Marrianne Williamson in her book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, writes about accepting people as they are. "In the holy relationship, we don't seek to change someone, but rather to see how beautiful they already are. Our prayer becomes 'Dear God, take the scales from in front of my eyes. Help me to see my brother's beauty.' It is our failure to accept people exactly as they are that gives us pain in relationship."
Our breath provides an apt metaphor for how we live in the world. As we inhale we take in what we need to nourish us and as we exhale we release what has been used up. In and out; it is a natural flow that is controlled by both parts of our brain, conscious and unconscious. Its rhythm reflects our emotional states and its actions mirror our day to day activities of receiving what is new and letting go of what is done.
Death, economic loss, going to sleep, children growing up and away, relaxation, healing, hurricanes, falling it love.... these are but a few of the lessons in letting go that come with our earthly life. Some are exhilarating experiences. I remember a theatre exercise during college where I was asked to dive off a platform into the outstretched arms of the rest of the cast. Fear initially paralyzed my ability to jump, but when I finally let it go and flew through the air, my first thought after landing was that it was the most amazing thing I had ever done and I wanted to do it again. Other times 'letting go' experiences can feel devastating, with the only visible bright side being how we are able to draw together to support each other, as a tragic death in our town recently demonstrated. And some of our struggles with letting go simply and quietly erode the quality of our life; if we cannot let go our thoughts of the day, restful sleep eludes us.
If the exhale is such a natural thing, why is it so hard to let go? I suspect it is all fear based; holding our breath is a pretty common response when we are scared. Perhaps it is the fear of not knowing what will happen that drives us to hold onto what it is we think we do know, even if it is not a positive thing. Perhaps it is not trusting that we will be able to handle the next new thing that makes us cling to what is familiar, even when we have outgrown it. Perhaps it is simply not recognizing what we need to do and how to do it. The act of releasing is not always an automatic event, especially if some consensual belief has interfered either consciously or beneath our awareness. Surrender can take the shape of a three part process that includes first the awareness that I need to let go, making the decision to let go, and then taking the actions necessary to manifest the surrender. And sometimes we finally let go only to grab it back again, needing to repeat the process over and over until we eventually relinquish our fear and relax our grip.
There is a teaching story about a monkey who was delighted to find a huge jar of nuts during one of his excursions. He reached his hand into the jar and grabbed the tasty morsels, but was alarmed to discover that his fist full of nuts was too big to come out of the opening of the jar. As hard as he pulled, he could not get free and his unwillingness to release his prize in order to escape led to his capture.
Letting go is perhaps the most difficult thing we do. Did you know that some asthmatics experience breath impairment not because they cannot inhale, but because they cannot let go of enough of the old breath to allow room for new air to come in? As with our breath, releasing and letting go makes room for the new in our lives.
Last night I listened to a speaker who shared his technique for dealing with someone who was upset or angry. His approach was very simple; he would silently pay attention to the person while thinking "I am here for you." He told his audience that he would just repeat that unspoken phrase in his mind and that the responses he got were pretty consistent. People would rant and rave and then lose steam and then come around to a reasonable perspective of their own accord, often with an apology for their spew.
I was reminded how powerful is the position of 'no resistance', to simply accept. Too often our excuses, the 'automatic no', or our need to be right put us in a position of conflict and struggle. There seems to be a part of human nature that argues, questions, insists on things being a certain way right now. To surrender our need to control is actually an empowering move. Many of the martial arts follow this precept. Twelve Step recovery programs practice the principle of 'surrender to win'. Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King brought about significant social change using non resistance. By surrendering to the reality of what is, we become free to flow in the experience without creating discord and can make choices that lead to positive outcomes.
If one of the most powerful components of positive change is the letting go of resistance, learning to become aware of how you resist is important especially since much of it is unconscious. Abraham Hicks suggest that our emotions can help us be aware of when we are resisting. When we are feeling bad, that is a good indicator that we are 'pushing against' something. And "..... when you are laughing, when you are applauding, when you are joyous, when you are feeling that feeling of appreciation pulsing through you, in those times, there is no resistance within you."
