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How To Let Go

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The easiest advice to give—and the hardest to use—is “Let it go.”

Didn’t get the job? Let it go. Still thinking about your awkward speech last week? Let it go.

All the Paul McCartney tickets were bought up in seconds by scalper-bots? Let it go.

Life will go on, after all. Just put it out of your mind!

Of course we’d let go if we could. If we had the ability to simply drop worry, or anger, or a throbbing in the temples, we wouldn’t need to be told. And being told to let go tends to make the feeling even more stubborn.

Letting go is possible. But it’s done differently than we usually think.

We humans tend to overlook a very useful fact: every experience does go, at some point. Every sight, sound, taste, or feeling you’ve ever had is gone, except what’s happening right now as you look at this screen.

The pleasure of the last chocolate treat you ate… where is it now? The pain of the last time you singed your finger on the stovetop… where is it? Itchy mosquito bites, stress over past deadlines, uneasiness about where that wedding toast was going… gone. 

The fleeting nature of experience becomes a lot more obvious in meditation. When you dedicate some time to observing the arising and passing of your experiences—namely bodily feelings, emotions, and thoughts—you begin to notice that that arising and passing happens surprisingly quickly.

A bubble of anxiety, if you observe it, might be truly unpleasant for maybe fifteen seconds or so. A faint residue might linger a little longer, but it’s quite bearable. And at some point it becomes undetectable.

However—and this is the vital part—if you had tried to get rid of that bubble of anxiety, you would probably notice it getting worse.

This is where all the confusion about letting go happens. All experiences do go, guaranteed, but you don’t make them go, you let them go.

When you let experiences go, they tend to go sooner.

But we often don’t let them. We fight with them. We tend to see present-moment experiences as though they’re more permanent than they really are, so we think it’s necessary to fight with ones we don’t like and cling to ones we do like. We don’t quite recognize, for example, how few seconds the pleasure of an ice cream cone really lasts, or how quickly a moment of embarrassment passes if we don’t dwell on it.

The result is that we count on pleasures too much, and resist displeasure too strongly. We create stress by trying in vain to slow up, or hurry along, any experience we don’t have direct control over, which is the vast majority of them.

At a meeting, you say something dumb and feel embarrassed. If you could simply notice that feeling come and go, without the normal contentiousness, it might last a minute or two.

But we tend to do the opposite. We complain in our minds that we’re an incurable klutz, or maybe that other people are too judgmental. We vow to prevent it from happening again.

Of course, we don’t have enough control over life to protect ourselves from such normal human feelings. This demand for an impossible level of control over our experience is intrinsically stressful.

Sometimes we can make an experience happen, or stop happening, if we have some direct means of control—stepping out of the rain if we’re getting wet, or turning on a lamp when it’s too dark to see.

But such clean and easy fixes, especially for our emotional experiences, aren’t usually available. You can’t open an umbrella to shield yourself from a bad mood, a physical pain, or a distracting thought.

Letting things go is a skill we can learn, but it’s easily confused with making things go, which is usually impossible.

I like the way John Yates, a meditation teacher and neuroscientist, makes it part of a longer phrase:

Let it come, let it be, let it go.

This phrase reflects a realistic understanding of how life actually happens. All experiences arise and fade, and that can be observed in real time. There’s no such thing as a permanent experience. Each one comes, is, and goes.

We need to stop and observe our experience carefully to really see that happening. This is the basic aim of mindfulness meditation.

If we develop sharp enough attention, we can see specifically what feelings and experiences we tend to cling to, or push away. Then we can consciously, gently refrain from pushing or pulling, and let the experience go. We can become free of the stress around a given experience, even while that experience is still happening.

Whether or not you take up meditation, you can practice letting experiences come, be, and go in their own time.

Daily life offers many opportunities. Start with the easy stuff. Closing the shower faucet and noticing the warm-water sensations cease. Putting your fork down when you’re finished eating. Turning the reading lamp off for the evening.

See if you can appreciate how beautiful, or at least poignant, all of this coming and going is. The going of one experience is often synonymous with the coming of another, and sometimes there’s a bittersweet quality to be noticed in the transition.

Reaching the final moments of a book, or a sunset, or a slice of cake. Closing the door after bidding your friends goodbye.


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Accidental FIRE July 25, 2018 at 1:13 pm

When it comes to negative things, part of letting go is self-esteem and forgiving yourself. If you can accept that you’re human and will do stupid things from time to time, letting go can come easier.

David Cain July 25, 2018 at 4:49 pm

That’s a huge part of letting go of anything — giving yourself permission to be a fallible human, who’s prone to impatience, embarrassment, pettiness, etc.

Abhijeet Kumar July 25, 2018 at 2:05 pm

Sometimes, an experience and its remnants takes time to pass through, especially if it is a trauma or some years old pattern from childhood. It always does pass through though.

David Cain July 25, 2018 at 4:58 pm

That’s where it gets interesting. Even traumatic experiences actually only last a short time. But remembering a traumatic experience is an experience in itself, and a single memory can condition many such experiences, even years later. We tend to spend much more of our lives mentally reliving traumatic experiences than we do actually experiencing them.

