Reading time: 4 minutes
Several years ago as I was sitting in my Naturopath-turned-spiritual-advisor’s office, he told me I needed to work on letting go. I was confused. Letting go? Sounded like a nice concept, a buzzword I had heard thrown around. But in reality, I had no idea WTF letting go meant.
So I asked him, “What exactly do you mean, how do I let go?” The answer wasn’t as simple as I had hoped. He told me letting go is accepting what is and loving people for who they are and who they aren’t. Radiating love without requiring love, engaging with the universe, and trusting that obstacles are put in my way to help me grow. He said if I could learn how to grow then I would “get it”.
Okaaay then. The words came out sounding like a mix between Yoda logic and Shakespeare language.
I explored the concept in my journal, with questions and notes to self:
Feb 26, 2013: How does one let go, yet still make decisions and move forward?
Feb 28, 2013: What exactly am I letting go of?
March 1, 2014: Grace – accept what you have, things just flow
March 15, 2014: Michelle’s 10 Big Ideas. #6 Meditate daily, even if for 2 minutes. Mantras. #8 Radiate love without requiring love. Be love. Be the light.
April 2, 2014: Surrender – let go of outcome
April 7, 2014: Learning how to grow, how to let go, how to deal with stress differently. Faced with perfect obstacles as we move from Chicago to Zurich. Am starting to understand what letting go means!
The first step in embracing a new concept is to understand it intellectually. I came to understand that the easiest, least cryptic way to explain letting go is that it is simply a change in perception. It is an increase in awareness of how we react to situations and the conscious release of control over our life.
This has never been more important or more valuable in my life as it has this past year of being by my Mom's side during her brain cancer journey.
The words "release of control" alone might be enough to induce a feeling of anxiety deep within us. While most of us are not conscious of it, the majority of us are so used to seeking the feeling of control, whether real or perceived. When we feel in control of our life, there is a sense of order. That sense of order can give us the feeling that the future is a known, safe place.
The opposite of feeling in control is the feeling that life is out of control; you are helpless and life is happening to you. It is easy to fall into the role of victim when feeling a lack of control, blaming others or feeling that life is unfair. We might hang on to the idea that life would be so much better if the external situation (e.g. new job, new partner, more money, etc.) would change.
Through time I learned that the second step in understanding what letting go means is to feel it.
If the practice of letting go is as foreign to you as it was to me, feeling it might mean that a lot of internal work is required to work through old emotions and change ingrained habits that are no longer serving you.
To feel it we have to start becoming acutely aware of how we react to situations that we perceive as challenging. We need to be self reflective and honest with where it is in life we are trying to gain control, and why. We need to start thinking about how we could look at old situations with new lenses.
Letting go feels like looking at a situation that would have previously evoked stress and frustration, and instead feeling calm and level-headed.
Letting go feels like a huge sigh of relief because the only moment that matters is now. Anxiety about the future, and resentment, longing or sadness from the past no longer sit in the driver's seat of emotions.
Letting go feels like you are looking at that same situation with fresh eyes, as if you were a bird soaring above the situation and seeing it exactly for what it is, without judgement or a running commentary in your head.
Letting go feels like being completely aware of the emotions a situation evokes, working through them, and then setting them free so they no longer weigh you down.
Letting go feels like acceptance of what is. It feels like a mixture of faith and positivity while still remaining neutral.
To be honest, letting go feels like control, because we realise we are in control of our reactions to our experiences, rather than feeling that those situations control us.
So if it feels so freeing, why is it so hard to let go? Part of it has to do with the lack of control we felt as children, as the adults in our world directed most of our daily lives. We grow into adults who either recreate those same familiar situations where we feel we are controlled, or we do the opposite and try to exert control over others.
Most of us didn’t learn tools about how to work through and release emotions, so we hold them unconsciously within us and refer to whatever coping mechanisms we learned. Distraction, emotional eating, alcohol, physical violence, yelling, blaming or avoidance.
Another reason it is hard to let go is because of fear. Fear of the lack of control. Fear of things not going our way. Fear of being perceived as weak. Fear of leading a passive life. This last point was one I struggled with. How does one live intentionally, run a business, make plans or dream while still letting go? How does one let go and still stand up for what she believes in?
It took me a while to notice this dance between the future and present, between making things happen and letting them happen. The dance is a very similar one between fighting for what we believe in and accepting things as they are. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, one can be in the driver seat of her own life and yet still let go of control.
The first key is to continue setting intentions and making plans, doing what needs to be done each day, but at the same time being completely open to the path of how each day unfolds. The second key is to fight for what you believe in, but become detached to the ups and downs along the way, as well as to the outcome.
Letting go of control of the future also requires one to deal with feelings of anxiety about the future. To accept that the future is unknown and that is okay. We will be able to deal with whatever comes our way, even if that means leaving this human life and entering the spiritual realm.
I once read that if we suffer now because we are worried about something unfavorable happening in the future, and then that event does happen, we suffer not once but twice. If it doesn’t happen, we have suffered for no reason.
These days I try not to suffer twice, but do my best to actively deal with anxiety, whether that be through yoga, meditation, journaling, or whatever releases tension and brings me back to the present moment. This is a lifelong practice, something we continually need to work on, especially when life's greatest challenges are at our doorstep.
I wrote this journal post many months ago but felt today was the time to post it, as today I need another reminder to let that shit go - let go of the anxiety about what is going to happen next week or next month with my Mom, let go of the questions of why this all happened and if I have done enough, let go of any frustrations relating to anyone else's words or actions. Because right now I am exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to do, in this very moment.
Michelle Borner, a mom on 23 missions, blogs about her Deep Thoughts on a wide range of topics from parenting to conscious living to lessons from brain cancer.
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