“To let go does not mean to get rid of.
To let go means to let be.
When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own.”
Last week, during the ‘Meditation & Deep Rest’ session, we talked a little about ‘letting go.’ I shared the quote above by Jack Kornfield.
What Jack Kornfield says here really speaks to me about a mature and healthy relationship with letting go.
We can become consciously aware of something that no longer serves us and, yet, it has formed itself into a habitual pattern that we have become identified with as being part of who we are.
In truth, there is nothing we can hold on to, just moments after moments, after moments. These moments join together as the story of our lives, unique unto each of us. Our story is an important one. It is our story and it is a story to be told. Part of what makes this story beautiful is its texture; the way that it ebbs and flows, is coloured by shades of light and dark and tinted with life’s lessons that appear in a myriad of forms along the way, some ecstatic and joyful and others that see us journey to the depths of grief, sorrow and despair. The story beautiful because it shifts and changes and dances with life.
To stay fluid in this dance can be quite a challenge. For many of us, the mere thought of letting go of something that is so habitual we believe it to be a part of ourselves can throw up all sorts of uncomfortable emotions and feelings as well as a lot of fear about what will fill that space. We can know that it has to shift and change as life is calling it to, and yet how?
So often we logically understand that this habit has to go so we move immediately from being immersed in the habit to dropping it immediately and trying to fill the space with its opposite.
For example, say I am immersed in the habit of self punishing thoughts and behaviour when ever I make simple mistakes. One day I make a simple mistake, say I spill a cup of tea. My habit may be to turn towards myself with thoughts such as ‘you are so stupid, you can’t even drink a cup of tea properly!! Look what you have done!’ This may be my habit.
So, now that I am aware of it, I want to let it go, right?
So, the same situation happens and, this time because I am aware of the habit that I want to stop, instead of the self punishing thoughts I fill my head with ‘No, No, No… I am a good person! I am not stupid! I will clear this up and it is OK… everything is FINE!.’
There are a few reasons why this doesn’t work.
The first is that I haven’t acknowledged the part of myself that is self punishing. It’s a bit like lighting an incense stick to cover up a bad smell. As soon as the incense stops burning and the smoke fades, the smell is still there. So it’s important to actually deal with the smell itself.
Unless I actually believe the self affirming, positive thoughts I replace the negative ones with, they tend not work. In fact, they can be counter productive. They act like a subtle aggression towards the part of myself that I am trying to ‘let go of,’ therefore affirming the belief that I am not a good person after all.
To immediately cover a habitual pattern over with its opposite also sends a very confusing signal to the body and being. Using the example above, if I am not grounded in a true sense that I am a ‘good person’ then I am training myself to live in denial. I am whipping the carpet from under my own feet and replacing it with something I don’t fundamentally believe, under which is a large hole that I will at some point inevitably fall through. So part of me learns to switch off to what is real for me and rely on what is not. This can create all sorts of problems later on when the issue, that has been so far pushed down and covered over, rears its head again and I have no resources to deal with it because I have been so focused on keeping it down. I am likely to go down with it.
So, how do I ‘let go’ of this habitual way of being in a way that honours my body and being? Well, the answer will be different for us all in each moment but Jack Kornfield points to a wonderful place to begin: to ‘let it be.’
Over and over again in my own experience, I have found that unless I turn towards myself and allow whatever is there to be seen, I mean really seen, then it will raise it’s head over and over again until I do.
So, taking the example above again. When I spill the tea and the habitual thoughts start flowing through my mind about what a failure of a human being I am, instead of trying to cover them over, instead of trying to fill the void with thoughts of the opposite nature, I pause for a moment to remember my breath.
Then I do what needs done to clear up the spill (taking responsibility is important) and all the while, I may place a hand on my heart or wherever I feel drawn and offer an compassionate and unconditional witness to this voice of self punishment, along with a willingness to really feel the feelings that are underneath these thoughts.
It may seem counter intuitive to begin with, in fact it can often take a little help from an outer witness to begin with – such as a body intelligent psychotherapist or a psychotherapeutically intelligent body worker / movement practitioner.
I would highly recommend this kind of outer witness as we are not alone on our journey. We are all human and are all subject to the wild array of thought, feeling and emotion that colour our lives with life itself. This kind of therapeutic relationship can be especially helpful if the habitual pattern is highly destructive physically, mentally or emotionally to yourself or others.
It is important to seek an ally on the path who can hold you through this part of your journey and kindly reflect to you the areas you may not be able to hold yourself quite yet. This can be part of taking responsibility. This can be part of the willingness to ‘let be.’ Sometimes trying to do this alone can be too overwhelming and the support of another can be highly beneficial in bearing witness to the gentle letting go of whatever the habitual pattern may be.
When I start to truly ‘let be,’ which includes a willingness to feel all my resistance to letting be and all that arises around the habitual pattern I have recognised, then I have more access to the root of the habitual pattern itself. It reveals itself to me. If I try to hunt it down with a subtle view to ‘get rid of’ it, then it will likely hide away from me, much like an animal would. If I offer space to it and wait patiently then it will likely reveal itself to me, as an animal would be more likely to come to me if I waited kindly.
Then, when I have seen it, I can enter into relationship with it. A relationship of curiosity and interest. I can say to this part of myself, ‘Hello, I would like to get to know me if you will let me?’ And so it unfolds from there. In this way, as Jack Kornfield has stated, ‘when we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own.’
This takes time, inner commitment and a lot of willingness. Nature has its own timing. Nature is like an outer reflection of our inner world and, we too, have our own timing and, as all flowers emit different fragrances and blossom in different shapes and colours, we each have unique ways of unfolding and letting be.
When we learn to understand a habitual pattern, we may come to see that it initially formed for a very good reason, a survival mechanism perhaps. In this way, we can see that it is not there because there is something fundamentally wrong with us. The shame that may be around it can be worked with and a deep compassion, respect, love and even gratitude can form, all as part of the ‘letting go’ process. One day we may even come to bow to this part of ourselves that we once saw as a burden in the deepest gratitude and humility as it, too, has brought us to where we are in this moment, right now.
Grief, Sadness, Anger and Fear are all human emotions that we will all feel at some point in our lives and that contain great medicine. Equally are Joy, Happiness, Curiosity and Interest. Letting them be as they flow through us, dancing with them as they make music in our bodies and bring colour to the stories of our lives.
With thanks and a deep willingness to ‘let be.’
Here I am.
“Yes, it is all an invitation to presence. An invitation to be here. To love more deeply, let go more willingly. To appreciate what you have, not focus on what you lost. To feel the preciousness in every breath, every moment of contact with a friend, every experience of joy or sorrow, every shock that leads to an even deeper healing.
It is all yours. And it is a song. And you may not like some of the notes. But a song cannot go wrong. It can only move in unexpected ways, teach you unexpected things, drive you towards unexpected insights and forgiveness, invoke a willingness to open your heart…..
Allow yourself to break and you cannot be broken. Accept that you cannot accept – that is the portal.”
~ Jeff Foster
A great talk: http://www.tarabrach.com/letting-go-of-judgment/