This is where mindfulness training is extremely helpful. It helps us recognize that memories and our reactions to are just that — mental and emotional activity happening right here right now. The event from the past has not come back, but rather we are noticing a new experience triggered by a memory of the trauma, which can be dealt with as a present-moment phenomenon. They can still be painful, but it completely changes the severity of the experience to recognize it as mental activity happening right here, now, in this room, rather than a past event that is haunting you.

Does that make sense?

Abhijeet Kumar July 25, 2018 at 6:49 pm

Yes, that makes sense. There is a tail of mental imagery, associations, emotions, and then more on top of that. Once we realize that every moment is here and it is possible to experience it here (in peace), even when the mind and body might be going through tumultuous recollections. Just realizing that it is the mind, can help. This helps break the feedback loop between mind and body in such situations.

But there is a residue (again this is my mind speaking, which does not like certain experiences), and there might be some time needed to recover — for me, it means take time off, be by myself. Also I have noticed, old emotions — fear and anger (they can be the same), often times because they are unpleasant, and in the case of anger, it feels unwieldy to experience out in front of everyone, there is a tendency to suppress it. I usually end up writing, or if I am by myself, going to the shower, just expressing my anger by making sounds or yelling, if that is the only way to move the stuck feeling.

Acceptance and compassion helps.

David Cain July 26, 2018 at 10:24 am

Yes, totally agreed… realizing it is the mind is the first step, and sometimes even then we need to withdraw so as not to become overwhelmed. In the buddhist perspective, that feedback looping and residue is referred to generically as “causes and conditions”. Events and the thoughts/emotions we have about them give rise to more thoughts and recurring thought patterns. The remedy is to train the mind to recognize them, in their moment of arising, as passing thought/emotion experiences, thereby deconditioning them from recurring so frequently, and from troubling us as much when they do. Ultimately, nothing happens but present moment experience.

Abhijeet Kumar July 30, 2018 at 3:17 pm

Thanks, David. This was presented really well. It helped me in the last few days. Letting go is powerful.

Michele July 25, 2018 at 11:18 pm

Such a well explained post, David, and a very important topic. Mindfulness meditation sharpens our awareness and helps us notice when we are clinging to the past (or future) and once we are aware, we can practice letting go and free ourselves from the pain and suffering. Of course there are so many levels and it’s good to start with the “easier” ones. Abhijeet’s comments and your reply touches on the deeper challenges of (just) letting go. I think as long as we realize that it’s not about quick fixes, we can patiently and kindly even let go of traumatic experiences from the past. Thank you!

David Cain July 26, 2018 at 10:28 am

I guess that’s the overall lesson here — letting go is possible but there is no quick fix. It’s a matter of letting things happen in their own time. It is, however, much quicker to let go in this organic way than our usual method of drawing things out by fighting with them. Often drastically quicker, like fifty times quicker. But we never control quite how quick.

Zoey July 25, 2018 at 11:35 pm

Great piece on mindfulness. Meditation is something I’ve been struggling with and I think mostly because I’ve been trying too hard which is the opposite goal of meditation and leads to frustration with myself. Which is why I appreciate how you break it down in a practical manner especially when you talk about noticing and fully concentrating on the little things we do every day. It’s a great way to start training your mind on stoping the inner mental chatter even if it’s just for a moment which then you can build upon later on for a successful meditation practice.
Always a pleasure to read your insight. Thanks.

David Cain July 26, 2018 at 10:30 am

Trying too hard is definitely the number one problem people have with meditation. The basic issue is this: mindfulness practice means training ourselves to recognize and allow present moment experience. But our basic impulse is to try to change or control our experience. So we get uptight about becoming relaxed, we get agitated about trying to be calm. Progress is made by regularly, repeatedly, progressively relaxing that impulse to change what is happening, breath by breath.

Ron July 26, 2018 at 2:35 am

Excellent post, David. Experiencing a negative emotion or memory as a present bodily experience is extremely effective. Consciously relaxing any physical tension associated with the emotion or memory, and sensing the flow of the released energy, is indeed a healing experience.

David Cain July 26, 2018 at 10:31 am

Yes, definitely. It especially helps to pay more attention to the physical side of the emotion, and set aside the mental talk aspect. We can often invite the body to relax, and it will, and that has a calming effect on the mind, which in turn helps the body relax, and so on.

Ameen July 26, 2018 at 5:27 am

I’ve always struggled with letting go but I’ve started to become better at it recently because of a shift I’ve started to make in my mind in my willingness to fully allow and experience facts or reality.

It’s having a respect for reality and not engaging in self-deception to make facts of my experience disappear or change in my mind like you said. It doesn’t mean I approve, like or enjoy seemingly bad outcomes or situations, although finding the humour in these moments is a great way to let go, but to acknowledge what has happened has actually happened without denying it and instead viewing it as an opportunity to evolve from there or gaining new knowledge about myself, other people and the world that I didn’t know before which could be exhilarating.

David Cain July 26, 2018 at 10:34 am

That’s exactly it — present moment experience is all life consists of, and the present moment is already exactly what it is. The only thing that makes sense is to respect the reality of the moment, whether it’s a pleasant one or not. Unfortunately, our evolutionary impulses have us hating, fighting and squriming in response to unpleasant experiences, and it takes a particular kind of training, which we call mindfulness training, to refrain from following that impulse.

