Most of us have had the experience of hearing a friend, teacher, or family member say “It’s easy, you just have to let go!”. As if it were so easy! If you’ve had that experience, than you are probably familiar with the consequent anger and frustration, and maybe with a defiant answer like “It’s not that easy!” or “But I do want to let go!”. The truth of the story is, we really do not know how to let go. We also don’t know what part of us is holding on.
Why should we let go?
There are many life situations in which holding on and resisting are the source of suffering. When we are learning something new, we may get stuck when practicing and practicing in order to get something “just right”, or it may happen during a discussion with our partner, when our body tenses up and blocks us from being able to understand and make ourselves understood, or we may carry an old grudge or fear or the inability to forgive our family into our current relationship – and all just because we cannot let go! The past is the past, there’s nothing to be done about it now – if it just were that easy!
We sense that we are holding on to something because an experience keeps repeating, or because of tension in the body or physical reactions, or because of emotions that keep coming back to us. But we actually hold on to nothing but – an idea. The idea that the weekend with our partner has to go in a certain way, that we have been hurt and suffer because of our past, that we are not adequate, that we have to control things, that we need a job in order to survive, that we need a partner in order to be happy, that we have to make sure that a certain fear does not become real…. I could go on forever. The ideas that we hold on to are expectations, wishes and desires, and on the other hand, the avoidance of suffering. And now stop for a minute: What are ideas that you cannot let go of?
So, holding on has to do with wanting a certain experience, and rejecting another. That is our mental pattern: We only want the “positive” experiences as success, joy, relaxation, and reject the “negative ones”, such as anxiety, the inability to breath, or not reaching our goals. It’s too bad that many times, by rejecting something, we actually create just that experience, we give it our energy, and it gets power over us.
Why is it so difficult?
It is hard to let go of those ideas because they have a lot to do with who we are – our sense of self. They reflect what we want out of life and who we want to be, and thus lead us right into the distress of being one thing and wanting to be another. Holding on to “negative” ideas also has a certain kind of comfort: Having had a hard childhood may not be nice, but it is familiar and that is who we believe to be. Believing that we are never good enough may not be helpful, but it is how we have always functioned. We may experience it as hard to let go, because “Who are we, when we are not, what we are used to?” Who would you be if you were not angry at your partner or trying hard to get, or trying to appear better in your job than you believe yourself to be? Who would you be or become, if it were ok to just be as you are? Who would you be if you let go of wanting to control, if you surrendered to the fact that maybe you will fail? Probably, all these questions bring up your resistance and you mind is now saying, “no, I cannot let go of controling and fighting, because else (…).”
Basic fears, control and security
Behind all of the things we “cannot let go of” are a few basic fears, the fear of being separated, dying, being poor and suffering, being alone, not being worthy. So we need to hold on to our illusion of control, to the idea, that we can influence everything that is happening, and that with enough effort, we can be what we want to be and reach our goal. So as long as we can think that we are in control, we experience a sense of security. Many times that gets us into situations where we have to keep doing – even if it’s doing the same thing that didn’t work before, over and over again. And then we get frustrated and stressed and exhausted, and finally may feel the need to let go, to step out of the pattern.
And what’s the best way to get over a fear? To stop resisting it, to feel it, to allow it to be… and to recognize that fear is never real, it is only a projection about the past or the future.
The sea of life: Staying on the crest of the wave
If life is the sea, then letting go of control and letting go of an idea means staying on the crest of a wave. It means not giving your attention to the past, and what you have lost, and how unfair something was, or to how things have to go badly NOW because they did in the past. It also means, not obsessing with the future and what you want it to be, nor with what you don’t want it to be. There is no use worrying about future failure or filling your mind with the obsessive thought of HAVING TO MAKE IT. The other day, I found a great quote about this from Paulo Cuelho:
Don’t expect your genius to be discovered; do what you must do because it gives you joy. Don’t expect your love to be accepted. Love because it justifies your life.
Doesn’t that mean: Go to the job interview or take an emotional risk with your partner, because it is what you have to do. It is your life, the way you have chosen for yourself. Open up or say what you want because it is what you are in that moment – no matter, what anyone will think about it.
So staying at the crest of the wave it is really about being in the moment, and accepting, or even loving ANY experience you may encounter. The secret for letting go is accepting the chance of suffering, or of experiencing something that you may not want. That is what makes you free. Being willing to feel something that you have previously discarded as “negative” is what makes you free. When you “own your weakness”, than you are not vulnerable. When you accept yourself even in the moment of not being perfect, then there is nothing to fight, nothing to control, and nothing remains for you to let go of. And that’s when good things can come to you easily, when life is positive, when you can be perfectly at peace.
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