There are some words and phrases that are hard for me to hear. It's hard for me when someone else says them, and it's hard for me when I say them to myself. Such are, for example, the critical words "why?" and "should" (or – "you should," not to mention "you should have"). But probably the most annoying statement is: "let it go".
Take a moment to recall a situation in which you experienced release, a true letting go. How does it feel? Do you notice a lightness in the shoulders? Maybe a pleasant flow in the hands? An internal movement? Relaxation, freedom?
You may say – yes, and it's a wonderful feeling! Why not aspire to it? After all, releasing what is oppressive, limiting or blocking, as any Zen sage will tell you, is the sure recipe for happiness and health.
Certainly, the release is pleasant and healthy, but the command (and good advice is a kind of command) of "let it go" does not take us there. Not only does it not work, but this thing that we are plotting to release — stress, limiting beliefs, traits like perfectionism and emotions like guilt or 'unpleasantness' — doesn't really go anywhere. It will wait for us around the corner and very soon will return, even bigger, to bite us.
In fact, "let it go" – as an order – carries with it a kind of internal contradiction, and provokes opposition. Like an employer who will tell you that he is about to "let go" of one of his employees. It's very nice to call it "letting go," but if we want to be honest, let's call it by its name: expel, fire, eliminate.
This thing that we are plotting to release — stress, limiting beliefs, traits like perfectionism and emotions like guilt or 'unpleasantness' — doesn't really go anywhere. It will wait for us around the corner and very soon will return, even bigger, to bite us
"Go to bed already!"
I will give another kind of example. After an overnight flight from hell and a trip on a bumpy road full of delays, I arrived at my desired destination in a small and charming town in Italy. For the three hours prior to this, all I wanted was to sleep, and when we got the room keys it was clear that the next few hours would be devoted to this, so that we could enjoy the rest of the wonderful day. But as may happen to you every now and then, sleep is reluctant to come. All the events of the night and day were still felt within me, accompanied by anger and worry that they refused to leave, and alongside them were thoughts, questions and plans that filled my head in disorder. "Sleep!" I said to myself, "You must sleep!" All the logical arguments and all the internal assertiveness I exercised were to no avail. Everything that was there refused to leave, clinging tightly and fighting whoever wanted to get rid of it. Out of nervousness about not being able to sleep, I was even more awake.
No single part of me will get up and go just because I told it to; just because another part of me does not want it there. But this is especially true when the chasing part is interested in relaxation, release and freedom. How will we receive peace and tranquility if a war has just broken out? If just now the annoying thoughts, the disturbing feelings, or the oppressive sensations received evacuation orders and were declared enemies of the people?
War, barricading, and takeover
Every annoying thought, every disturbing emotion and every oppressive feeling are a part of me. Just like the other part, the one who calls them names ("annoying," "disturbing," "oppressive") and wants them to disappear. And the more annoying, harassing, or oppressive they are, the more we know that there is something they want to warn us about, something that worries or frightens them. And oh, no, they are definitely not going to give up this important task of protecting us. And the more some of us, or people around us, suggest we let them go (or calm down, or flow, or not take it to heart, or ignore), the more they will arm themselves, fortify themselves, and attack.
Take, for example, the famous maternal guilt: "Don't feel guilty!" My good friends tell me when I confess to them my failure to function or a secret desire that is inconsistent with the best interests of the children. They want to say: Guilt is what hurts you, it is unnecessary, you'd feel much better without it. And they're probably right, but it doesn't help. I have an inner voice that says "I'm to blame," and until I listen to it and give it attention, it will not go anywhere, at most it will be a little quiet (a kind of tactic) and then it will come back.
My friends (and sometimes I) fear that guilt will take over me. That I won't see all the good that I do, the famous half-full glass, or that I won't see that I deserve a vacation without the children – they see everything much better than I can, from the outside.
But inside that voice exists. And it will take over me only if I try to eradicate it , only if it feels it must take over me, because otherwise I will get rid of it.
"Don't feel guilty!" My good friends tell me when I confess to them my failure to function or a secret desire that is inconsistent with the best interests of the children. They want to say: Guilt is what hurts you, it is unnecessary, you'd feel much better without it
To agree for it to stay
Like the sleep-defying thoughts. Instead of fighting them I agreed to listen to them. Okay, what's bothering me the most? What is most felt in the body? What image from the events of the morning is still fresh, sore in the brain? I met the anger, and the worry, and the sore back, and the fact that I had not yet heard from the children. One by one I met them, and it's hard for me to say how many there were, because at some point I fell asleep…
So listen to that thing instead of letting it go. Acknowledge it , give it attention, agree that it can stay, for as long as it needs, and just be with it– with patience, curiosity and empathy, until it agrees to be revealed to you, to reveal to you what it holds within it. For example – to discover the fear that is there, beneath the guilt – the fear of causing pain to my children, the fear that they will not love me, the fear of being like my mother…
And when I recognize it, when I turn to it and listen to it, like a mother listening to a child, the whole force field between us changes. It can no longer take me over, because I am bigger than it: I am the responsible adult and it can trust me not to ignore it, not to "let it go" on its way. In fact, when I am with it, it no longer needs to take me over, because it got what it wanted: that I listened to it. Then it can soften and develop, discovering its soft inwardness. It changes fundamentally. And on its own, it lets go.
When I am with it, it no longer needs to take me over, because it got what it wanted: that I listened to it. Then it can soften and develop, discovering its soft inwardness. It changes fundamentally. And on its own, it lets go