One thing I hear a lot is the phrase, “Let that go!”. It’s a catch phrase, or a catch all phrase, but what does it really mean, and is it even possible?
I think this phrase is said by a lot of well meaning people, both for themselves and for other people. I get it, we are tired of hurting, or tired of stuffing, or tired of our lives the way they are. Maybe we are tired of pain, both our own, and others’. Maybe we don’t like something about ourselves, or others, or something that was done to us or something we did. We don’t like dealing with difficult things - memories, feelings, situations.
Wouldn’t it just be easier to just declare, “Oh, ya, it was painful, but I just let it go.”
I guess I’m writing this for the people who think they have tried that approach and it still didn’t work…the pain is still there, the anger hasn’t dissolved, their body is still in pain, they are still jealous, hurting, sad. You name it, it’s still there.
So what’s wrong with them, how come they can’t just let it go?
Do you see that lovely picture of the iceberg?
That’s a visual of why it isn’t so easy to just let stuff go. In the image, do you see the part of the iceberg that is above the water? See how small that is compared to the rest? That little, itty, bitty part above the water is all you actually know about yourself…your conscious self. The rest, the big part underneath, the part that sunk the Titanic, that’s the rest of you. The unconscious part, the place we store everything. The part that won’t be ‘let go’. The part that demands you see it, get curious about it and start moving towards it.
So what lies underneath the water in your unconscious? Well, a big piece, maybe the biggest, is your body, your physiology, your physical self - muscles, organs, breathing, heart rate etc. Your big storage facility. The place you put experiences before your mind even has a chance to register them. Trauma, for instance, happens at the level of your physiology. Your body decides what to do with the experience, not your mind. Next, your emotions - the emotional state you are in right now that you probably don’t even realize you are in. How many times have we realized we were stressed only after something starts to break down. It’s a skill to be aware of ourselves in present moment and something we have to develop, not just assume that because we are living in this moment, we are actually present.
Your feelings - awareness of your emotional state as it is being expressed by your physiology (your body, not your mind). How many of us really know and can identify what we are feeling at any given moment? When someone asks, “How do you feel about that?” Do you know what you feel? We say sadness but what if it’s actually anger? Or under the anger, sadness. How do you know? And then, once you know what you are feeling, can you allow yourself to actually feel it? That takes skill too, especially if the feeling was off-limits in your family…like my family doesn’t get angry, or, we don’t do sad. Also under the water line is your thinking. I know we like to think that all our thoughts are conscious but we really do have unconscious thoughts running through us all the time. Our unconscious thoughts and beliefs are informing our actions all the time…below the level of our consciousness. One thing to realize is that your whole survival strategy is below the water line. Who you became in order to survive, is mostly under the water, not part of our awareness.
Above the water line, our actual behaviour…how we actually present, is the result of everything below the water line. In fact….behaviour could still be under the water line because we are often doing things we have no idea that we are doing. For instance, someone thinking your behaviour was mean and you thought you were being nice.
So why can’t we just let things go?
Lets say, because of my previous history, I received a message in my life that I was too much. Too loud, too expressive, too emotional etc. And lets say this mantra is constantly playing over the loud speaker in my under the water iceberg. Now, lets say in my above the water line life, I’d like to get a better job or maybe a better relationship…but, I would have to step out, be more visible, ask for what I need. So, I decide that’s exactly what I’m going to do…I'm going to let go of making bad for me choices. Maybe I’m able to make a few positive moves, but eventually I’ll hit a wall. The unconscious material under the surface is actually calling the shots and is committed to me accepting that I am too much. This under the water part of me wants me not to repeat the injuries I have gotten from stepping out so it will shut me down in order to keep me small and safe. Until I understand the depth of things below the water line and come into relationship with this part of myself, I can tell myself what ever I want above the surface and the iceberg below will just keep on keeping on.
It will dictate my life.
Carl Jung said we will experience our unconscious coming towards us in the form of fate.
In order to change things above the water line, your behaviour, you have to start underneath…with your physiology, what’s happening in your body and take your cues from there. Your body never lies. We have to discover what tapes we have playing over the loud speaker, why they started playing and how that belief has served us so far, in order to change the recording. We have to feel the feelings that go with it, name the emotions, find where these things live in our bodies. We have to come into relationship with ourselves and our stories, not be so quick to try to just let them go. To me, you can truly let things go, when you have worked them through, when you have befriended what is below the surface. When you have honoured and integrated your story. Felt your feelings. Befriended your survival story. Healed your wounds.
I think we are so used to approaching everything from the level of our minds, that what we are really talking about is willpower and determination.
Do I have the willpower to keep painful things out of my awareness?
Done! I let that one go!
Do I have the determination to not feel my feelings?
Yes! Done! Consider them gone!
Can I keep painful experiences at bay?
Where did it go? Below the surface, in your storage facility, hoping you won’t notice it’s presence.
So, the next time someone offers you a way to quickly resolve trauma and let that go….remember the old phrase..if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Consider the journey one of be-friending yourself and all that lay in your unconscious, all that was considered too painful to be felt or processed so was stored until you could turn your attention to what lay underneath. Go gently, be patient, use curiosity and compassion. Expect to be excavating what lay under the water for quite some time....perhaps the rest of your life.
We always have really great reasons for putting our stuff far away from our conscious selves. The process of excavating what lies under the water is a journey of becoming, a journey of re-membering, of feeling, of understanding ourselves as we never have before.
There are no short cuts.
I’m thankful for that, actually, because it is through this process that we become more human, more compassionate, more loving. When we see what lies below our own water level, how can we judge someone else?
Be courageous, ask questions. What lies under this experience that I’m trying so hard to just ‘let go of’?
What would happen if I turned towards my experiences, my painful past, my choices, my feelings and emotions? What would change in my life if I slowly brought what is under the surface, up? Up to see the light of day, to feel the gaze of my attention, to be integrated into my conscious self.
That's the work of transformation, and the way to truly let things go.