Letting go is an art form. It requires releasing your attachments, and thus, what you want. You have to open yourself up, be vulnerable, patient, and quiet inside. With letting go, you can’t have what you want, but you can have much, much more.
The Toxic Nature of Wanting
When you want something, it isn’t present, and this identified lack becomes a focus and a driving motivation for all action to obtain said desire. Even if you are an ethical person, you still look for a way to meet all your standards for ethics while still obtaining your desire.
Yet, all the while, as you travel to your destination, there is a sense of lack, a sense of things not being right. Maybe when you hit progress goals, then you get a little boost of happiness, but it can easily subside into more dissatisfaction. You want things to be better. There’s still more lack.
So why is this toxic? Because it avoids the present. If you notice how you are in the present, you can see the manic states, the lack of peace, the impatience, the annoyance, the pride, and even the spitefulness towards perceived obstacles in your way. You become embittered and embattled, stressed and straining. You end up hanging your hopes on progress towards a non-present goal, and all this takes up your time as again and again you pursue it. You can even end up basing your worth on how close you are to a goal. This is a toxic place to live in, and no matter how much you pace yourself, at the very least, attachment to a goal leads you out of the present moment, and things are going to fall through the cracks.
A Want vs What is Important
But why isn’t a want good? After all, we want it, and so we must want it for some kind of good reason, right? And the present isn’t always nice. We can easily think that we need something to replace what’s in the present for us. A job change, a change in living environment, more money, or any number of things. In fact, a person who is constantly obtaining these things is often highly esteemed. Look at how productive they are! How they’re achieving their goals! But beware the opinions of others, because there’s a lot they can’t see, and your life can never be managed by them and your perception of their opinions. They can never know you like you know you, and you can always know yourself more.
A want looks at an identified circumstance, and attaches certain feelings and states to them that aren’t present, such that your state becomes equated with circumstance. In this condition, it’s almost imperative to your mind that you get to that place, because we’re naturally inclined towards bringing ourselves to more positive states and places. Thus, a well-paying job = happiness, marriage = bliss, and getting work done = a sense of self-satisfaction. On the surface level of our minds, we can see this much, and so we can take action to make those things happen, looking for opportunities and so on. What we don’t see, while we’re attached, is that we’re being driven to those things because we’re closed to our own states of sadness, dissatisfaction, and low self-worth.
In other words, attachment dupes us into thinking that the source of our better states lies through some elaborate scheme of ours to change reality. But it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Attachment is avoidance, but if you want to stop avoiding, you need to return to the moment. The place where your malaise, your sadness, your low-self worth exist. The place where happiness, bliss, and true self-esteem can also exist. Peace and stress. Misery and exuberance. Impatience and true stillness. All of it, is right here. But not necessarily all at once!
To transform your feelings, you have to be open to them. But first, you have to let go of what you want, and end the cycle of avoidance through the pursuit of wants and desires.
The Fear of Letting Go
In some ways, holding on can seem like the only way to be. We become so invested in finding what we want in life that we forget that we can release it, and exist in the moment as it is. Of course, existing isn’t enough – after all, we have all these faculties for action! For movement! Shouldn’t they be put to use? What else are we supposed to do in life, aside from pursue goals?
Well, you might be surprised how much of behavior can have nothing to do with getting to a specific destination! Curiosity, for one, involves exploration for exploration’s sake, with inquiry and attention to detail. True playfulness, too, relishes the moment in which it is playing. Think of games where you enjoyed the act of playing it more than winning. And think of other activities where you enjoyed the activity itself, whether or not there was an end goal in mind.
Indeed, there is a whole realm of our active selves that is motivated by the intrinsic value in the actions it takes. Taking action feels good, but not because of the end result, but rather because it feels right to be doing what we are. We feel glad to be doing it!
And what’s the flip side? Feeling obligated, pressured, coaxed into it, or like you “have to” or “should”. These aren’t places we want to live from – you can feel it, even just when you think about the words.
The place we want to live from is a place that comes from us. And not from a mental place, either. Even self-pressure isn’t good enough, because it’s still pressure! We can self-impose obligation as well, and we can have a list of things we “have to do”. No, none of these are good enough. We want to live from a genuine place, a self-expressive place. We want to act with sincerity and true interest.
So letting go doesn’t have to be this scary thing where we forgo everything we want in life. Instead, it’s releasing pressure to get to what we’ve identified as a want or need, and instead returning to the present, where we can connect with our true interests, and all the feelings that come up when we try to align ourselves with a sincere lifestyle.
