Letting Go of Painful Emotions
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
Forty years of dealing with intense and at times turbulent emotions have taught me the importance of letting go.
I have a Hamlet mind. You know Hamlet – sitting out there alone on the castle moors, ruminating on all the slings and arrows of his (imagined) outrageous fortune, getting so wrapped around the axle of his problems that he ends up frozen by indecision.
That’s me. When something’s bothering me, I tend to take it into the workshop of my mind and work on it. I hammer and hammer and hammer, until the thing has morphed into a towering monstrosity that bears no resemblance to what I brought in.
The word “ruminate” comes from the root ruminatus, which means chewing the cud. Have you ever seen a cow out in the field for hours chewing and chewing and chewing, even though it hasn’t recently eaten?
That’s because the cow is re-chewing food it has already eaten. When a cow take a bite of grass, the food drops into its first stomach, called the rumen, which regurgitates the half-eaten stuff back up again into the cow’s mouth for further processing.
For cows, chewing the cud is healthy. Humans don’t have rumens. We’re supposed to eat things once and then move onto the next patch of grass.
Rumination is especially bad news for a person like me with a sensitive nervous system. When my marriage was crumbling, I remember filling entire notebooks with tables listing the pros and cons of staying in a situation where I was miserable. The internal debate went on for months, generating intense anxiety.
Eventually my system became so over-sensitized that I started having panic attacks around even the topic of our troubled marriage. All of that analysis served no purpose but to cloud my ability to think and deal with the problem.
Hamlet on the moors.
To get to a place of peace in my life, I needed to learn how to let go. Meditation helped greatly in this process. For close to two years in the middle of a deep depression, I meditated every morning. It was the best study time I’ve ever spent.
Through meditation I learned to watch my monkey mind as it swung from thought to thought, emotion to emotion, problem to problem. Every time my Mr. Fix-It mind started to pull that thought/emotion/problem into its workshop for a hammering session, I learned to gently let it go and go back to my witness post.
It was through meditation, along with readings into Eastern philosophy, that I came to understand how I’d been creating such misery for myself for so much of my life. Buddhism teaches the fundamental truth that pain and loss are inevitable in this life where all things, including ourselves, will pass away.
We add suffering to our pain, however, by becoming attached to outcomes that we put up as prerequisites for happiness. Such attachments are part of the ego’s need for control, when in fact any attempt at control is fruitless. It’s like trying to grab a fistful of stream water.
My Hamlet mind, I discovered, was all about control. For forty-plus years of my life, my ego wanted to control every aspect of my life – my destiny, my circumstances, my thoughts, right down to my emotions. And I suffered horribly as a result.
Through reading and meditation, I learned the importance of letting go. Letting go is the natural order of things in the world. We come from the sea, which ebbs and flows, ebbs and flows, ceaselessly until the end of time. That primordial pattern continues every time our lungs draw breath and then let go.
If only we followed the natural rhythm of our breath, instead of trying to control the ebb and flow of our days, our lives would be so much more peaceful. And the world would be more peaceful as well.
Hence the power of meditation. Through meditation I learned to sit on the bank of the stream and watch as the thoughts, feelings, impulses and urges floated by – without trying to engage or fix them.
I also got help from a technique called the Sedona Method. The program is based on the findings of a man by the name of Lester Levinson, who discovered the power of releasing in his own personal health.
Like any good idea, marketers got hold of Lester’s ideas and turned them into a full-blown self-help program, complete with programs, courses, and conferences costing hundreds of dollars. But really the Sedona Method is quite simple. It involves asking yourself three basic questions:
Could I let it (whatever that is bothering me) go?
If the answer for whatever reason is no, the follow-up question is:
Would I let it go if doing so would bring me peace?
Most of the time, any sane person would answer this question yes. So then the next question is:
Three simple questions with a powerful impact. These days, I often ask myself these questions whenever I find myself getting caught up in some internal drama that is upsetting my peace.
Could I let it go? Would I let it go? When?
I’ve learned (the hard way) that the answer to that third question must always be now.
Now is all we have. Now is all there is. Now is too precious to waste on fruitless rumination.
So my advice is: release whatever thought or worry or problem that is consuming your attention and robbing you of your peace. You may think that dwelling on the problem will allow you to fix it. But the exact opposite is the truth.
Let go and allow the universe’s cornucopia open up to you.