I think everyone knows the pain of letting go. One of those shared human experiences that nobody really talks about.
Remember how hard it was to let go of that ex who broke your heart?
It’s interesting because you know that once you let go, it won’t hurt anymore, because then you don’t care anymore.
But you still WANT to care. You don’t WANT to let them go, because they feel like a part of who you are. You feel like if you lost them, you’d lose a part of yourself.
When we invest so much emotional energy into something that it becomes part of who we are, that’s an attachment. We define ourselves by the things we care about.
And if we let go of the things we define ourselves by (consciously and unconsciously), it kinda feels like we’d become cold, heartless, soulless bastards who don’t care about anything.
Is that true?
Let’s go back to our example with your ex.
After the pain became too much to bear. When the pain of holding on became greater than the pain of letting go…
Even though you didn’t want to, you did it anyway. You truly let them go.
It was difficult and painful, but when you finally did it… you noticed you didn’t actually lose a part of yourself.
You noticed that, underneath that space where they lived in your mind, there was actually more of YOU waiting there.
Once you let go, you actually become MORE of yourself. More whole, more alive. Not only did you gain back that part of yourself, but you also gain back the emotional energy you spent keeping the false attachment alive.
Most people have experienced something like this to some degree. Relationships are a common example, but it could be anything.
Actually, it’s everything that defines you.
How are these attachments formed?
One way is trauma. That’s a charged word, but the reality is… when you’re 4 years old, near goddamn everything is traumatic.
Got lost at the supermarket?
Can’t find your parents?
Life or death situation.
Maybe you were sitting in class joking around with your buddy. Suddenly the teacher turns around and scolds you for being too loud in front of the whole class.
When you’re young, for some even when you’re older, something like that instantly makes you want to die.
40,000 years ago when we were living in 100-person, the Chief of the Tribe scolding you in front of everyone else meant that you were ACTUALLY going to die.
That’s why we all desperately crave others’ approval as if our lives depended on it.
Wanting approval is one of our core attachments. (Wanting control, wanting security and wanting to be separate are the other ones. But that’s another post!)
Something deep inside your brain says… this can never happen again. That part of myself who’s loud? It must die and never be seen by anyone ever again. That is NOT who I am anymore.
And we form an aversion to being loud… and we might just grow up to be that quiet, reserved, shy kid who doesn’t speak up.
Eventually, we start calling ourselves introverts and it becomes part of who we are. We form an attachment to that identity.
For a shy, antisocial, introverted adult to let go of that identity would be almost just as painful as letting go of an ex, or anything else.
Our attachments define us. They are also what cause us pain.
We form an attachment to wanting things to be a certain way. And then when things don’t go our way, we suffer.
We suffer because our attachments lie to us. They tell us that we will feel from letting go of them, what we already feel from holding on to them. Read that twice.
For example, while still agonizing over your ex, you felt like IF you let them go, you would feel sad, lonely, and depressed.
But you forgot to notice that by holding on to them, you’re ALREADY feeling sad, lonely, and depressed.
Once you let them go, order is restored.
Like the bursting of a dam restoring the proper flow of the river. The resulting flood might wipe out a village, but whatever was allowed to exist because of an artificial obstruction (like a man-made dam), was never supposed to be there in the first place.
In other words, letting go of things hurts like a bitch, but the resulting peace and harmony that is restored makes the whole messy process worth it.
And the reason it’s so messy and painful is because most people only ever let go when the pain of holding on becomes greater than the pain of letting go.
You can start practicing by letting go of your minor annoyances. Every time you do, you might notice that you become a little bit more happy and peaceful each time.
Did you ever get caught in the rain, got pissed off about it, then ended up getting so soaked you started laughing and didn’t care anymore? Try doing that more often, with other things.
The practice of letting go of attachments and aversions has been by far the most beneficial thing to my growth as a human that I’ve ever done.
Once you start getting the hang of it, anything that causes you pain becomes a roadmap to your own growth.
If your foot hurts, the pain is a signal that something is wrong, out of alignment. It becomes a signal to investigate and fix it.
Emotional pain is the same.
It’s a signal that something is out of alignment, and for you to investigate and fix it.
What are you holding on to that’s causing you to suffer? What are you wanting to change? What’s pissing you off right now?
Is that coming from a wanting approval, wanting control or wanting security?
Could you let that go?
Whabam! Order is restored.
A little part of yourself comes back. You breathe a little easier, you relax a little more, and life becomes a little bit brighter.
This is just as applicable to the big hairy things that we don’t want to think about, like the death of a family member… to the small things, like your dog shit on the carpet.
In August last year I came up with a process I call the Daily Alignment Practice, where every day, I start my day by first investigating my attachments and aversions and systematically letting go of them.
That’s the first part of the process. The second part of the process is about focusing in on a vision for your future.
It’s super cool. I can’t think of a better way to start your day.
Anyway, I’m thinking about taking on a few clients to do this work. If you’re an entrepreneurial type who wants a greater sense of clarity and purpose and more emotional energy so you can get to the next level in business and in life… or if you’re simply going through some shit you’re not sure how to deal with, drop me a message.
Or anyone else really. This is such a basic, fundamental, raw human thing that I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from a greater understanding of their inner emotional landscape.
I suck at ending these posts. I was hoping that once I got to the end I’d land on some clever and beautiful phrase that wrapped up the spirit of this post in a few elegant words. But this is all you get.
Photo is from Kolour In The Park, where thousands of people all let go just a little bit this past weekend.