Michael July 26, 2018 at 10:48 am

Yes, this is great. I’ve found that really trying to overcome ego is hugely helpful with letting things go. It sounds all abstract and Buddhisty, but to really look at a difficult situation, and realizing it’s only difficult because of how people will see me, or rather how I think they’ll see me, has been helpful for me to overcome moments of embarrassment or social awkwardness. I just remind myself that people aren’t thinking about me as much as I am; they’re thinking about the same thing everyone else is – themselves. (I can’t remember where I first encountered that idea, but it’s really stuck with me). I try to look at a situation as just a bunch of things that are happening, and not necessarily as a bunch of things happening specifically to me. Mentally removing myself from the centre of a situation, and remembering all the moving parts, of which I am just one, is something I’ve found helps a lot to let things go.

David Cain July 26, 2018 at 8:55 pm

That’s the big illusion they’re getting at in Buddhism… we are not separate, we arise from a system of dependent origination. It’s all interconnected and the boundaries we think we see between ourselves and the processes that interact with us are not really there. The implications are so huge

Arthur July 26, 2018 at 3:16 pm

This might be a little off topic, but I recently read a tweet that really got me thinking. It stated, that the whole meditation, ‘let it go’, relax, & stoicism advise is actually hurting many of us. Why?

Today, a lot of people have issues coming from procrastination and being way too passive. We suffer from passiveness. We wait and sit around too much. We all have huge goals, that we’re never going to accomplish because we are simply too passive and we procrastinate all day long.

Learning to mediate, relax, and ‘let it go’ is the exact opposite of what many of us need to do. We need to take action, get stressed out, feel uncomfortable, and actually make moves. Let our ‘fight or flight’ response kick in.

This idea really got me thinking… What are your thoughts, David, or anyone else?

David Cain July 26, 2018 at 9:01 pm

I know what you mean, but I don’t think letting go and taking action are opposing attitudes. In fact, in my case, an inability to let go of certain things tends to keep me from acting in ways I know I should. Phrases like “let go” and “relax” can mean a lot of different things I guess, but in the way I’m using them they do not inhibit action. In fact they free you to do what’s right.

Valerio July 27, 2018 at 3:15 am

The point is – and this might become a totally different topic – you need to single out the things that really matter in your life, or rather that YOU want to matter, and take action about those.
But like David said you need to let go first of the little, petty things you have no control about.
Mark Manson’s book expands this concept better than I could do.

Adam July 26, 2018 at 3:50 pm

This is the first explanation I’ve ever seen that actually makes sense!

I always heard “let it go” as “do something active to make it go away.” Even that “Hold up a pencil, now let it go” exercise made no sense to me, because I was still DOING something – opening my hand.

Americans don’t really do the whole “passive action” thing – where you don’t actually DO something. Now I see that the whole point of “let it go” is to NOT do the thing – NOT to fight the feeling, NOT to push it away, NOT to actively try to forget it – but just to let it happen. And most Americans aren’t people who meditate, and most Americans aren’t really in touch with that idea that this, too, SHALL pass – whether you want it to or not.

I have anxiety, and my mind is often a tornado of painful feelings, upsetting memories, and old abusive tapes. And like any good American, I fought them tooth and nail, feeling like if I didn’t, I was giving in to them and letting them “win.” But in the last few months, I’ve started learning how to meditate, and learning how to watch, rather than react. Today I bumped into a table and knocked some stuff over. My pattern has always been to get angry with myself. Today I was able to say “No, respond, don’t react,” take a deep breath, and put things back where they were. The anger was gone in about five seconds, and the leftover irritation went about a minute later.

If I hadn’t been meditating for a few months, I wouldn’t have known how to take this:

“if you had tried to get rid of that bubble of anxiety, you would probably notice it getting worse.

“This is where all the confusion about letting go happens. All experiences do go, guaranteed, but you don’t make them go, you let them go.

“When you let experiences go, they tend to go sooner.”

And for me, meditating was really scary. It took getting the Headspace app to get to the point where I could do it without having a panic attack (common, sadly, for people with PTSD). I’m still not especially good at it, but it got me to where I could understand the point of your post here.

Thank you for writing it. You helped me.

David Cain July 26, 2018 at 9:04 pm

That’s excellent…. I know that feeling of knocking things off the table (or something similar) and not reacting or self-scolding, just getting right to cleaning it up or taking action. The more you meditate the more you notice that happening — you skip the little temper tantrum phase where you fight with reality, and get right to the problem solving. Meditation trains this skill directly. Everybody should do it.

kelly July 27, 2018 at 10:13 am

I love this post. It confirms what I have discovered in the last few years. When I am feeling down and depressed, instead of trying to figure out what to do to make it stop, I now try to just let it be. Just let the waves of the sadness wash over me without making them stop (since I can’t stop it anyway). It always turns out okay. I can have a “down day” and survive it. No need to explain it or “fix it”. Typically when I stop resisting is when it starts subsiding.

David Cain July 28, 2018 at 11:36 am

I find it especially helpful to notice the physical symptoms of sadness or other difficult emotions. There’s always a physical side and a thinking side. Being aware of thinking without getting caught up in the subject matter often makes it worse. But just noticing and allowing the physical symptoms (pit in stomach, fatigue, heat in the face) really helps to come to terms with the fact that you can’t push this away, and that it is already passing.

Jane July 27, 2018 at 4:10 pm

Thank you.