But don’t think that means you’re off the hook! Those sincere feelings exist in the moment, and the things we’re driven towards are all too often guarded by our consciousness with all kinds of promises of happiness and meaning. You have to be willing and able to see through your own lies, wherever you might notice them. You have to be willing to commit to a lifestyle where you never avoid the moment, including by filling the moment with promises of the future.
If you’re going to go for that sincere way of living, you have to be willing to see all the ways you could be off-track. One good way to do that is to look at your relationship with your feelings. Are you afraid of your feelings? Do you distance yourself from them, or look down on them? Do you dismiss your feelings? Do you distract yourself from them and their intensity?
You might wonder what the point about being in touch with your feelings is. The thing is, how you feel is the original reason why you attach to things in the first place. The lie is that you want to avoid feeling, and instead get a goal, in order to feel better! But it doesn’t work that way. Feelings shift through self-awareness, through self-expression and dialogue between you and your feelings inside, which requires connecting, listening, and opening up. It requires you being open to something new – a new message, a new complaint, a new challenge to your way of thinking. And yeah it requires work! The work of self-expression, of seeing what the new you each day has to say, and where true interest lies. You can’t rely solely on habit, tradition, or what you’re used to. You have to allow for newness in your life.
Letting go, Letting in, and Allowing
Letting go is not some big, dramatic action. Simply put, it is release. Imagine, if you will, that there is some arbitrary point in your room that you absolutely have to get to, some fixed location that you must remain fixated on. Now, let it go. You may notice, doing this, the direction of your vision go from fixated to loose. What was, for a moment, something so intense and important, suddenly is just a memory. This is what letting go actually feels like.
In your mind, you can have all sorts of fixations. For instance, you can fixate on what you need to do to accomplish your goals. And, relax. Suddenly you’re just a self, in a body, and whether or not you take all those actions you were thinking about – right now, you are here.
Okay, no big deal, you can do that much. It may give you a nice reprieve from your pursuits. But the next step, is, while you’re calm, detached, and relaxed, is to let in life as it exists. In particular, let in your feelings. In the present, we can easily be aware of what we’re feeling, without any sort of need to rush off towards something else. Sometimes, almost like a reflex, we can say “I’m feeling pretty easygoing… ok let’s do something!” No no no. Let the feelings inside affect you. Let in the state that you would be in if you were to not try and change it at all, or rush off somewhere else. What are all the nuances of it? There is texture, and life to it! Those feelings can even be expressed through words, pictures, and other mediums. For more on that, check out the Expression page.
But the point is, rather than just treating letting go as a break from the tendencies of everyday living, instead it will help you to let in the feelings that exist inside you, and to do what you can to understand them. For it is this understanding, brought about through self-awareness and expression, that can actually transform your feelings and get you to the places inside that you were looking for in the first place, your whole reason for striving so intensely!
Yeah, maybe there are still many threats to letting go to you. Maybe you promised someone you would accomplish something particular. Maybe there are others depending on you to take consistent action, even if it doesn’t align with your “sincere self”. But, the challenge is in reconciling the two. Transforming your life is a delicate process. There are inner conflicts over how you want to approach things. And those conflicts will come up in your feelings as you go. That’s why it’s so important to believe in your ability to handle conflicting interests inside you. You need to know that it’s okay to listen to both sides and look for balance. You need to be able to allow what’s there.
Allowing is all about knowing that what exists in the universe is okay to exist. It may be troubling or problematic at times, but even your disapproving feelings can be included as part of the overall picture. To understand the world, make peace with it, and take sincere action that you agree with, you have to be able to let the world exist as it is. To allow things as they are. And that includes yourself, your inner world, your conflicting feelings, all of it. The reality of your presence, and the presence of others. The reality of all the knowns and unknowns of the world. All of it can be allowed. And you are a part of it.
A New Driving Force
So when we let go of our old drive, we will need to find something new. As I brought up before, this can come to us in the form of self-expression and sincerity. In this new model, instead of looking for circumstance first as a way to get to a good state, you get to the good state first, in the moment, and then your actions become an expression of the state you’re in. Happiness may lead to dancing or an interest in other people. Calmness may bring you into states of reflection and presence with the world and life around you.
More troubling states, too, can be part of self-expression. Sadness can lead to deep, sincere rumination. Stress can bring about a will to calm yourself down and create space. Boredom can lead to attention to what’s around you and an attention to what truly energizes you. And this is what I mean about self-transformation. You’re never stuck, and accepting your emotions allows you to move through them in an expressive way, rather than in a reactionary way that leads you further and further from the moment.
