Thursday, 3 July 2014

Letting go is not easy, but it can be easier

Lately, I've been writing a bit about letting go and living in the moment. It seems that popular culture has also caught on to the idea; there's even a popular Disney song written around it ('Let it go', from Frozen). I thought that it was time to clarify what letting go really means. 

The idea of letting go seems simple enough. Just let it go, right?? Just throw the thought aside, and forget about it, occupy yourself with something else so that you can block out the thought, right? How difficult can it be? 
Well, if it was that simple, why are so many people still suffering? Why does the same thought and pain haunt you over and over, when you thought you had already 'let it go'? Why do you still dream about the same event or person, over and over?
What I'm trying to say is, letting go isn't easy at all! If it was as easy as breathing or throwing something into the trashcan, there wouldn't be so many articles and books written about it =p So don't beat yourself up if you have trouble letting go of a negative situation, emotion, or loss. These things take time. But I can show you how to make it easier though. (well, *easier*, but it's still going to take a lot of determination and practice on your part).

First, acknowledge what you are feeling. Don't deny it. Denying your feelings, throwing it to the back of the mind, will only make them surface when you least expect it. Remember those dreams where you wake up in cold sweat over a trauma you thought you had forgotten? Or those times you're just going about your day, and suddenly a bad memory hits you, and ruins your day (because you obsessed over it after)? 
So, yes. Don't deny your feelings, please. Be aware of what you are feeling, when the thought arises. BUT awareness is not equal to obsession. Obsessing over the thought, and going down the spiral of thoughts that lead from it, is NOT the way to do it. Just note that you are feeling that emotion, or having that thought, and label it. If you feel sad, label it "ok I am feeling sad". If you feel angry, label it "ok I am feeling angry". Being aware of your emotional state is key here. Be aware of, and note your body's response to the emotion you are currently feeling. Is your heart beating faster? Are you starting to sweat? When you become aware of the emotion, it is more likely to subside by itself. That, and not thinking about or wondering where the thought came from. Just acknowledge that the thought came by, and bring your focus to the present. Focus on your breathing. Notice how your chest rises and falls with each breath. This brings your awareness back to the present, and out of your head. When the thought is done sitting in your brain, it will get bored and leave. You don't have to do anything to entertain it. 
You can even thank the thought for coming by. In fact, you can use the opportunity to do some self-reflection. Why were you triggered by that thought? Are you still angry with the person because of what they did, or what you expected them to do/not do? Why do you have that expectation?

Which leads to my next point about expectations, surrender and acceptance. The process of letting go also involves surrender to the present moment, and accepting the past and the present. Accept that what happened, had happened. All that matters is the here and now. Live in the present moment, because that's all you have, and ever will have. What happens in the future, is out of your control. What other people think and act, is out of your control. Learn to accept that. I'm not saying it's easy, we're all control freaks inside, though not everyone admits it. We all have an ego to feed, a sense of self that we have to defend and protect. But, what are we really protecting? Are we in mortal danger, or are we only protecting our pride? Why do we need to protect our ego and pride? You need to realize that nothing other people do is truly personal or targeted at you. How they act, is a result of their own ego/pride, and derives from their own woundedness. And, as I said, should you try to control that? You are not them. Most likely they aren't even aware of their own behavior, it's all a reflex. Which you will do too, if you choose to be reactive to them on first instinct. You can choose to react, or you can choose to not react. (I wrote about this earlier, please read the linked article about why you have a choice). You can rise above the situation by being aware.
Acceptance and surrender means you acknowledge that a certain event happened. And this simple act of awareness, having that time gap between acknowledgement and reaction/non-reaction, is the second key to letting go. The third key is, managing your expectations. Do you have an expectation of how people should act? Do you expect them to act like how you would? Why do you expect that? More so, why do you have expectations at all? Don't you realize that the act of having expectations alone is causing you suffering? Why not accept things and life as they are? Surrender to the moment.
Surrendering to the moment does not mean you do not attempt to improve the situation you are in though. It simply means you are able to remove any reactivity from the ego from the situation. From the resulting state of clarity (because your mind is not fuzzy from all the messy emotions), you are able to decide objectively the best action for the situation. If it is an unpleasant situation, you can find ways to improve it, or remove yourself from it. Frustration, regret, anger and anxiety does not help anyone, don't you realize? Only calmness and a peaceful mind is able to find the best solution. 
Surrender is not the nemesis of improvement. Negativity is. You accept that you are in an less-than-optimal situation, and you do what is needed to get yourself out of it. But don't harbor expectations of what the outcome from your effort will be. The absence of expectation regarding the outcome makes you more receptive to what really is happening, therefore you respond better to it.

I have also heard some people say that the fastest way to let go, is to hate the situation or the other person. Seriously, do you really think harboring negative thoughts to erase another negative thought will make you feel better? Does hate make you smile, or give you peace of mind? Why not accept people as the wounded and imperfect individuals as we all are, and forgive? Compassion and kindness work better, do they not? If you don't believe it, just try it for yourself. 

In short,
  1. Acknowledge the situation, your emotions, any thought that arises. But don't think more into it. Or even better (when you are calm), use this as a learning opportunity.
  2. Live in the moment, accept things as it is. Stop living in your head. See what is truly happening. Stop taking everything personally. Not everyone is out to get you.
  3. Practice compassion. Be kind, both to yourself and others. Kindness is what makes the world a better place. Life is hard enough as it is, why make it harder?

If you are not plagued by trauma, but have a friend who is, and is trying to let go of something, you can help them by also acknowledging their situation. Please don't tell them to just forget about it. As mentioned, denial only offers temporary relief. It's like putting a Band-Aid over a bleeding wound and thinking it will heal by itself without applying antiseptic. Acknowledgement and eventual acceptance is a permanent healer. Sit by them as they grief, help them through the process. That would be one of the greatest gift you can give them. Though of course, getting them out of the house to have some fun wouldn't hurt. Help them see that there is still a wonderful world out there. But when they need to talk, let them talk. If they need to cry, let them cry. 
Here's an article about this: 

Letting go isn't easy. We all have things we care about, and to feel is only human, but they do not have to imprison us. And feeling down is not stupid or silly. Letting yourself feel down forever is, though. Just give yourself time, don't beat yourself up over it. It's all about the process. One day you will wake up and realize the pain is gone, and wonder why you were even hung up over such a small matter, when the world is such a vast and beautiful place. Nothing is too small to ignore, but nothing is too big to hinder your life. Till that happens, all one can do is try, and try again. Life can only get better. =)
And remember, nothing is permanent. The world is constantly changing, so why not you? Don't live in the past.

I cannot remove your pain, I can only hope to provide a guiding light to help you with my words. But whoever and wherever you are, my heart goes out to you and your pain, and I wish whole-heartedly that you will be whole again. Till then, be strong, my friend. I wish you my love. 

Side note:
Living in the moment not only helps remove suffering, it also gives you a sense of peace and joyful calmness. Do try it, it's good practice =)

p.s. Thanks to E, my loyal reader, for his question that sparked this post, and Kat and Eckhart Tolle for the inspiration for most of the material written above.

No comments:

Post a Comment