Jean July 27, 2018 at 6:08 pm

Thanks, David, for another great post. Finally signed up for Camp Calm. Looking forward to improving on my spotty meditation practice. I know a consistent practice will help my life tremendously.

David Cain July 28, 2018 at 11:37 am

Woohoo! Good to have you. We can definitely help you establish consistency.

Yeisi July 28, 2018 at 8:20 am

I would like to understand better the differences between letting go and being aware and acting upon our issues.
It too is tied to procrastinatong away the “important stuff” and living an aimless life
Thank you

David Cain July 28, 2018 at 11:39 am

The two are not mutually exclusive. You can let go and also act on a particular issue. Letting go only means ceasing to fight with what is already true. If anger is present, anger is present. If you have a dilemma in front of you, you have a dilemma in front of you. Recognizing present moment reality, and not trying to force it away helps us to stay level headed throughout whatever’s happening. Either way, you can take action to improve your situation, or refrain from taking action.

Rose July 29, 2018 at 10:38 am

Thank you for the reminder Mr.Cain. I’d like to share that for me sometimes theres a tricky precursor to letting go where it becomes essential to set a boundary with myself. For instance, I have a tendency to really beat myself up after making a mistake and I think its important for me to activate a willful choice not to attack myself with shame. It’s a fine line because like you’ve said, if I PUSH, feelings become more stubborn and intense but if I don’t say a strong “no” to these patterns, I permit self-hating thoughts and emotions to lay waste my inner world and also forfeit my creative power in redirecting my thoughts in a more loving and helpful way. That subtle arena where we can observe what is, “let come, let be and let go” but also choose and asssert our will to say “get out of here, I’m the boss, This is whats happening.”, is a kind of subtle continual calibration that I find both necessary and somewhat befuddling.

David Cain July 29, 2018 at 11:40 am

Saying no to engaging with a train of thought can be a part of letting come, be, and go. You can’t do anything to prevent the initial thought from appearing. What we typically do is try to push away the thought by arguing with it, which really just creates more anguished thinking, getting the emotional snowball going.

Instead, you can notice the self-hating thought as it occurs, acknowledge that it is just a present-moment thought, and consciously choose to refrain from exploring it (i.e. respond with a firm “nope, I’m not going there right now.”) This is just a sensible response. It is actually not pushing it away, it’s just refraining from fueling it further by arguing with what the thought says.

If you recognize that it’s just a thought, just a conditioned mental pattern, the same kind that has happened a thousand times, then you can respond to it as a thought. “Ah, it’s just the mind playing that tape again. No need to argue my case with it, it’s just a thought.”

You don’t need to “prove” to the thought that it isn’t true, as though it’s a person arguing with you. When you try, you’ll find that it just goes on forever.

This is why mindfulness training is so powerful — it helps you recognize thoughts are just thoughts, without getting sucked into a fight with the subject matter of the thought.

Rose July 29, 2018 at 10:36 pm

That was remarkably helpful. I’m really touched by how thourough and directly related your response was to my specific sharing. Because of this I actually feel like I was able to integrate what you offered in a way that immediately moved past the conceptual and sort of became my direct experience right away. Wow. Thats a rare moment in any context let alone the internet! Thank you Mr.Cain for the time and energy you spent crafting that response, it’s not a small thing to give a stranger that kind of attention and it doesn’t escape me how generous you’re being. Not to sound overly emphatic but I actually navigated some considerable challenges today and sustained clarity and ease that was at a break-through level for me as a direct result of what you shared. I appreciate what your doing and look forward to joining camp calm in the near future!

Yay! Life!

Cam July 29, 2018 at 11:14 am

I hear you saying that letting go is allowing experience to happen, not trying to control. But isn’t there a subtle element of control in that approach?

David Cain July 29, 2018 at 5:11 pm

Well obviously you need to decide how to respond to present moment experience, and you could call that control. By allowing present moment experience to be as it already is, you are simply refraining from attempting to control what is uncontrollable.

Estelle July 30, 2018 at 8:37 am

How curious I should happen to see this post just when I’m struggling with the pain of having released a little bird I raised from an egg its mother abandoned. It was never my intention to have a bird as a pet; when it came, in this unexpected way, and when I committed to raising it, despite a crazy work schedule and other responsibilities, this little creature became a member of my family. Then I began to train it to be independent, and one day it just took off from the patio garden. I cried for an entire day and am still tearing up. In my *mind* I *KNOW* that’s where its instinct took it, to its natural habitat but damn it I loved her so much! Am finding it very hard to let go, and am really surprised by that b/c normally I can let all that human stuff go fairly well. I would be grateful for any suggestions…

David Cain July 30, 2018 at 9:45 am

Aw that’s very touching. I would venture that it’s not a coincidence at all though — life is nothing but a procession of things to let go of, and that’s one of the central insights of contemplative practice. Everything in life is impermanent, and when we fight with the natural coming and going of things, we lose every time.

Suzan July 30, 2018 at 8:48 am

I don’t see how letting go of extremely painful events is that simple. I won’t go into details but I have major depression, anxiety, and PTSD. What kills me (almost literally at times in the past) is the huge regret. I can’t go back and change things but I see and experience triggers all around me. And I can’t go back and change the mental and sexual abuse I experienced. I have a psychiatrist and have seen therapists – some of which were helpful and some who were not at all. And I am still in the same position. I don’t know how to get over pain so deep I can barely face it so I lock it away until it leaks out and slaps me in the face and punches me in the gut.