But from this self-expression, we can finally start to live in a more sincere way, aligning ourselves with actions that remain true to who we really are, even in the ways we did not know about ourselves. Always remember that. There is room for you to know more about yourself. There is room to discover. You are not simply your mental concept of yourself. There can always be more to feel, uncover, and discover within the inner world of your being.
At the core of your being, there is a side of yourself that one can term “The Heart”. This is the side of yourself that is aligned with your inherent motivations, independent of externals. It doesn’t care what other people think, or how the mind expects it to behave. Its interests come from within, and it sees the intrinsic value in things, even those things that might seem impractical or pointless in your mind.
More and more with letting go, you want to connect with your heart. It can show you your sincere interests, the things that, in the absence of attached entanglements, you actually find important. But first, you have to calm down. Our attachments can confuse us as to what our heart wants, and our mental desperation can even affect us on that level. The heart is vulnerable, and it can get as caught up in attachment as you can. This may seem like a contradiction, but the key is detachment and listening.
Once you detach, the heart has a kind of wellspring of energy to it, and you can get a better sense of what it’s actually interested in. It may want fun, or play, or adventure. It may indeed want to work on something that’s part of a long-term journey. But this interest has no impatience in it. It’s steady, defying excuses or fearful retraction. It simply is interested! At the very least you can endeavor to understand it, even if you can’t give it what it wants right away.
The goal, with the heart, is not merely to follow it, but to find alignment with it. If you can come to an agreement with your heart, you can act in alignment with it, and you get to see what the experience the heart was interested in has in store for you! Acting in this way can open a magical dimension of life, because things suddenly become more alive, engaged, in-the-moment, and intrinsically wonderful. We thrive under these conditions. And it’s never the same thing twice. It’s a feeling, adapting, flowing, evolving thing.
This is what we’re looking for when we let go. Not to merely empty our lives in order to become an inactive husk of a person, but to find the things that we truly align with, so we can engage in the moment in a sincere, personal way.
The last, rather thorny barrier to heart-based living, is expectation. Well, what is our expectation? First of all, it’s something that appears very non-threatening. Oftentimes we learn in order to form expectations. We want to know what to expect from the world! That way, we can navigate it “sensibly”, avoiding danger, seeking pleasure, and getting what we want. Our expectations seek to encompass how the world works. But it becomes more than that. Expectations are rigid, and once formed they form a basis for the thought “this is how things should be”. And expectations can also be pointed at ourselves.
We expect ourselves to act a certain way, to get certain things done, to make things happen, to actively seek to avoid certain terrible outcomes. There is rigid structure to this. Moreover, it’s closed to new things, as well as to the nuances of why we do things. It only seeks results. It demands them.
Okay, so we have these expectations – what do we do about them? First of all, we need to learn how to confront them. They are our worse critics, and are our own way of leaving ourselves no room to be ourselves. They shame us, they rush us, and they can even come up with respect to completely opposite things. For instance, say we’re working on a project. The voice of expectation can be one that demands we keep going even when our sincere interest drops off, but it can also shame us for not doing what sincerely interests us if indeed we do keep going. And we feel the impact of its effects through stress, worry, shame, and fear.
What we have to understand is that rigidity, even our own, does not contain the whole picture. We have to be willing to assert our vision of the larger picture to that part of ourselves, till we once again feel stable in our sense of what we’re doing and why. If there is goodness and innocence driving you from the heart, you can make space for it. If you feel expectation’s demands are unfair, you can come to the place where you are able to rest in the knowledge of your own fairness. And if you want to live sincerely, you will need to learn how to negotiate these barriers, whenever they come up.
After all, what is expectation’s aim? Ultimately, it’s to close off to life. It wants things under control, and to keep your vulnerabilities from being reached. This can seem good to us until we realize that by keeping ourselves from vulnerability, we keep ourselves from life, connection, and again, from sincere living.
So open yourself to the unexpected! That’s the primary message here. Realize that there is reason to leave yourself vulnerable, and that you can live from and know yourself. Even if it’s hard. Even if it can take a long time of practice, refinement, consideration, and self-exploration. Every day, even this moment, can be a time where you can be open, even just a little more than you are, even as you may flinch against the dangers of the world. You can dare to be you, even just a little bit more.
Examples: How Letting go can Transform your Life
Here are some examples for different areas of life for how the principle of letting go can actually bring about great benefits and a richer experience.
- Relationships: If you’re able to let go of other people, letting them be and act as they are, without a goal in mind for them, then interacting with people becomes less about what they can do for you. They are not tools. They truly are “other people”, and ones you can connect with through self-expression and listening. You become open to them, and this openness can indeed be cherished by them, leading to deep friendships, connection, romance at times, trust, and sincere love and support between you and them.
