expression of yourself.
Small methodical actions allow you to manage challenges as they come up – trust yourself to do this. You’ve got this! And I’ve always got your back.
Make one decision, challenge one idea, take one action… and give yourself a little more freedom.