David Cain July 30, 2018 at 10:01 am

Hi Suzan. I’m not talking about letting go in the way it’s normally meant. It doesn’t mean “getting over” past events in the sense that they never come up again or never cause you suffering again. I am referring to something very specific here: how we respond to the present-moment experiences that make up day-to-day life, which includes everything from sense experience, to emotion, to memory and other mental activity.

When we’re talking about the lingering effects of past events, those effects only manifest themselves in the form of present-moment events — memories, flashbacks, regrets, and our emotional responses to these events. This is all involuntary and can be extremely painful. Letting go in this context means recognizing present moment experience as a physical and mental event, happening now, and fielding it as such, using mindfulness. I do not mean letting go as a synonym for somehow erasing the effect a past event or forgetting about it, as is often meant by the term.

There are actual therapeutic protocols (MBCT) for doing this with serious traumas, which can be administered by a trained mental health professional. But I’m really talking here about doing this in the more general sense, beginning with relatively mild forms of discomfort like disappointment, embarrassment, etc.

I don’t think it’s particularly simple even then, and certainly not easy. But it is possible, if we train our attention to field present-moment activity as it arises and passes. It’s the work of a lifetime, but it does work.

mom2347 July 30, 2018 at 10:34 am

Suzan, I, too have experienced sexual and mental abuse, though at what I feel is probably a minimal level compared to some. Still, it can haunt me – not so much the memories of the sexual abuse, but in what it “taught” about my powerlessness. That part I still have trouble with. The thing I learned that helped me tremendously to let it go is to forgive, since the perp is no less human than me, and in all likelihood, he was acting out of what he had previously experienced. That realization was life-changing.
There was once a thing that happened to a friend, and I was only able to sit and watch it happen without being able to help. Since I was unable to intervene, my mind never beat myself up, though I did spend a lot of time explaining why and how the perp was wrong. (It could have cost my friend his life.) Years later, I met that perp again, and explained that I’d been angry all those years and asked for forgiveness for the anger. To my surprise, the perp didn’t even remember the incident! (As Michael, above said, people don’t spend as much time thinking about us as we think.) I shook my head to myself and realized that I wasted years being angry. But it was gone! I offered forgiveness for my part, and that was all I needed to do. There have been a few other incidents of that nature – rape by a ‘friend’ who will always call it rape if the situation is presented with other names involved – and always the reaction is the same: I can let the incident go and have peace, especially when I remember that though I may not have done the exact thing to someone else, I have been guilty of something similar.
This reply sounds a little rambly, but perhaps it helps you some.

Tom July 30, 2018 at 9:07 am

This is a lot of wordage to convey a simple idea: If it bothers you, don’t think about it.

David Cain July 30, 2018 at 10:06 am

It would be great if we had the ability to do that, but I don’t think we do. Most thoughts are involuntary, and when something is emotionally compelling to us it tends to come back again and again. But we’re not only talking about thoughts anyway, we’re talking about physical experience too — unease and other emotions, physical discomfort, and pleasant experiences as well.

Wolfgang Kurth July 30, 2018 at 9:39 am

“slow up”?
How does one slow up?
Does that mean one would also speed down?
That is one of my favorite ridiculous colloquialisms.

David Cain July 30, 2018 at 10:08 am

Hehe… I love weird colloquialisms.

john July 30, 2018 at 9:53 am

I disagree, well to a point experience passes. But if its traumatic it never goes away. You will be going along in life thinking about what is current then something triggers a 40 year old memory and then the feeling rises.

David Cain July 30, 2018 at 10:09 am

Please see my response to Suzan above.

A memory of an event that happened 40 years ago is still a present-moment experience. With some mindfulness training you can respond to that memory as the present-moment thought and emotional event that it is, rather than somehow neutralize a painful or unjust event that has already happened and cannot un-happen. This is a different way to let go than is usually implied by the term.

alexandria Redmond July 30, 2018 at 9:57 am

i am a victim (my own victim) of negative rumination an it has really ruined my life i need help with this

David Cain July 30, 2018 at 10:12 am

I suspect that habitual painful rumination is a problem for most of us. It certainly has been for me, and mindfulness has helped tremendously.

yolanda SKy July 30, 2018 at 9:57 am

See if you can appreciate how beautiful, or at least poignant, all of this coming and going is. The going of one experience is often synonymous with the coming of another, and sometimes there’s a bittersweet quality to be noticed in the transition.

Reaching the final moments of a book, or a sunset, or a slice of cake. Closing the door after bidding your friends goodbye.

JoyInProgress July 30, 2018 at 9:58 am

Wonderful article on such an important topic. Our western culture frowns upon the ideas of meditation, pauses, reflections, and deep observations. In our daily lives most of us find ourselves on a bullet train to accomplish, to do, and in this incessant rush of activity and distractions, we forget to be. To be what? To be present. To know ourselves honestly by acknowledging our “good” side and our “bad” side. By being mindful, I sense this practice begins to develop a melding of our inherited dualistic nature that perhaps will allow us to transcend it. The judgmental mind, the comparing mind, the thinking mind, will settle and allow for the heart-mind to flourish bringing a clearer and ample view of things as they are, not as we wished them to be.

