The Art of Letting Go
Everyday hundreds of thoughts, feelings and experiences arrive. We tend to have our favorites; those that are comfortable are valued over the ones that are uncomfortable. We become attached to the elements that we prefer. But each one of our attachments also blocks love and restricts freedom. With too many attachments love may no longer flow. It feels like love has died. Many love relationships are harmed in this way.
When listening to a beautiful song, each note is heard and appreciated. To enjoy the entire song each note must be let go so the next one can be heard. If we held onto a single note and would not let go, the song would stop. Letting go is a valuable practice that is needed to not only enjoy a song, but to enjoy life and love.
Holding on is a practice most of us know all too well. The list of our attachments is long. It is not just not just comprised of material objects such as a car, a cell phone, a favorite outfit, a place, but also the past such as photographs and memories, places and people. Some become attached to relationships, even if they are bad for us. An addiction is a repetitive attachment we cling tightly to due to the good feeling it provides. It may be a behavior or a substance. A habit is another form of behavioral attachment. Some become attached to feelings, such as holding onto fear, anger or a grudge. Holding onto anger harms our love relationships most, resulting in the accumulation of resentment. Angry partners are emotionally walled-off and unavailable. Instead, let go of anger while being determined to fix the problem in a constructive manner. Our attachments act like an anchor, keeping us fixed at a single location in an ocean with infinite unexplored destinations.
Our country is founded upon a thirst for freedom, but many give up freedom in favor of the comfort and limits of security. Holding on is a desire for security. In countless situations, security comes with the cost of increased suffering and poor emotional health. Letting go of attachments increases freedom and the opportunity of emotional well-being. Yet many find letting go difficult. A habit, if repeated over a long time feels effortless, normal and natural. Letting go may be made a habit just as easily as a habit of forming attachments.
To succeed at letting go, being aware of our attachments is a first step, including those which are not conscious. During our daily experiences when we encounter feelings situations and possessions, we can ask ourselves, “Do I need this? Does this really serve me?” The big ones ripe for letting go are anger, control and fear. Emotions that linger from the past prevent us from living fully and happily now. Less obvious attachments, to which many cling tenaciously, are powerlessness, failure, irresponsibility, and worthlessness. We usually don’t experience these as attachments; they seemed to be imposed from outside us. That is one reason why they are difficult targets for letting go.
We are a culture of do-ers. Doing fills many of our days and has become habitual. So when we are faced with letting go, many people attempt it as a “doing.” But letting go is a “non-doing,” or an end to holding on. Letting go is actually far simpler because nothing actually has to be done. The power of fear and habit make letting go of an old attachment seem impossible, but it is possible. Each attachment limits our ability to be open and loving. Let go. Live more fully. Be more loving. Andrew Aaron, LICSW is a sex and relationship therapist who practices in the New Bedford Seaport.