As I prepared to hike the Grand Canyon from rim to rim — an exciting but strenuous undertaking of 25 miles — I remember our guide emphasizing the importance of minimizing the weight of our backpack. He said every “ounce” matters when you are rapidly ascending 6,000 feet because extra weight increases physical and emotional strain and leads to a less enjoyable experience.
As I review the contents of my already full backpack, my questions are: “What do I want to let go of? How can I make my journey easier and more enjoyable?”
The same questions apply to our life experiences. What are you are carrying around each day that’s making your journey more difficult than it needs to be? As a mind-body therapist my primary goal is to help people live with more ease. We often walk through life holding onto emotions, beliefs or behaviors that don’t serve our highest good or prevent us from reaching optimal levels of well-being. We are often unaware of these “items” we are carrying in our “backpack” or how the weight of the pack is impacting our physical, emotional and spiritual health. Or we might be aware of those “items” and choose to carry them (i.e. holding a grudge) or we are aware and want to release them but don’t know how.
The first step in the process of letting go is practicing mindfulness to become aware of what you are feeling, thinking and sensing in your body. Your body is an intuitive feedback system. Am I feeling ease, lightness, openness, expansion or calm in my body? Or am I feeling restricted, tight, closed in or apprehensive in my body? Typically, when an emotion is stuck in your body from a past experience you’ll sense that somewhere in your body and may still be thinking things like, “I can’t believe this person would do that to me!” or “I have the right to stay angry” or “I’ll will never get over this.”
After identifying an “item” to remove from your “backpack” or one you don’t want to put in your backpack in the first place (real time emotion), follow these steps of letting go through action or journaling:
- Notice what you want to release. Example:I feel anger (emotion) and tightness in my stomach (sensation) when I think about my ex-boyfriend cheating on me (fact). He made me look like a fool (belief) and he made me feel I was not good enough (belief) .
- Acknowledge and feel the emotion fully. Release the attachments and stories and name the emotion directly. Example: I feel angry, I feel hurt, I feel sad that he cheated on me.
- Soothe the emotion and breathe through it, softening and opening. Consider placing a hand over an area of your body where you feel the emotion or over your heart in a warm and compassionate way. Do this for several minutes until you feel the emotion begin to subside.
- Choose your path forward. Say out loud or write, “I am choosing to release this anger because ….”
- Reflect with gratitude. Take a moment to be proud of yourself for honoring your emotions and taking care of yourself and for the life experience which is allowing you to grow and deepen your relationship with yourself.
The reality is that uncomfortable or painful experiences do happen in our lives, some of which are not our fault or and over which we do not have control. However, our power lies in the way in which we respond to such experiences. One of the best possible things you can do for your mental health is to learn how to tolerate and move through difficult emotions without attachments and stories. Attachments and stories are like “items” you don’t need in your backpack and your backpack can’t get too heavy if you are not shoving things into it. Become aware of your attachments and stories to avoid carrying them unnecessarily.
At this time emotional health is more critical than ever. It’s to our benefit to let go of small daily annoyances and to release longer standing emotion. Freeing yourself from attachment and stories will positively impact your overall health and leave more room for joy, growth and love.
As you move forward with practicing self-care, keep these questions in mind: “What do I choose to let go of?” or “What do I want to let go of?” Your spirit will appreciate your attention to these matters. The more you practice and experience the rewards, the more skilled you will become at letting go.
*Please note: emotions tied to traumatic incidents may be difficult to release and/or require specific training in distress tolerance to assist you with processing them safely. A trauma informed mental health therapist can help you with this process.