For the month of December 2016 we will be “Practicing Letting Go” in our mindful wellness online community. Click here to learn more about practicing with us (new topics every month).
What does letting go mean to you, and why is it a valuable skill?
Renown meditation teacher Jack Kornfield often tells the story of a soldier who attended a mindfulness-based stress reduction class to help him manage anger.
As the story goes, the man was later waiting in line at a supermarket. A woman in front of him was holding a baby and had only a single item. The man felt his anger rise, believing the woman should have chosen the express lane. When her turn arrived, she began chatting with the supermarket clerk and handed her the baby.
As he waited, the man’s anger grew. In the past he might have flown off the handle, shouted at the woman, but he was able to see and manage the changing nature of the situation and his responses to it.
When his turn came, he was able, with some effort, to say “cute kid” or something like it, and the supermarket clerk replied, “oh do you think so? That’s my boy. You see my husband was killed in combat and I’ve had to go back to work. My mom brings him in once a day so I can see him.”
To me, this story is poignantly illustrative of the peace of letting go.
The man was able to see his thoughts and feelings arise, and let go of the urge to act on them. By doing so, he was open to something else. As a result, he was able to prevent the pain that angry actions could cause to himself and others.
He was able to release the certainty of his perspective on things. In doing so, he was able to let the situation be as it was without acting to control or change it. In the end he was able to hold an entirely new perspective.
He was able to let go of identification with anger. One way we get stuck in negative patterns is by forming beliefs about ourselves or others, as in I’m an angry person or she’s a rude jerk. When we can let go of these beliefs or identities, we find that it is more accurate that experiences and perceptions are impermanent. Anger comes and goes. Perceptions are limited based on who is doing the thinking. When we can separate our thoughts and feelings from “the truth” or “who I am,” we have more ability to make choices about how we respond.
He was able to let go of barriers between himself and others, like judgment, righteousness, emotional reactivity, and instead experience the gift of connection and shared humanity.
What if we were all so skilled at letting go?
What if we could see ourselves with clarity, release self-judgment, reduce our reactivity to emotional triggers, challenge negative beliefs about ourselves and others and experience deeper peace and connection in relationships with anyone?
Letting go takes practice, but it can give us this kind of freedom.
There are many ways to practice letting go. All of them begin with a willingness to get curious.
Tools that can serve you well:
Mindful pause. When life gives us a lot to react to or think about, it can be very hard to interrupt our own energy even for a moment. Practicing “mindful pauses,” in which we learn to stop and notice ourselves in the here and now, relax a little, find our breath and open our awareness can be the single most powerful tool in your toolbox. From a mindful pause, you can expand into longer periods of mediation, strengthening the skill of this practice.
RAIN. This acronym describes a process through which we can begin to work through letting go of difficult emotions and limiting beliefs about ourselves or others. Working with any part of this process can be valuable, and the process leads quite naturally to the next step.
Turn your attention toward what is happening inside. It can be useful to notice thoughts, feelings and body sensations. See if you can notice what is happening with care, curiosity and non-judgment. You may notice the interplay in your experience between a feeling (like worry) and a thought (like I’m going to be late) and a body sensation (like tightness).
Allow the experience to be just as it. You may notice a wish to reject or push away unpleasant experience, or cling tightly to pleasant ones. Simply notice and observe.
I – Investigate
Inquire more deeply, and with kindness, into your experience. You might notice the changing nature of the experience. You might ask questions like “what do I need?” or “what is this feeling asking for?”
N – Non-Identification
Non-identification is a natural result of the previous three steps. Notice that when you have turned your curiosity toward sensations, thoughts, feelings and other impermanent experiences, you can realize freedom from the belief that these experiences form a limited identify that defines you.
These are just a couple of tools to explore at any time, and we know that the more regularly these are practiced, even for a few minutes, the easier and more beneficial they become.
Our Mindful Wellness Online Community provides an opportunity to explore the practice of topics like “letting go” actively in real life.
Feel free to join us in practicing the art of growing well, together.
To learn more about these practices and ways to connect with support that takes you to the next level, set up a free consultation for one-on-one support with Jen or check out our next offering of The Peaceful Plate Program.
If you’d like to explore the power of online community to support your everyday wellbeing, join our free Mindful Wellness Practice Community on Facebook.