The other day I was scrolling through the cable guide on the television when, for some reason, the question of why it was so hard for people to let go came up and wouldn’t go away. I was struggling to get over the fact that the latest episode of “Shameless” wasn’t On Demand yet. I mean, what’s the point? (Let go of the little things, Jill).
Now, I know this is relatively minor–unless you were hunkered in front of the fire, under the blanket, with a hot steamy cup of decaf and two furballs, primed and ready to go on a wild ride with the fictional, dysfunctional Gallaghers…. But, the fact remains: There are a lot of us out there with stuff to let go of that we either can’t or we’re struggling with.
I’d go so far as to quote a very unscientific statistic from my wise redheaded Sister-From-Another-Mister, and say that “one out of every one of us needs to let go somewhere in our lives.” And yet, so many of us latch on for dear life. Why? There are a ton of reasons and I’d need a long, Talmud-like scroll to list them all. But to me, there are four biggies that we just can’t seem to escape:
- We’re holding onto updated, erroneous, and sabotaging beliefs about ourselves and what we deserve. Bruce Lipton, PhD who wrote the Biology of Beliefs says that, up until age six, we are downloading everything we see, hear, feel, smell, touch, and are told about the world around us. Then, we hold that information deep in our subconscious and use it to make decisions about what we bring into our lives going forward, through adulthood. Think about that for a moment: Essentially, unless we understand our beliefs and say, “yep, I want that one” and “no thanks to that”—picking and choosing beliefs like we do dinner at China Garden—then we’re basically choosing life partners, jobs, ideas, philosophies, cars, hair dressers, pets, values, morals, habits, and lipsticks (God help us) based on what we learned when we were barely old enough to go to the potty by ourselves. Insane, right?
- We never ever, under any circumstance, want to feel bad. Listen, letting go can suck and not in a good way in the short term. I get it. Whether it’s suffering the consequences of heartbreak, leaving a job, or moving on from a really hard change, these things can be about as much fun as a week-long root canal. Nobody wants to go through the “Tunnel of Pain” as I refer to it, because it’s dark in that tunnel, and cold, and wet. And we’re claustrophobic. There could be rodents and who knows what else, and we might need to dry heave our way through it, which if you’ve ever dry heaved for even a moment, you know is about as much fun as licking a dirty street lamp. And we don’t know when or if we’ll ever get out of there, or if there’s even a proverbial light at the end of it to aspire to. And if so, we certainly don’t want to keep licking it.
- We don’t trust ourselves. You know this is true, fess up. How many times have let the voices in your head drive the bus—at night, while you’re trying to sleep, just before a big moment when you’re expected to perform like a circus monkey, or some other pivotal moment. How many times have you thought, “I want to [insert verb] do this, but I shouldn’t…” while chewing your nails down to the quick. You stopped yourself because, even though you knew [insert verb] was important, you just weren’t sure. What if you were wrong? Looked stupid? Hurt somebody’s feelings? FELT BAD?
- We are risk averse. Unless you’re a professional gambler. (If you are, let go of that.) Especially when it comes to the biggest things in life – like who you’ll hook your wagon to for eternity. The truth is letting go requires risk. Sometimes the biggest ones we’ll ever take in our lives.
You know it’s true.
If you’re like me, your instinct in the face of these elements is to put your fingers in your ears, close your eyes, and sing “lalalalalalalalala”. And hey, we’re taught to do that from a very young age – to push away the hard stuff, to not look. To just stay busy and it’ll all be okay. Distraction = blissful ignorance. Until, that is, you find yourself 12 years deep in a relationship and waiting at a condo for the man you love to show up as promised. And he doesn’t.
Blissful my a#*.
I’m going to posit a different approach. When I was doing my Shape gig, the body image psychologist I spoke to once a month said, “When we have a void in our lives, we tend to rush to fill it or push it away, versus sitting in the stillness and co-existing with the void; pulling it close, making peace with it, understanding it, and then moving forward with insight.” Looking back, I can see this stroke of genius for what it is.
What IF instead of pushing these things away, we pulled them close. Yes, it defies reflex, but maybe our reflexes aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
When I was doing my Shape thing, I also took Shaolin Kung Fu lessons. One night, my Sifu decided to teach me a different kind of self-defense. He had me lay down on the ground face up and then he pinned me there, him sitting straight up, hips aligned with mine, as if he were an attacker. Got the picture? Okay, then he laid down over me and whispered in my ear: “What are you going to do now?”
I reflexively tried to pushed him away, extending my arms as far as they could to push him off. The problem is he was much stronger than me. It only took his one arm to block my two, leaving his other arm free to smack me in the head, stick his fingers in my eyes, grope me, shoot me, knife me, employ his violence of choice. He pointed this out as we moved through the exercise.
“See what happens when you push somebody you don’t want away?” he said. “You give us lots of freedom and range of motion to hurt you.” Instead, he suggested, I pull him in—at least until I could free myself. That way, he said, I’ve got the upper hand, even though it seems counter-intuitive.
And it was true. Pulling him in allowed me to use the element of surprise to my advantage, because chances are the attacker is expecting me to try to push him out. And for another, I’ve now restricted his range of motion, so I can more easily knee him in the groin, bite him, stick my fingers in his ears or eyes, and execute my pain of choice to get him off of me.
It was a revelation that has application in the practice of letting go.
When you’re struggling to release and detach, what better way to do it than to bring the struggle in close, so you can sit with it, respond to it, feel what you need to feel around it, problem solve it, and then, move on as cleanly and freely as possible. Knowing it’s truly in your rear view.
Doing it this way will also help you learn to defy the obstacles I outline above. It will give you a deeper belief in your own strength, a deeper ability to tolerate pain, a deeper trust for knowing what you need to do to protect yourself, and a deeper willingness to take the risks in life you know will save you from a destiny that was never yours in the first place.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you!
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Jill Sherer Murray is the founder of Let Go For It, a brand dedicated to helping individuals let go for a better life. Jill’s TEDx talk as well as her advice column, Big Wild Love: Let Go For It℠ were created in service to her loyal and growing fan base, who seek support in the act and the art of letting go for the love they desire and deserve. Follow Jill on on Twitter @letgoforit, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.