- Financial: By letting go of how you want to obtain money or getting it, you become less obsessed with your financial goals. Money normally can be seen as a tool for getting what you want, but when you let go of it, you’re able to engage in a journey to feel in-tune with yourself in the moment, and so money loses a lot of its usefulness. Happy in the moment, you’re free to take or leave opportunities more easily, and you’ll be discerning with what directions you take, always making sure it aligns with you, and isn’t about some empty goal that involves a slog through work you’d rather not be doing anyway.
- Internal: Letting go inherently lets you put more attention and focus on the internal aspect of your life, which allows you to transform your states and work with your feelings to find balance, well-being, peace, love, a sense of abundance, and more. And with more experience in transforming your feelings, you reduce your fear of feeling badly, because, with sincerity, you can work with that, too.
- Career: Like with financial, letting go of your career keeps you aligned with the things you’d actually like to work on, and lets you continually explore new options if that is important to you. There is not this fear of “not making it”, nor a rigid commitment to a single path. Your actions and your work can be more free to be an expression of who you really are, instead of any one rigidly-defined thing.
An Exercise in Letting Go
Here’s an exercise in letting go of an attachment and reconnecting with your sincere interests. Do what you can to consider why each step is important, and how they all fit together.
- Consider something you’re attached to. It may be a goal or desire from any area of life, such as personal, financial, with relationships, etc. It can be in the past or future. Something you find yourself easily fixated on, obsessing over, or at least unhappy with the lack of it.
- Write down a list of everything you want with respect to this attachment. If there are any other intense attachments, include these too.
- Calm down. You’re going to be letting go, and for that, you need to relax. Ease yourself into a state of calm, so that to a certain extent, at least in your state, you’re detached.
- Imagine that you’re holding onto all these attachments on your list. Maybe they’re in a bag. Regardless, you’re gripping onto them tightly. Express your attachment to them in some intense, perhaps visual way like this.
- Now, let go of what you’re holding onto. Release it, opening your hand. Release your grip.
- Imagining or physically with your palm open, softly start to consider what is actually there. When you leave your hand open, what is actually in the moment, when nothing you want is? What is really here, right now? Write down a list of these. This list may contain feelings, realities, or even common, everyday things.
- Consciously let in the reality of these present things, as well as the absence of everything you were holding onto, which truly are not there in the present. Try to come to a place of allowing with those things. They are part of life, as are you. They can be allowed to exist.
- Consider your heart. If you were to visualize it, what would it look like? And no not your physical heart, but the place that’s the energetic source of your motivations. How would your heart express itself right now? Try to listen to its speak. If you want to, write these things down, though you can also just listen. Give your heart room to express itself. If you want to engage in a dialogue with your heart, you can, but make sure you’re giving it space to say everything it needs to.
- Consider, next, your expectations. What do they look like, and what are they saying? Are they complaining, shaming you, do they have criticisms, or are they maybe expressing fears? What responses make sense to you? Let the expectations speak, but also keep space to assert yourself, to challenge those rigid notions. At some point in this process, expectations should settle down or dissipate.
- Return into a dialogue with your heart. What, after all that, do you want to do? Or maybe you have other questions on your mind. In either case, look for a place of alignment with your heart, and a good stopping place for this exercise, one that you can feel good about.
And there’s a little exercise in both letting go, AND in connecting with your inherent motivations! In this way, you can create better space for yourself in life, as well as navigate expectations, commitments, and rigidity without becoming lost to them. Your fluid, expressive self also has room to live, and a right to be alive and active! Genuine living may be tough, but at least you can connect with yourself and your obstacles in a way that can enable you to take steps to improve.
So experiment with these things! Feel them out! Do your best to be gentle, kind, and connect with your sincerity. Perhaps you’ll find yourself living in the moment more, finding greater peace and joy in the simple things, in yourself, and in the present.
Expression – as mentioned before, the technique of free expression goes in line with sincere living. You want to be able to know yourself, and free expression can be a great way to get in touch with your in-the-moment energy.
Relaxation – As a technique, relaxation can take you into a place of surrender and letting go. Like the “calming down” step in the exercise above, it can help us feel more in tune with our basic energy.
Insecurity – Insecurity can be a result of trying to keep ourselves from being vulnerable. All too often it can get us caught up in our egos and in defensive, insincere, and avoidant behavior.
Tension – Attachment can give rise to tension, so through letting go, we become less tense.
Impatience – Impatience is a key aspect to living in an attached way. Thing after thing we can look to get to, as an alleviation of our suffering, but nothing works because it doesn’t address the moment.