I spent my weekend cleaning out my apartment. I live in a small studio and when I moved to San Francisco from New York City, I got rid of piles of my belongings in my determination to live a simpler life. However, things seem to have a way of accumulating with the passage of time. Since I moved, I have been consciously pursuing more learning, experience and opportunity. Cleaning out my apartment made me realize that I also need to consciously let go of the old in order to make space for the new.
It's easy to think about this in relation to your apartment and possessions. I have a big closet, but it was at capacity -- some old items had to go. What about those things that cannot be observed -- the old feelings, the old stories and the old desires? Those things take up space and can weigh a heavy burden on our hearts. Your heart won't ever reach capacity, but it certainly deserves a cleanse from time to time, giving it the chance to shine even brighter.
Letting go consciously and frequently is perhaps the most important practice that we can undertake, especially when we let go of those things that we perceive to be "good" or "ideal" or "perfect." When you are happy, you are also often the most afraid. You are afraid that someone or something will take your happiness away from you, so you clench onto it with every fiber of your being; that fear then ruins the very experience that was making you happy. You might be sitting enjoying a beautiful evening and suddenly think that "I never want this moment to end." When you experience that thought, you know that it is the precise time to let go. If we do not consciously let go, we are at risk of attaching fear, guilt or shame to those experiences in our attempts to cling on to them. Letting go does not ruin your experience of that blissful moment -- it heightens it. It helps you to cherish it because you are aware of its ephemerality.
What happens to us if we do not let go? Imagine that you had a painful experience of rejection when you were young. You did not let it go then, so you carry it around with you twenty years later, a burden that subconsciously informs your choices and thus, your life. Every day that passes, the load increases a little bit more and a little bit more, until one day, you finally notice that it is crippling you.
In The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer writes:
There is a law that you will learn very early on in the game because it is an unavoidable truth. You will learn it early, but you will fall many times while trying to adhere to it. The law is very straightforward: When your stuff gets hit, let go right then because it will be harder later. It won't be easier if you explore it or play with it, hoping to take the edge off. It won't be easier to think about it, talk about it, or try to release only part of it at a time. If you want to be free to the core of your being, you must let go right away because it will not be easier later.
Imagine that you are experiencing the feeling of anger. Something brings that feeling to your attention and you notice it. At that moment, you have the choice of how to proceed: either you can further engage with that feeling or you can let it go.
The first step to letting go is to allow the feeling. Allow yourself to feel the anger without judgment, reserve or fear. Your first impulse is to resist the anger, because it feels like pain and human beings will do what they can to resist pain at all costs. Permit and even try to welcome whatever comes up for you.
The second step is to experience the feeling. When you resist the feeling, it makes it stronger. Resistance creates a magnet that attracts all of your thoughts and energy towards your anger, building up that ever-heavier load. The more energy that you direct towards that feeling, the harder it is to let go of it. Experience, but don't identify with, your anger.
The third step is to let the feeling run through you. Imagine that you are a peaceful river deep in the woods, when all of a sudden, a dam upstream bursts. Water starts to gush through your bends, overflowing onto the banks. That water is the feeling. Let it pass through you. If you try to stop it, it will simply cause yet another buildup that will eventually need to be burst.
The final step is to surrender the feeling. When the feeling has passed, pause and notice the change within you. There is freedom now that you are no longer resisting, now that you have let the water flow through, now that you have created space. At that moment, you can open up to even greater freedom by surrendering the feeling and the thoughts and beliefs that are associated with it.
The ultimate gift of this practice is that it teaches you, without question, that there are two parts within you: the part that is experiencing the anger, and the part that is helping you to let go of the anger. It is almost like there is a wiser and more loving presence within each of us that helps our younger selves to grow.
This process of consciously surrendering has truly changed my life; the more that I have been able to let go of, the more I have welcomed into my life.
And if all else fails, an exuberant singalong to Frozen's "Let It Go" is always a great release too!