“If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace.” ~Ajahn
Wouldn’t it be nice if we let go like trees? In fall they simply turn gorgeous colors and drop their leaves. There’s no fear, agony, embarrassment or angst as the foliage that fed them turns into mulch. Bare and naked they stand strong and ready for winter clothed in complete acceptance.
For us letting go is a completely different story. We’re human! We hold onto everything: Anger at those who’ve hurt us, discouragement for setbacks, frustration for failures; and anxiety over EVERYTHING and anything that isn’t working in our lives. To make matters worse, as I discussed in a recent blog post we ruminate chewing over in our minds what we’re holding on to.
Whether it’s a small snafu (S&*^, I made a stupid mistake that thousands of my followers saw!), a major tragedy that defines you or a flaw in yourself or another, letting go takes intention, attention and practice. It’s one of the major challenges we all face. However, while our problems and pain give us a sense of identity the negativity we hold on to shapes our actions in the present. We have two choices: Hold on and remain powerless and stuck or release our unhealthy attachments and move on.
“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
One of the hardest things to let go of is anger. Prior to my divorce, my ex husband and I fought all the time. And then we repeated the exact same fight again and again! The details weren’t important. Our fights are always about the same thing—the pain of disconnection, which occurs when fear or anxiety in one of us sets off a sense of lack in the other.
In Chinese astrology, I’m a tiger and my ex is a monkey, and our fights were ugly. What Eckhart Tolle refers to as the ‘pain-body‘ got triggered. I felt possessed like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. All our old stuff surfaced: Anger, frustration and hate followed by an overwhelming cloud of shame, blame, sorrow, despair, sadness and despondency. I said and did things I regretted, and later wondered: How could I feel such intense hatred towards someone that I supposedly loved?
Fortunately, I reined in my ‘Shadow Self’, the dark part of my psyche in need of healing that ironically wanted to keep fighting. While it was hard to accept and let go of the ugliness I’d created, I realized holding on to anger is dangerous. Anger is like a hot coal we pick up to throw at another person. As Buddha put it, “Anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
At the heart of ‘letting go’ is resistance, the wish that our moment-to-moment experience was different than it is. Our inability to let go causes tremendous suffering. Pain is inevitable, but holding on to pain creates misery. Fortunately, there are powerful practices that can help you let go so you can move on.
Here are some suggestions:
- Set an intention
Make a firm decision to let go of the people, places, things, events, pain, resentment… that you’ve been holding on to. As Wayne Dyer explains, intention is a force in the universe that allows the act of creation to take place. In the case of my fight with my husband, healing could only start once I decided to stop squabbling.
- Create space for healing
Time outs aren’t just for children. Adults need them too especially when we’re letting go of tough emotions. Asking for forgiveness is great, but before you start the mea culpas give yourself space and compassion so that you can meet some of your unmet needs. Ask yourself: What do I need physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually to heal? Then give yourself what you need.
- Open to the pain
You can’t practice forgiveness without opening to pain and validating it. Allow yourself to experience how hurt you feel. This is where self-compassion, treating yourself like you would a good friend, really counts. Try practicing hand-on-heart and let yourself cry. Tears help wash away pain.
Emotions are experienced as physical sensations, so try to locate where in your body you’re feeling the pain. Once you locate the pain see if you can soften and then soothe that area of your body. Then just allow the physical sensation associated with the emotion to be.
Once you’ve contacted the pain you’re feeling and started to heal you can forgive yourself and others. Try to understand what made the other person act so badly. Was he or she feeling run down or under a lot of stress? Recognize that everyone makes mistakes it’s part of being human.
- Get spiritual
Pray, meditate, draw tarot cards, dance under the stars, walk in the woods. Do something that grounds you and connects you with your soul. Getting in touch with who you are on the deepest level makes it much easier to let go and find peace and contentment.
Why let go? When you hold on to pain and stale feelings and beliefs about the past you limit your effectiveness and happiness in the present. The good news is that every moment is an opportunity to let go.
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Can’t feel anger. Numb feelings and emotions. 😔
Anger is a difficult emotion for many people especially women. We’re taught to curb our anger and dismiss the legitimacy of our feelings. Unfortunately, when we don’t express our anger it comes out in other ways. We may stuff our feelings by overeating or turn the anger towards ourselves. If you can I’d highly recommend exploring your difficulty feeling anger with a good therapist.
Great post! I particularly love what you said in the beginning about how trees still stand proud without their leaves in the winter months ( I have a bit of a thing about trees these days!). I have also found anger particularly difficult to let go of. Most of the time I feel I’m making progress but just recently I’ve noticed myself getting really annoyed when people disagree with me – not even big arguments but when I think I’m clearly right and they don’t get it, I get all riled up and find myself going over it in my mind afterwards -more letting go practice, I guess! And I definitely I agree that meditation and walks in nature help- getting out and about in nature is something else I need to do more of. Thanks for the tips!
Thanks, Louise for your kind words. Glad you liked the post. Aren’t trees the best. There’s so much we can learn from their gentle presence.
Noticing that you are angry actually is a sign of progress. I know when I’m working on changing an aspect of myself I start noticing it all the time, which can get pretty annoying and feel like I’m doing the behavior more, not less. See if you can notice where in the body you experience anger. It’s usually experienced like fight or flight, you’re muscle tense up and you feel energized. Then try to take a few deep breaths and relax that part of your body. You can also rehearse this by thinking about something that makes you angry and then relaxing.
Setting an intention is really powerful. I’ve set a pretty strong one not to fight with my husband. It just gets us no where.
Be well and thanks again.
Great suggestions on letting go of unneeded weight! I found that writing letters to people I was angry at (and burning them when I was finished) helped me to get over the initial sting. It also gave me a chance to read my feelings and get perspective on the situation. Often when we are angry, little things that don’t matter much are further fuel for our fire. I make it a habit never to talk when I am truly angry. Instead, I ask for permission to return to the conversation later when I have a clear head.
Fabulous suggestion. Rituals are really powerful especially when it comes to letting things go. Love your reference to weight. I’ve been a dietitian for 23 years and letting go of weight on all levels is so important. Admire your discipline to not talk when you’re angry. It’s hard when the other person wants to keep engaging you. Thanks so much for sharing.
Thank you so much. Great tips. I get triggered too especially around feeling disconnected. We all need to feel connected to our loved ones but sometimes we don’t and that can be very frustrating. Self compassion is so helpful. Thank you xxxxxxx
Hi Zoe, you are very welcome and thanks for sharing especially your experience with self-compassion. The issue you raise about feeling disconnected and how frustrating is a great example of the common humanity element of self-compassion, i.e. something we all experience. Be well, Dr. Ellen