The Joy of Letting Go

As some of you may remember from last month’s article I had the experience of moving after many years in the same home.  There is nothing like moving to force one to re-evaluate one’s personal belongings: what things continue to serve a purpose, which things have to go.  It seemed natural, therefore that I write an article about one of my favourite practices: letting go.

What Is It?

Letting go is a topic that comes up frequently in counseling sessions.  The most common question I receive is “What does it mean, exactly?” or the comment, “That’s easier said than done.”

I like to think that there are two forms of letting go that are not distinct but rather, interrelated.

‘Physical’ Letting Go

“Each possession I own is but a stone around my neck.” – Albert Einstein

Letting go of our belongings or possessions.  Also known as “simplifying,” “living simply,” “decluttering,” “downsizing,” “thrifting,” “reducing our footprint,” etc.  Deciding what objects, conditions, situations or experiences are no longer useful, are no longer benefitting us, or are complicating our lives.

‘Mental’ Letting Go

The mental ‘attachments’ or emotional glue that we have to things like:

  • Our feelings / emotions
  • Conditions / situations
  • Beliefs about ourselves and others
  • Opinions and judgments

Why Let Go?

Emotional and physical attachments are by nature rigid and inflexible.  The more we hold on, the more we suffer.  It can be a liberating insight when we realize that the choices that we make when it comes to what we do with our mind–how we perceive things, situations–has a direct effect on how much we suffer.  Letting go is an important step towards freeing ourselves up mentally and emotionally.

How To Do It

Letting go is simple in theory, but often difficult in practice.  It takes work to break ourselves out of old habits, old routes that our minds go down in response to familiar scenarios.  But any healthy act which allows us to reverse these learned tendencies can help us to do just that.

Even giving away possessions can be hard, particularly if we feel sentimental about something or have fears that we may need it again in future.

But letting go can be done!  And, it’s a personal thing.  There is no one size fits all and every personal situation is unique. Things I have tried or things clients have shared include:

  • Practicing meditation
  • Yoga
  • Relaxation and breathing techniques
  • Exercise, often solitary physical pursuits such as walking or running
  • Cognitive restructuring (challenging negative thinking habits/patterns), at the heart of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
  • Practicing mindfulness: consciously doing one thing at a time, being aware of what one is doing, living ‘in the moment.’
  • When the mind is wandering, brining it back to what one is doing in the present moment. This could include mentally returning to washing the dishes or even refocusing one’s attention on a television show. We often need to do this over and over throughout the day!
  • Singing, chanting, music
  • Visualization, imagery
  • Being active
  • Doing an immersive hobby
  • Spending quiet time with a pet / companion animal
  • Being in nature
  • Engaging in a religious or spiritual practice
  • Participating in a ceremony
  • Talking to a trusted friend
  • Saying goodbye
  • Asking for help
  • Being kind to oneself

The opportunities are numerous: whatever is non-harmful to oneself or others and which helps us to move beyond what is bothering us. Change and growth is possible!