Letting go involves being aware of a feeling, letting it come up, staying with it, and letting it run its course without wanting to make it different or do anything about it. It means simply to let the feeling be there and to focus on letting out the energy behind it. (David R. Hawkins, Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender)

In Western culture, most of us were not taught how to sit with our feelings and manage our emotions. Instead, masking behaviors were modeled, including drinking alcohol, entertainment, consumerism, and overworking, among others. Many of us were taught in our families of origin that acknowledging and expressing our emotions was unacceptable and that our feelings should be stoically hidden and dealt with through self-medicating them in various ways.

As a result, a large segment of the population carries a lot of buried emotion, leaving trigger-ready tension right below the surface. We stuff and we cover endlessly, our bodies home to stored anxiety, tension, and trauma. Toxic, angry interactions and outbursts have become common in our culture, from internet threads, crowded roadways, and subways, and sometimes, in our communities and homes.

Several years ago, I found meditation on divine accident. Without knowing what I was getting into, I started sitting daily for mindfulness meditation sessions. To my surprise, buried emotions and uncomfortable realizations surfaced continuously for the initial six months of my practice.

For the first time in my life, I was learning how to sit in a state of acceptance and experience my impressions about my life and feelings without restriction. With my attention focused inside of myself, I could feel in my body where my chosen thoughts and behaviors were hurting me. I made conscious decisions to let go of those behaviors and people that were harmful to my best interests. As I said good-bye to long standing patterns and habits, a curious thing happened.

I felt mentally lighter, and my body was filled with new-found energy. Colors seemed brighter, the air crisper and more refreshing, and my world became vibrant. I was born anew. I experienced life afresh and was full of joy yet bewildered that neither professional or armchair psychologists from my past knew how to teach the gentle art of ‘sit and let go’.

Sir David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D., an internationally renowned spiritual teacher, psychiatrist, physician, researcher, and lecturer, wrote Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender in 2014. In his book, Hawkins describes a simple yet effective method to let go of obstacles on the path to Enlightenment and become free of negativity. His letting go technique of surrender was a synthesis of his own Zen practice, psychology subject matter knowledge, coupled with many decades as a clinical psychiatrist who sought to relieve human suffering. He was also enlightened, which fueled an unusual comprehensive depth to his perspective.

“When letting go, ignore all thoughts. Focus on the feeling itself, not on the thoughts,” Hawkins wrote. Unlike much of modern psychology practice, talk therapy is not indicated in letting go, just as it is not indicated in either Buddhist or yogic traditions. As in his own practice of applying Buddhist principles to his life, Hawkins applied the concept of experiencing and sitting with feelings and emotion to his psychiatric practice, in order for his clients to be able to permanently let past experiences and accompanying suffering go.

Renowned Vietnamese Buddhist Master Thich Nacht Hahn taught, “Go back and take care of yourself. Your body needs you; your perceptions need you; your feeling needs you. The wounded child in you needs you. Your suffering needs you to acknowledge it.”  Before I knew of either of these specific teachings, I encountered both through my independent study of yoga and Buddhism, and having applied them to my own life, I discovered the gentle art of sit and let go.

Quite literally, our inner child pulls on our shirttail through emotion and suffering, begging for our own attention and comfort. Instead of learning how to re-parent ourselves and apply compassion to our own heart, we most often medicate ourselves, never altering the underlying conditions reinforcing our suffering. We accept our lives, habits, and traditions as they stand, unaware there is a way to alleviate longstanding issues.

You too, can move through your own suffering through sit and let go. We either choose the pain of reconciliation with ourselves and our past, or we carry it with us for a lifetime. Although some specific memories remains persistent and painful, those also can diminish with time and practice. Better to learn how to let it go.

When we sit with ourselves in this manner, we might make a decision to say good-bye to a version of ourselves that has been with us for a long time. We are bidding farewell to a person who permitted harmful conditions in their life, thinking that we were giving and receiving love. We are turning our backs on habits and behaviors which have been our companions as long as we can remember.

And with those good-byes, we are releasing much of our suffering. Good-byes are painful, even if we are discarding things which are not in our highest good in body, mind, and spirit. Yet a solid sense of self-love requires that we extend to ourselves extraordinary kindness and compassion. We are worth our own self-love and our own best effort. We deserve the best life we are able to give to ourselves. Is it time for you to sit and let go?

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