How To Practice Letting Go (When You Catch Yourself Holding On)

If you worry too much about what might be, or what might have been, you will ignore and overlook what is. Remember this. Happiness is letting go of what you assume life is supposed to be like right now and sincerely appreciating it for everything it is.

Over the past decade, as Angel and I have gradually worked with hundreds of our course students, coaching clients, and live event attendees, we’ve come to understand that the root cause of most human stress is simply our stubborn propensity to hold on to things. In a nutshell, we hold on tight to the hope that things will go exactly as we imagine, and then we complicate our lives to no end when they don’t.

For example, there are a number of times when our minds cling to unhelpful ideals…

  • Life isn’t suppose to be this way, I need it to be different
  • There is only one thing I want, I can’t be happy without it
  • I am absolutely right, the other person is absolutely wrong
  • This person should love me, and want to be with me
  • I should not be alone, should not be overweight, should not be exactly how I am right now, etc.

In all of these common examples the mind holds on tight to something—an ideal—that isn’t real. And, after awhile, the inevitable happens—lots of unnecessary stress, anxiety, unhappiness, self-righteousness, self-hate, and depressive emotions ensue.

So, how can we stop holding on so tight?

By realizing that there’s nothing to hold on to in the first place.

Most of the things we desperately try to hold on to, as if they’re real, certain, solid, everlasting fixtures in our lives, aren’t really there. Or if they are there in some form, they’re changing, fluid, impermanent, or simply imagined in our minds.

Life gets a lot easier to deal with when we remind ourselves of this and live accordingly. Today, let’s practice doing just that…

1. Practice letting everything breathe.

As you read these words, you are breathing. Stop for a moment and notice this breath. You can control this breath, and make it faster or slower, or make it behave as you like. Or you can simply let yourself inhale and exhale naturally. There is peace in just letting your lungs breathe, without having to control the situation or do anything about it. Now imagine letting other parts of your body breathe, like your tense shoulders. Just let them be, without having to tense them or control them.

Now look around the room you’re in and notice the objects around you. Pick one, and let it breathe. There are likely people in the room with you too, or in the same house or building, or in nearby houses or buildings. Visualize them in your mind, and let them breathe.

When you let everything and everyone breathe, you just let them be, exactly as they are. You don’t need to control them, worry about them, or change them. You just let them breathe, in peace, and you accept them as they are. This is what letting go is all about. It can be a life-changing practice.

2. Practice accepting your present reality, and just floating.

Imagine you’re blindfolded and treading water in the center of a large swimming pool, and you’re struggling desperately to grab the edge of the pool that you think is nearby, but really it’s not—it’s far away. Trying to grab that imaginary edge is stressing you out, and tiring you out, as you splash around aimlessly trying to holding on to something that isn’t there.

Now imagine you pause, take a deep breath, and realize that there’s nothing nearby to hold on to. Just water around you. You can continue to struggle with grabbing at something that doesn’t exist… or you can accept that there’s only water around you, and relax, and float.

Truth be told, inner peace begins the moment you take a new breath and choose not to allow an uncontrollable event to dominate you in the present. You are not what happened to you. You are what you choose to become in this moment. Let go, breathe, and begin again.

3. Practice challenging the stories you keep…

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