The belief behind most of our stress.
Have you ever noticed that the lesson you need to learn most, finds it way into your experience 100x a day? Just me? Well, “Letting go,” is the simplest way to put it, even though the lesson feels BIG and HARD and EVERYWHERE. For the last few weeks, all of my sessions have touched on this point in one way or another. Conversations with friends. Posts I read on social. It was happening so often I actually had the thought, “Are they doing this on purpose?” What I’ve begun to understand is that when we treat emotions (especially the uncomfortable ones) like teachers and opportunities – everyday is a new classroom and life becomes school.
What if I can’t let go?
Letting go, as a concept, can be pretty confusing. It sounds simple enough, until you try to apply it. What am I letting go of? And idea? How can you hold an idea, let alone let one go? What if it’s something I really want? Or have wanted for a long time? What if I don’t know another way and what’s on the other side seems more terrifying than the bad thing I’m trying to make work?
If these questions feel at all familiar, it’s because they are. And it’s confusing as hell.
And yet, this is where the work is. The work meaning – finding peace, joy, contentment and all of the good feeling emotions we want to trade in for the crummy, scary, stressful ones.
The closest I’ve ever come to “letting go” is acceptance. Accepting people for who they are, instead of who I want them to be. Accepting that the past happened, instead of trying to rewrite it like a screenplay to watch my imagination play the newer/better version over and over. Accepting that even with my schedule, to-do list, and plans – I have no flipping clue what’s going to happen tomorrow.
Acceptance is vulnerable. Acceptance is brave. And after all of the spinning, fighting, criticizing, fact finding, and resisting…it’s all that’s left.
What if I can’t let go?
Before we get into how, or why. Trust me when I say – You don’t have to let go of anything. Not a single thing.
You have a choice. You always have a choice. But before you debunk this “letting go” idea all together. Before your beautiful brain starts to tell a story about how letting go is the same as sitting on your couch, having no ambition, never interacting in the world, and letting people walk all over you – ask yourself -> Do I feel free?
For me, and for so many of us, the answer is – no. No, we don’t. Not all of the time. Not everyday.
So where do we begin?
If I could sum up hundreds of sessions with clients, my own therapy, and everything in-between it would sound something like this:
Person: I can’t let go.
Person: Yes! And here is all the evidence why! Here’s why I’m right. Here’s why they’re wrong. Here’s why they’re to blame and should change. Here’s why they misunderstood me. Here’s why I have to do things this way. Here’s why I can’t change.
Curiosity: Really? Is that true.
Person: Uhhh, duh? Didn’t I just lay out ALL the facts for you? You’re starting to annoy me.
Curiosity: Good. We’re getting somewhere.
Uncomfortable emotion is the first big clue we’re headed in the right direction.
Curiosity: What’s really true?
Person: I don’t understand.
Curiosity: There’s what’s happened. There’s what you want to happen instead, the should’s, the need’s, the have to’s. Which is real? Which is true?
Person: I don’t like where this is going. (ps. This is usually the point in my own therapy where I slap my hand on the couch and say, “Damn it! Ugh. Can I just go back to complaining?” Because there’s a part of me that’s waking up to my own work.)
Curiosity: Take your time.
Person: What’s true? What’s true is what happened.
Curiosity: How do you feel when I believe it should (they should) be different?
Person: I feel stress, pain, bad about myself, bad about them, angry, afraid, lost. I run, hide, lash out, get critical, self-righteous, loud.
Curiosity: If you dropped your expectation of them, your rules, what would change?
Person: I’d probably feel more relaxed. But what if it never changes? What if they never change?
Curiosity: Then, you have a choice. You always did.
The now what is where the work continues. Whether in our minds, our relationships, our journals, or therapy. It can be scary to look at painful situations this way. It may lead us down a road we’d rather not go. It might mean we have an uncomfortable conversation, need to establish a boundary, or be still and wait. But isn’t having a choice, better than none? Maybe so. Maybe not. There’s no pressure. But time and time again, when I’m still, when I listen, and when I act from a place of curiosity – I feel so much better.
I invite you to give it a try. See what happens, and if it doesn’t work for you…Let it go.