David Cain July 30, 2018 at 10:18 am

I’m glad that mindfulness practice has become much more mainstream in the last ten years or so. It’s just a very useful training for the mind; it doesn’t have to be mystical and doesn’t require any new beliefs, except that it is worth doing.

Scarlett Cook July 30, 2018 at 10:02 am

How do you deal with thoughts when they come as reoccurring

David Cain July 30, 2018 at 10:21 am

That is a really interesting question — the practice of mindfulness does require conscious volition (at least at first) which is not usually present in dreams.

In my experience, over the years I’ve been practicing, I’ve noticed a shift in the tone of my dreams, from anxious and reactive to more level-headed. I believe this is due to mindfulness becoming a more habitual and natural response to present-moment experience, even if it is occurring in a dream. It’s a kind of training, and that training emerges in dreams, just like learning a second language might result in dreaming in that language.

Wolfgang Kurth July 30, 2018 at 10:07 am

Definitely a fine perspective. My wife, a fifth degree black belt, recently had an unknown woman come up to her during a rainstorm outside a concert, and slam her foot down in a puddle directly in front of my wife, splashing her. To her credit, my wife just looked at her incredulously (although she could easily have laid the woman face down in that puddle in a few seconds). Seeing her reaction, the woman just turned away, probably somewhat surprised.
I wish I had that kind of ability to “let go” and will have to work on it.

David Cain July 30, 2018 at 10:36 am

I am a huge admirer of that sort of level-headedness, and it can be trained. I’ve experienced it manifesting itself in small ways. When I break a wine glass, for example, most of the time I no longer even experience that moment of “Dammit!” before I go get the dustpan and start cleaning it up.

The nonreactivity of contemplative monks is legendary. One of my favorite parables involves a conquerer who came to a small village and threatened everyone into submission. When he went to evict a monk living in a hut up on the hill, the monk did not comply but also didn’t lose his cool. The warrior was furious, and said:

“Do you realize you’re talking to a man who could cut someone in two without blinking?”

and the monk said

“Do you realize you’re talking to a man who could be cut in two without blinking?”

stan July 30, 2018 at 10:12 am

First, Suzan; Where does the pain come from? Since the event no longer exists, it’s over, the only place the pain exists is in your thoughts. Do you agree? If that is the case, if you change your thoughts, then you change the pain. Right? So, what is driving the thoughts, so that they remain persistent? Emotion, actually emotion tied to beliefs and values. Again, these are just more thoughts, and thus malleable.

Here are some techniques developed by other people that embody the ideas of the article above. You might find one of them helpful.

Loving What Is, by Byron Katie. Her website gives everything you need to do her technique for free. She calls her technique ‘The Work’.

EFT, or tapping. There are lots of materials and videos on the web for how to do this. The developer, Gary Craig, has a website with lots of free teaching videos.

pstec, sort of a cross between eft and nlp. This is unusual, but easy. Free on the website.

The sedona method, or releasing. Yep, the same as described in the article, though with some structure around it. Not free, but you can find a book that teaches the method for less than 10 bucks on the web. And there are free seminars floating around out there in web space, also.

Depression is hard, because it seems to be a positive feedback loop. The more depressed we get, the more we get depressed. Some cases of depression have been relieved by the above techniques (as have PTSD and other severe emotional traumas), and there have been amazing results from small studies using psylocibin and ketamine. In many cases in these studies, the subject gained complete remission.

Joanne Mylet July 30, 2018 at 10:13 am

Sounds very nice. I do meditate almost every day but this sounds like it could be helpful. Thanks!

Char July 30, 2018 at 10:36 am

Just the message I needed to hear/read, today; Thanks so much!

Janis July 30, 2018 at 10:46 am

It’s hard to let go of something that affects your life every single day, like bad life decisions or the death of a loved one that could have been prevented. I’m trying to let go of the decisions I made when I was young that have put me in a place and situation that I am unhappy with, because I know I can’t go back; I just have to move forward as best I can. I’ll try to take your words to heart, though.

David Cain July 30, 2018 at 10:49 am

Please see my response to Suzan above.

Carol Round July 30, 2018 at 11:05 am

While I find this article interesting, the only way I can let things go is to trust God, pray and read His Holy Word. I’ve had so many things happen in my 64 years, including releasing my anger and bitterness toward my ex-husband and my sister (two different incidents) that I could only forgive them after getting on my knees and asking God to help me “let it go.”

By the way, both reasons did involve large sums of money I was cheated out of. However, I am now on good terms with both my ex and my sister. I could not have forgiven them without God’s amazing grace. HE is the only reason I can let things go.

Matthew B. Tepper July 30, 2018 at 11:08 am

“Let it go. Forget about it. Try smiling.”
I think I heard that on an episode of “Newhart” back in the ’80s….

Lauri Rains July 30, 2018 at 11:11 am

This is nothing compared to your beautiful writing -How to let it go-
I wrote that a few years ago when I was trying to work through another new “MS thing” MS is so unpredictable that yes, everyday it just might present a new challenge or not.
Help wanted……temporary
If it is something good or if it is something bad, it will either simply run its course or evolve and leave something else in its place.
It is not as though I just figured this out, but once I said it aloud it made more sense to me.
Why get upset about anything? …whatever it is it will soon change.

stella maris July 30, 2018 at 11:58 am

Hi, David:
I just found this post and your site. Thanks very much!

