As a young woman, I saw myself as someone who did not get angry, imagining that I was the kind, caring person I wished to be. I could hardly have been more naïve!
Have you ever noticed yourself holding on to difficult experiences? How the mind can cling on to disappointment or resentment with thoughts that churn round and round? These are not happy experiences and it is a relief to finally be free of them. The ability to let go of negative experiences is central to leading a fulfilled, happy life. We are all able to do this, and have probably done so many times. But we could also benefit from cultivating this life skill further. Here are three suggestions to help us let go and be free.
First, we can let go in the body. As we move around and live our lives, our muscles contract and release. When we are stressed, our muscles contract more strongly and do not let go so easily. Over time, we develop patterns of tension in the body. By being mindful of the body, we become aware of tensions we may not have noticed before. We can be curious about the sensations. What do they actually feel like? As we explore contracted areas, the sensations shift and change of their own accord. Simple awareness has a transformative effect. We may find that we can breathe into a knotted area of the body, untangling little by little. We can learn to soften and release these areas of contraction. This where practice comes in. Tensions develop from habitual patterns of behaviour. And we may need to develop new patterns to counteract the old. Walking, yoga or other activities can be a good start. Or we may choose to seek help by arranging a massage or some other form of therapy.
Second, we can let go emotionally. Most of us have grown up believing there are certain emotions we should not have. We may have been belittled for appearing weak, or shamed for expressing anger. So, we try not to get upset or to show our annoyance; we hold on to these emotions. Yet we all experience the full range of human emotions. To let go, first we need to own our emotions and be willing to be open about them. The process of owning emotions can be uncomfortable. It challenges how we view ourselves. It requires a willingness to acknowledge and feel them. It may not be easy to stay with the pain of feeling frustrated, or despairing. But it is one step towards letting go; to being a little freer from their grip.
As a young woman, I saw myself as someone who did not get angry and imagined I was the kind, caring person I wished to be. I could hardly have been more naive! As I delved into my states of mind, I was horrified to discover how judgemental and self-righteous I could be. Even downright malicious. I was not the 'nice' person I imagined myself to be! I needed to adjust my identity. Though unpleasant, this maturing self-awareness allowed a dropping away of delusions. It was a good start to at least be aware of these reactions. I could see that this unreal idea of myself was not serving me, or indeed, the people around me.
Third, we can let go of our view of how things “should” be. These are beliefs we hold that have developed through life's experiences. Such beliefs often stay under the radar. But they surface when life comes along and challenges them. I sometimes notice a sense of outrage when life is not giving me what I expect from it. As if I have a firm belief that I should be completely healthy, successful in all my endeavours and treated well at all times. Even the briefest examination of the human condition contradicts these beliefs. Yet this appears to have little impact. Do I actually believe that I should somehow be immune, as Hamlet says, to 'the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to'? That I am somehow different or special?
So, when things get hard, I cry, "Why me!" when the more helpful response might be, "Why not me!”. This requires patience. The word relates to suffering and suggests a view that accepts the realities of life. This does not mean to give up. The practice of patience allows us to see how things are rather than how we believe they ought to be.
“If you let go a little you will have a little happiness, If you let go a lot you will have a lot of happiness, If you let go completely you will be free.” AJAAN CHAH
For a short while, I was privileged to glimpse what this great Thai meditation master meant. I was on a meditation retreat and had been feeling low. The persistence of an ongoing health condition left me feeling discouraged. My 98-year-old mother now barely recognised me. I was grieving. It was winter and the whole world seemed grey. Then, during a period of meditation, I let go. I let go of everything. I had no idea what would happen with my health, but somehow that was OK. It was OK that my Mum didn't recognise me and was nearing the end of her life. I knew with complete certainty that none of us live forever, myself included. I sensed what it would be like to die: to let go absolutely. In the moment, this was not scary, but blissful. It was the most total release I had ever known. It was true and right. There was nothing to hold onto. This is how things are. There is no alternative version. It was as though a portal opened. I glimpsed a vista: everything arising, passing away and arising again. A great flow of life, without limit. Afterwards, I recalled Julian of Norwich's famous words:
"And all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well".
The experience did not last long. But something of that quality of peace and reassurance stays with me. Letting go does lead to freedom.