Letting Go When You’re Holding On
How can you support yourself to let go?
As the seasons shift from light, bright summer to the darker, more serious and more reflective fall season, I’m thinking about harvest time. It’s a good time to prioritize and protect what’s working in our lives and make an effort to cut away the dead branches, to weed the garden. It’s a good time for letting go.
Lately I’ve been thinking about letting go not only as a passive release, but as an active choice. I want to take responsibility for how I participate in keeping certain toxic routines or environments or people around. So many of the things in our lives that exhaust us or make us cranky are things we do to ourselves. Letting go is sometimes a question of honestly considering how we’re holding on.
There’s always a reason why we do the things we do. We take on too much because we’re afraid of what we might feel in the stillness. We stay in bad relationships because we’re terrified of being alone. We smoke cigarettes or drink too much or overeat because there’s nothing in this world that calms us down faster. We know we have a few bad habits, but we do them because we enjoy them, or because they protect us from feeling the things we’re afraid to feel, or simply because we’ve always done them, despite the consequences. We know we should stop but we don’t really want to, in our heart of hearts. We try to let go while we grip on for dear life.
The phrase I’ve been working with this season is “I release you.” Rather than getting frustrated at the way the world out there holds me back, I thought about the ways I grip on to situations that cause me stress and anxiety. I recognized that my toxic relationships, behaviors, and patterns were my my responsibility. No one is responsible for my happiness but me.
It’s not easy to let go of old habits, of course, so I added another phrase to my fall contemplations: “How can I support myself to let go?” Change doesn’t only happen on the intellectual level. We have to actually take action, to face our fears and anxieties and make space for what we do want. And the truth is, it is uncomfortable. Growth is usually pretty uncomfortable.
In order to let go, we need to figure out why we’re holding on. It’s usually not so much the thing itself that we’ve got in a white-knuckle grip, but the underlying fear of what will happen if we let go. When we can address the fear and find other ways to protect ourselves or calm our anxiety, we’ll need the toxic habit less.
Lots of yoga and mindfulness practice is about listening to our intuition, following our heart, and doing what feels good. But a huge chunk of the work of mindfulness is figuring out how to be uncomfortable in the service of growth. Changing a habit, standing our ground, and letting go can be so stressful they make us want to barf. Mindfulness allows us to sit with those sensations and relax, to let them be present without racing around doing whatever we can think of to make it stop. So this week, I’m letting myself be uncomfortable. I’m doing my best to sit with my urge to jump to old habits to ease my discomfort and let it flutter around in my stomach. I’m doing my best to stay true to the choices that I know are best for me, at least for now. I’m taking a few deep breaths and reminding myself: “I release you.”