The Art of Letting Go

©Cort Curtis, Ph.D.

The Art of Letting Go is a very simple but powerful process that enables you to let go of negative emotions that are holding you back from health, happiness and the accomplishment of your goals. It works on a very simple principle: I am responsible for my emotions and that I choose the thoughts that sustain my emotions.

For the most part, most of us relate to our emotional state as something we have no choice about. Events happen in our lives and it seems to us that it is the events themselves that cause us to feel what we feel. If someone has done something to offend me and I am hurt I say in effect, “You hurt me” or “You made me angry.” And unless the person “changes his ways” or perhaps apologizes then I am stuck with the negative emotion. Human beings have learned a variety of different approaches all motivated by a need to somehow deal with painful or undesirable emotions but mostly to no avail. One approach that we all know well is to suppress and repress our feelings. We believe on some level, “if I can just bury my feelings then all will be well.” But It never works. Repressing our emotions does not make them go away and these emotions continue to have an effect on our lives. They may transform themselves into physical illness and at best leave us with a low-grade unhappiness that colors every aspect of our existence.

There are hundreds of other ways that we go about trying to deal with our emotions. We see certain self destructive or self-defeating behavior in ourselves and others but mostly we are unaware of what motivates these behaviors.  In most self-destructive behaviors, the motivation is typically to help us deal with certain unpleasant or painful feelings. As destructive or negative as certain behaviors are, we can always find a positive function for that behavior and that function is to help us cope with or eliminate unwanted emotions. But sooner or later we discover that certain strategies stop working.

I may turn to drugs and alcohol or other addictive behavior to take away anxiety or grief. It may take away the pain at least for the time but then I must continue to use the substance over and over because the pain keeps coming back.

I may try to express my emotions to those whom I am in relationship. And without any sense of responsibility for what I’m feeling will blame those around me. I say in effect, “you are responsible for how I feel and so therefore you must change so I don’t have to feel this way.” And so the blame game goes on ad infinitum until it eventually leads to the ending or at best the uneasy toleration of the relationship.

I may try to change my behavior and decide to “do good” or “do the right thing” and please others around me. I will turn over a new leaf, make new years resolutions, promise myself that I won’t do such and such again and before I know it I am right back where I was. “I can never change,” I might tell myself.

I might seek out and read all of the self-help books I can put my hands on hoping that there is an answer hidden somewhere in the pages. An insight or a technique works for a while, I feel better but alas it suddenly stops working. “How come it worked before and now it doesn’t work,” I quietly tell myself.

Maybe I will try religion to help save me from these wretched feelings. I’m feeling better because I’m hearing inspirational things but still, there are uneasy feelings I know I haven’t dealt with.

Or maybe therapy will help. So I go into therapy for months or even years and years digging up the past, analyzing my emotions, and getting insight. It feels good to “get things out” but when is it over? Is there ever an end? Will I ever figure it all out?

So maybe medication could help. The psychiatrist tells me I have a chemical imbalance. At least I have an explanation for it all and I feel somewhat better but am I really solving the problem?

If any of these strategies are familiar to you it is important to recognize your positive motivation — to eliminate or somehow cope with unwanted or painful emotions. It is not that any particular approach is “bad”; it is simply that it doesn’t work without taking responsibility for our inner world. On some level we want and deserve to be happy. But rarely do any of these approaches really help us see that we are our own worst enemy. When we can see clearly that we create and are responsible for our own unhappiness then it is a very short leap to changing this negative state of affairs.

But what really is the source of my unhappiness? Is it because of my past? Is it the conditions of my life? Is it because I don’t have enough or have what I want? Is it because of my partner’s negative behavior? Is it because people do terrible things and don’t live up to what I think they should? Is it because of all the terrible things I see happening in the world? If I have attributed my unhappiness to anything that is going on outside of me there is only one thing I can do and that is to change, blame or “fix” what is going on around me. Or, it will lead to a never ending quest to find answers somewhere, in something, in some person, in some activity, in some book and of course at some time in the future. My happiness is never available to me right here and now. It is always somewhere else or some time in the future. I keep looking and looking but never finding it.

If the source of my unhappiness is not “out there” then where is it? The simple answer is that it is “in here” in my own thoughts and feelings. And it is not just the thoughts and feelings themselves. It is the fact that I live inside my thoughts, inside my images, inside my beliefs and don’t see that I do.