I’m a Roman Catholic, and the eastern type of mindfulness practice doesn’t quite work for me. Any suggestions, and do you think your Camp could still be of value for a Catholic?

David Cain July 30, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Hi Stella. Mindfulness as it’s practiced in the west is just a kind of attentional training. Buddhist meditators have been the biggest contributors to the practice of mindfulness, but it is just a kind of training for your attention and does not conflict with any belief system.

Evie July 30, 2018 at 12:52 pm

I really loved this. I do have a couple of questions about this.

1st, how do you recommend integrating something like chronic pain/illness/physical debilitation into this? Maybe it’s not really something that applies or perhaps how one reacts is a big part of the situation.

2nd, I know we focus on ‘letting go’ but your article also mentioned not ‘pulling in’ or dwelling on the good/positive. Why is that? Also, what would be an example of that… I don’t really even notice dwelling on the positive as much as I am just ‘being or feeling positive’.

Thank you!

David Cain July 30, 2018 at 1:42 pm

Mindfulness can be used for both acute and chronic pain, but I would consult a medical professional if you are using it as any sort of medical treatment. There’s a great book on this application of mindfulness, called Break Through Pain by Shinzen Young.

The counterpart to aversion or “pushing away” is often referred to in a mindfulness context as grasping or attachment. It’s where you anxiously try to force pleasant experiences to happen, or prevent them from ending.

One example is when we overeat because we don’t want the pleasure of eating to end, even though there are a lot of consequences to it. Or we put too much faith in a pleasurable experience making us happy in a lasting way, as we often do with vacations, food, affection, etc. All experiences pass, even the ones that seem to make us happy in the moment, and we get attached when we overlook that fact.

Often grasping is even more subtle than that, affecting processes you don’t really notice it until you start meditating. Rumination, for example, can be caused by grasping onto the subtly addictive feeling of running through a scenario in your mind, even a negative scenario. It can make us feel slightly safe, or in control, and we’re afraid to stop, so we create a cycle of obsessing thinking.

Lisa July 30, 2018 at 12:53 pm

What an interesting and timely article for me. One of the topics we addressed during #FWCOC 2018 Ladies Retreat this weekend was the importance of letting go. #Eph4:26 and Eph.4:31-32 Article:

Jamie July 30, 2018 at 12:53 pm

I wish I could let go. I dated someone for 2 years and then we broke up very suddenly. That was almost 20 years ago. I still think about and miss them even though I’m married now and have a wonderful family. Like I said, I wish I could forget, but I can’t. I have friends that have told me they frequently think about “the one that got away” so I guess I’m not the only one.

David Cain July 30, 2018 at 1:53 pm

I don’t think we can prevent ourselves from having thoughts about the past, and having emotional responses to those thoughts.

I’m proposing here that we manage all of that differently. We learn how to see our lives in terms of present-moment experience: when that thought about “what could have been” occurs, and you notice it, there is a chance to recognize that it’s just a thought, occurring right here, right now.

That changes the problem completely: it becomes a matter of managing a recurring thought that happens now and then, and the temporary emotional effects that come with it. Mindfulness training helps you stay with the physical symptoms of an emotional experience, so that you refrain from fueling it by engaging with the subject matter of the thought (i.e. having mental dialogues about it). With practice, the thought becomes a small mental event that arises, has a short effect on you (on the order of a few minutes, or seconds) and which you move on from. This way, you don’t have to prevent those thoughts from happening, you can just the feelings come, be, and go, without fighting them or latching on, as we tend to do.

Jamie July 30, 2018 at 3:58 pm

After we broke up someone told me something to the effect that there is nothing that can take the pain of a broken heart away. Eventually, you find a way to live with it. There will always be memories. And at first, every day when you wake up it will be the first thing you think about….until one day it will be the second thing. And that’s when the the healing and forgetting begins because eventually it will be the third thing, then the fourth thing, etc. until one day you don’t think about it anymore. In my case that hasn’t worked.

David Cain August 1, 2018 at 11:30 am

I think that’s a healthy perspective. I will say that recurring thoughts arise repeatedly because of complex causes and conditions in our psychology and biology. But one of the factors that makes the thoughts persist is how we have responded to those thoughts the previous time. If we get wrapped up in them, by dialoging with them, fantasizing about other outcomes, replaying certain moments, etc, then we are only conditioning the mind to recreate this cycle. If we respond to those thoughts mindfully, as a present-moment mental/emotional experience rather than a problem that needs solving, over time you will probably both reduce the recurrence of those thoughts, and the trouble they give you when they do arise.

James July 30, 2018 at 1:09 pm

And this is what makes the internet so awesome. People connecting with other people, sharing information to better ourselves. This kind of interaction usually doesn’t materialize on FB or any other “popular” site, in fact, Social MEdia sites tend to only feed and nurture narcissistic attitudes, which is probably the underlying reason for our “can’t handle failure” mentality: “Oh man, I gotta keep up this perfect image that I let the world see.” Thank you so much for this insightful article, David. I’m glad firefox recommended it.

David Cain July 30, 2018 at 1:54 pm

Woohoo! The internet wins today :)

Davy Ray July 30, 2018 at 2:38 pm

He is so right. Once I was able to stop dwelling on my problem, I was able to let go without realizing I had. Thanks this article.

