The Art of Letting Go
At some point or another, life is not perfect. Okay – let's face it - often things do not go the way we want them to! The hard part of life sometimes is not in how we control those things – but rather in how we determine that we just need to let go. One sure way to add stress and strife is to try to control things to fit how you think they should be working out!
The best prayer and advice I ever heard was:
God, Grant me the Serenity to Accept the Things I Cannot Change
The Courage to Change the Things I Can
And the Wisdom to Know the Difference
Controlling Other People
Let’s take an example. For some reason, a person that you thought was a great friend just stops calling you. You fret that maybe you said something or did something wrong. Or you may even be worried that she is having some kind of trouble. You are not sure what is happening. Can you change the fact that she is not calling? No. But, if you two were close, it is possible to do something. Namely, you could call and find out or ask. If she hangs up on you, what do you do? At some point, you may have no actions left to work with and all you have left is your own hurt, worry, and maybe anger at what has happened.
This is where the letting go can help. Letting go is not easy and it is hard to define. So, I will tell you what “letting go” is not. It is not “pretending” to not hurt. It is not acting like you are not hurt. It is sitting with the pain and hurt knowing that you cannot necessarily do anything about it. It is sitting with that emotion and then releasing it like when you open your hand and let go of the balloon. Just allowing it to be and allowing it to go.
Allowing Your Feelings
Does it mean you have forgiven a person? Not necessarily. Does it mean you will never let that person back? Not necessarily. Letting go is more about letting go of your emotional reaction to the pain of a situation and doesn’t necessarily impact any future decision. Usually, the best “letting go” events involve some crying.
It sometimes can help to do something symbolic like writing a letter with all that hurt and then “mailing” it to the fireplace. It can mean removing signs of the person like a picture in your living room.
The letting go is a process – and one that has no specific time attached to it. It can happen quickly in some cases and in other cases, the letting go can take a longer time. But, the key is to not pretend it away – but to fully “feel it away.”
Things You Can Control and Things You Cannot
So, how to tell the difference between things you can change and the things you cannot? Well, one clue is that we can communicate, we can apologize, we can inquire, we can offer – but we cannot change another person’s perspective or actions or feelings.
For example, what if you find out someone has lied to you? You can let a person know you know the truth, you can make choices about how close you want to be to a person who lies, you can ask questions in hopes of answers – but ultimately, you cannot change the person into an honest person. He or she may become honest later – but you have no control over that.
What if you find out you have cancer? You can’t control that basic fact. You can make informed choices about treatment, you can make good choices about how to support a healthy body that could heal itself, and you can choose how you act and what you think about it. You can choose negativity or optimism, you can choose anger or determination.
Stopping the Worry Habit
So, closely related to this issue of control is something called worry. We worry about our response, we worry we have hurt someone, we worry we will never get better, we worry about someone's health. Typically, worry is totally unproductive and a giant waste of time. Not only that, it also is usually not good for us physically. Some people worry so much about things they cannot control that they develop gastrointestinal problems, high blood pressure and other stress related disorders. This type of anxiety can also lead a person to overeat, smoke more, or drink more.
Worriers will tell you that their worries are very serious, but in truth, many worrying minds are simply running on a habit of worry. Some people get into a trap where the worries take on a life of their own. What is often needed is to interupt the worry habit.
The first step is to realize you are worrying! Once you are aware that you are worrying, actually say out loud (or loudly to yourself in your head) STOP! Then, you must change the mental worry trap by doing any of the following things:
- Write out your real fears and a little bit about how realistic and/or terrible your fears really are. Typically, your fears are either unfounded or not really that scary.
- Exercise, get outside, do housework, clean off your desk - in other words use your body and get out of your head. Exercise and sunshine can be a needed change of scenery to stop the madness.
- Drink a glass of water slowly to reset
- Put on some relaxing music, lie down, close your eyes, relax your body and just focus on breathing for 10 minutes
So, think today about the choices you can make and the things that are not really serving you – like a grudge or anger or hurt over things long past. Make a choice to fully feel those things and release them.