The Art of Letting Go enables you to “step outside” of your emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and images and see them for what they are — thoughts and feelings! Thoughts and feelings are both aspects of one experience. Any experience has these components to it. There are thoughts and there are feelings or simply “thought/feelings” (coined, “thoughlings”). One doesn’t precede the other. They are simultaneous events. Many therapies help you to change your thoughts and beliefs but you may still be living your life inside that realm. Instead of trying to change your thoughts and emotions it is possible to simply let them go. You don’t need to analyze them, you don’t need to figure them out, you don’t need to do anything with them except let them go and that takes no time at all. When you can truly let go of that which brings you unhappiness, then and only then can you replace these emotions with something positive. But as simple as it sounds to let go of something we all have great resistances to it.

The Art of Letting Go takes you through some fundamental but essential steps to the final release of certain feelings. The first step is to create an environment to tell your story. We all need to be listened to and understood exactly the way we are and what has happened in our past. The next step is to help you identify your troubling emotions and the things you tell yourself that keep those emotions alive. By pinpointing your emotions and thought processes you are getting a handle on the nature of your unhappiness.

The next step is to evaluate whether these emotions and thoughts (“thought/feelings”) are bringing you happiness or misery, whether they are helping you or hurting you, what these emotions are actually doing to you. By seeing clearly the negative impact of certain emotions and thoughts, you discover your motivation to release them because you want to be happy.

Another step is to determine who is truly responsible for these troubling emotions. While you may attribute “cause” outside of yourself, by choosing to take responsibility for them you empower yourself to be the one who is in charge. You cannot let go of anything that you first don’t “own” for yourself.

The next step is to evaluate whether you have the ability to let it go. This step is a natural outgrowth of the last. When you can see clearly that you are responsible for this emotion, when you see clearly that you are holding on to it, then of course you have the ability to let it go. If you are holding something in your hand you certainly have the ability to let it go but you may not yet have the willingness.

One of the most important steps of the whole process is to then evaluate whether you are willing to let go. Our resistances to anything always reside in our will. The fact that we don’t or won’t activate our ability to do something, especially something that may be in our best interests, is usually the result of fear. And fear takes many forms.

  • I am afraid of being hurt again
  •  I am afraid of failing
  •  What if it comes back?
  •  I’m afraid of losing control
  •  I’m afraid of being dominated
  •  and on and on…

It is important to realize that we all have resistances to letting go. In many ways we are attached to the very condition we say we don’t want. Holding on may be the source of my pain but at least it is familiar. I soon discover that the fears I have about what will occur if I decide to let go is already happening.

Letting go takes no time at all. What takes time is working through your resistances. You are unwilling but that is only because you are afraid. And you are only afraid because of what you believe will happen. But what you are afraid will happen if you let go is already happening. And if what you are afraid will happen is already happening then the next big question is, “what do I have to lose? The better question is “What do I have to gain? The answer is everything — everything that is important to you, which is your own happiness and peace of mind.

Once you realize that you are the creator of your own experience and that you have created the negative experience you have and have succeeded in letting go of it, the next step is to decide what you want to replace that experience with. When you realize that you have created a negative experience and once you have succeeded in letting go of it then you can choose to create a new possibility in its place.

Knowing yourself as the creator of your experience is heretical to your ego, which rests on the very foundation of being a victim of your experience. Your ego actually lives in the illusion of power because of its ability to resist. In fact, that is what the ego’s existence is based on-resistance-and to let go would mean the ego would cease to exist. So naturally, the ego has an investment in holding on. But the fact that you hold on is only because you have identified with your ego and so therefore to let go would feel as if you won’t exist. But the truth is, you are not your ego and when you have succeeded in letting go, you discover you are still around but also a much happier human being.

As it takes no time to let go, it also takes no time to create an experience. Creating an experience is instant and is outside the realm of time. Manifesting an experience is another thing and is inside the realm of time. It is where action comes into play. It is how we have what we create. But the reality is that we already have what we created. If we have a lot of negativity in our lives we can rest assured that it is a result of manifesting a negative experience that we created. So if you want a mirror of your internal world, take a look at what is happening around you. It is often the result of your own creation!

If you are reading these words from your own ego, you may hear it as blame and fault. “So it’s all my fault”, the ego says. But this is what your ego says anyway, “I am a victim” and so gets into the argument of determining who is at fault and blaming circumstances outside of you, which is a clever device for remaining stuck. The ego cannot see the power of taking responsibility for your experience because the ego has an investment in holding on. Knowing that you are the creator of your experience is the most liberating moment of your life because you realize that your happiness is available to you right here and now.