Kelly July 30, 2018 at 8:40 pm

Thank you for your very clear thoughts, which I find touch fairly specifically on some behaviors of mine. I wonder about some other reasons for “holding on.” One – I’m sort of an “uncontrollable problem-solver” by nature. If I’ve made an error, I continue to go over it to try to figure out how to fix its immediate consequences, and/or attempt to develop some change that will keep the error from happening again. (I think this often continues long past the point of any added effectiveness.) Two – an error may generate some ongoing ramifications – so then the thought circle becomes something like “what else is going to happen because of that? Can I prevent it? Reduce its impact?” etc. I’d appreciate your thoughts on these drivers of continued attention to completed experiences.

David Cain July 31, 2018 at 12:42 pm

I think most of us have one or both of those — the problem-solving impulse and the rehearsing potential problems impulse.

The problem is we often don’t have a solution for a given concern, and we can’t actually prepare mentally of all possibilities. So we just ruminate on the mental hamster wheel.

I find this habit tremendously helpful. When you notice you’re ruminating, ask yourself: “Is this thinking leading to some sort of decision or action?” If not, then it’s not doing you any good and you can feel safe simply letting it slip to the backburner of the mind, while you turn your attention to something more useful. Mindfulness practice helps you recognize rumination before it snowballs too much.

Adam July 31, 2018 at 1:00 am

Thank you for this well thought out post. How does letting go relate to grief and the loss of a loved one? I would be interested to know your thoughts.

David Cain July 31, 2018 at 12:51 pm

When it comes to grief over loss, even though the loss is in the past, the grief keeps arising in the present moment, and that is where we have to address it. Mindfulness helps us recognize and deal with grief and other emotions as a present-moment experience… the sorts of thoughts, the physical and emotional symptoms… it’s more manageable when we see it in those terms rather than get lost in rumination/regret/anger/sadness.

Vilx- July 31, 2018 at 2:58 am

Well, this is… conflicting. You keep repeating in this article that “There’s no such thing as a permanent experience.” and to “Let it go”. In other words, don’t care about your experiences, they don’t mean anything anyways, they’re temporary, unimportant. And yet literally everything else in your website is about crafting your experiences (and when it comes to money, that buying experiences is more important than possessions). I’m confused.

Evie July 31, 2018 at 12:14 pm

Hi Vilx, I think your question is interesting. I interpret this not as meaning “don’t care” “don’t try” “nothing means anything” – but that we are conditioned to over-invest in our experiences being a certain way, and it’s great to relearn how to think about them. If you want a job, apply. If you want to eat icecream, eat it. But if you’re telling yourself you cannot be happy if this specific job goes through, or constantly thinking about icecream even though you also don’t feel good after eating too much, you’re spending a detrimental amount of your emotional energy on something you can’t control and that is temporary. Recognizing these feelings isn’t ignoring them. It’s just acknowledging, ‘yes, it’s hard, but I really don’t want icecream every day, so I will observe my desire and then let it pass’… or ‘yes, I want icecream even though I feel bad after, I acknowledge that, but I’m getting it anyway’… but *not* ‘I am going to think about icecream all day, finally cave in and buy it, and then non-stop regret it until tomorrow.’ Make peace with what you need – long and short term.

David Cain July 31, 2018 at 12:56 pm

I agree that you are confused!

There are no permanent experiences, no. Can you name an experience that doesn’t end? This is not controversial.

Letting go means recognizing the reality of this impermanence in the present moment. Our natural inclination is to try to keep unpleasant experiences away forever and keep pleasant experiences here forever. This is impossible, and the attempt creates stress and distorts our behavior in destructive ways. Mindfulness practice allows us to attune our expectations to this natural coming and going of experience, which minimizes those problems.

National Bagelfest Day July 31, 2018 at 4:02 am

Thanks for the informative and helpful post, obviously in your blog everything is good..

Learning2LetGo July 31, 2018 at 10:15 am

This article can help so many people let go if they see that the experience only lasts for a few moments. Vilx – I think it doesn’t mean not to care about your experiences but to learn from them. When something traumatic happens it happens and is gone but it is what’s left behind that we have to deal with.

Columbigal July 31, 2018 at 3:56 pm

I think the most important word in the whole post is “gently”.

David Cain August 1, 2018 at 11:37 am

Definitely! Our minds are extremely fickle and when we’re first practicing mindfulness there is a tendency to try to force things. Gentleness is absolutely necessary.

rsc July 31, 2018 at 6:05 pm

I think letting go is a step towards an even higher goal. This higher goal is detachment or vairagya. Having the ability to see impermanence of one’s emotions is a skill, no doubt. Having the ability to choose one’s emotions is a higher skill. I say this not to put down this idea of mindfulness but this ‘becoming a conduit of emotions’ should be a step towards ‘being able to choose your emotions’.

David Cain August 1, 2018 at 11:35 am

Vairagya means nonattachment as far as I understand… I am not sure if it is the goal, or the means to the goal of cessation/nirvana/moksha.

Either way I do not interpret it as the ability to choose one’s emotions. I don’t think that’s possible for a primate such as ourselves, but it isn’t necessary if we can respond to emotional experience with equanimity and nonattachment.

HappyLuckyZoe August 2, 2018 at 8:40 am

OMG, David! You always seem to post right what I need to read that particular day. It’s amazing! Thank you for that insightful article, it made my day. ;)

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