A wise man said to me the other day, "The capacity for acceptance is inversely proportional to the magnitude of your misery". Letting go of resistance by accepting what is allows more joy into our lives and supports our ability to create what we want, a lovely paradox of becoming powerful by giving up trying to control. The contrast between the emotions of acceptance and those of struggle helps our awareness and can be used to guide our choices.
Have you ever wanted to change something about your life but found that despite your best intentions you kept on doing the same thing? Maybe you wanted to get more exercise .... or be more loving .... or to change what and how you eat. And somehow you 'forgot' to go to the gym, or reacted instantly to that other person's behavior with anger.... and ate that whole bag of chips. Change can be really challenging when different parts of us have different agendas, and that is often the case when we find we cannot make desired changes on our own.
Our conscious intention is a small part of our thinking process. The unconscious mind is the power beneath the surface and in many way acts like an auto pilot program. Which is mostly a good thing or we might spend a little too much time every day rethinking how we tie our shoelaces, how to make coffee, where to place our fingers on the piano keys. To take a look at how this process operates, think about learning something that you now do effortlessly, driving a car for example. In the beginning you probably broke it down to small pieces, learned and practiced each part, then put it all together and then when you were ready, let it go into the unconscious so you could focus your conscious attention on looking where you were going while you were driving. Oh, and then you sold that car and bought a stick shift so you had to bring back to consciousness the 'how to' of stopping and changing gears to add the clutch action, and then it went back to auto pilot mode. Pretty simple stuff, at least when it involves your car.
It gets a little trickier when core beliefs about ourselves that reside in the unconscious are in conflict with our stated intentions. If there are two conversations going at the same time, one arguing for the status quo and the other pushing for change, we can find ourselves at a stalemate. When I decide I want to change my career, but my unconscious mind believes it is not safe to let go of my present job in this economy, I may find myself sabotaging my best efforts by missing deadlines for class enrollment or being late for job interviews. Or if I don't believe I deserve to be prosperous, I may unconsciously create ways to incur debt or to resist receiving the money that comes my way. I may very much want to be in a loving relationship, but if I hold the belief that it is not safe to be vulnerable I may avoid letting anyone close enough or will choose partners who prove me right in my belief that it is not safe.
It is usually the relationship between the unconscious and conscious minds that needs realignment for us to achieve our desired goals. Two simple and basic ways to do this are 1.) inhibition and redirection approaches and 2.) the energy psychologies. You use inhibition and redirection when you learn how to change from a stick shift car to an automatic one. Cognitive behavioral therapies and stress reduction programs are often based on these principles. It is basically a 'stop that, do this instead' format that uses awareness, consciousness, and action, and often coaching or tutoring helps to make significant progress. Guitar or horseback riding lessons are great examples of how this operates. I've used hypnosis to successfully implement inhibition and redirection approaches in the unconscious, so hypnosis can sometimes be included in this category as well, even though it overlaps with the energy psychologies in many ways.
The energy psychologies approach change from a different angle and do not require the same level of cognitive involvement and conscious action. The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) will sometimes bring unconscious beliefs to conscious awareness during the experience of tapping on specific points on the face and upper body, often in an 'ah ha' epiphany. Other times the inner change occurs without conscious awareness that anything has happened. Some methods, like Tappas Acupressure Technique (TAT), work beneath the surface of consciousness, and are therefore especially good for people suffering from the aftereffects of trauma as they do not need to revisit the specific wounds. Psych K, another energy approach, has been described as learning "to rewrite the software of your unconscious mind" and the use of computer analogy is probably a good way to look at the operations of our minds. A special quality of these energy techniques, as with computer software, is that you can learn with specialized training how to do it yourself or you can have a professional 'technician' rewrite the program..... and it works either way.
This is simply an overview of two approaches to encourage positive changes into your life. There are, of course, many other ways that reorganization occurs, and people have individual preferences as to how they best learn and change. Bringing your conscious and unconscious minds into a collaborative relationship rather than an oppositional one is a powerful facilitator for creating more of what we want. Making desired changes is easier now with the advent of energy psychologies and they can also be used in conjunction with more traditional approaches.
Charly Hill is a Life Skills Coach and Self Empowerment Teacher.