I always called myself a thinker. Someone who thinks a lot, analyzes everything. I’m even proud of it, as it somehow shows that I’m not an empty-headed dummy. But what I realized later in life is that thinking a lot often doesn’t actually correlate with intelligence. Because the kind of thinking that is going through my head is not that focused, deliberate thinking that scientists or writers do about a specific subject they’re researching or creating. My thinking is often driven by same old thoughts and rumination that run again and again day after day, that arise out of fears and anxieties (e.g. “when will I already have a family?”), or dwelling on the past (e.g. “was this the right choice?”), or what to wear to look good, what to say to look smart, judging what others are doing, worrying about what to eat not to gain weight, what to eat to be healthy, what should I do with my life, where should I move or stay, and where am I going in my career. Basically monkey mind, running on its own. Thoughts running ME, not me running thoughts. And most of this is accompanied by inner pain or pressure, sometimes manifesting into physical pain, heaviness, discomfort and illnesses. Our mind is a powerful thing.
It was truly serendipitous how I came about this book “Letting Go – Pathway to Surrender” by David Hawkins MD, PhD. A good friend of mine recommended it twice, but as often happens the name escapes my memory within a second, and becomes yet another “nice to do, one day”. Not this time though! There I was a few hours before my last relationship ended aimlessly scrolling through Facebook when I saw a post by some famous guy about how he wanted to read this book with focused intention but kept getting distracted by food and phone notifications, and that day he got stuck in elevator with no cell reception and with the book in his backpack, so he had no excuse not to read it in quiet while waiting for someone to come get him. So I decided to finally get the book after this third time it showing up in my life. And that same night all emotional and anxious over yet another failure in life I open my laptop to the book cover and started reading it right away. I immediately started feeling better. It made a profound impact on my life. I’m rereading it now third time as I’m writing this to refresh my memory. Crazy how life happens for you.
How Feelings and Thoughts Work
This is how my usual way of dealing with negative feelings was, and I assume how most people do it and it doesn’t actually work: by trying to suppress, express or avoid them. Suppressing (or repressing) means we push them away subconsciously or consciously as a form of ensuring the feeling isn’t present in our mind by basically denying it’s there. There’s a quote in How I Met Your Mother by Ted Mosby: “When life gives us pain, we Buckeyes take that pain and we push it down, and if that pain starts to come up again, we push more pain down on top of it. Why confront something if we can avoid it, right?”. I often joked with friends that it’s us too. Who wants to feel crappy, it seems easier just to ignore it.
Expressing happens when we vent or verbalize our feelings. This is also me, an expressive extravert, I share and vent a lot, while actually making it worse by reliving the painful moments and making myself ruminate ever more. It’s not helping because it aggravates the negative emotion even further while allowing an illusion of the released energy behind it to trick my mind that I feel better. A remaining chunk of unresolved feeling is now hidden for some time until it comes back again after a while. I won’t be sharing it again and again, however, so at some point it just gets stuck inside and I have to keep suppressing it.
Avoiding them is what modern society is so good at: entertainment, workaholism, drinking, smoking, keeping ourselves busy just so we don’t face ourselves. As much as I hate to admit, I avoid being alone. I’m much better now, and maybe it came with age, or with practice, but before I would plan my weekends so much ahead of time out of anxiety of being by myself at home feeling forgotten and un-needed by everyone. My last resort was shopping, for literally anything. I was jealous of intraverts, wondering how complete they are without people around. I guess I didn’t really consider that they have to find other ways of coping that doesn’t involve social interactions which may be even trickier.
This really struck a chord with me:
“People are terrified of facing themselves. They dread even a moment of aloneness. Thus the constant frantic activities: the endless socializing, talking, texting, reading, music playing, working, traveling, sightseeing, shopping, overeating, gambling, movie-going, pill-taking, drug-using, and cocktail-partying.
Many of the foregoing mechanisms of escape are faulty, stressful, and ineffective. Each of them requires increasing amounts of energy in and of itself. Enormous amounts of energy are required to keep down the growing pressure of the suppressed and repressed feelings. There is a progressive loss of awareness and an arrest of growth. There is a loss of creativity, energy, and real interest in others. There is a halting of spiritual growth and eventually the development of physical and emotional illness, disease, aging, and premature death. The projection of these repressed feelings results in the social problems, disorders, and the increase of selfishness and callousness characteristic of our present society. Most of all, the effect is the inability to truly love and trust another person, which results in emotional isolation and self-hatred.”
Excerpt From: David R. Hawkins. “Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender.” iBooks.
What I learned is that the mind, with its thoughts, is driven by feelings. Thoughts create even more thoughts. So thinking your way out of a worry or anger or sadness never helps, because underlying feelings aren’t dealt with. When we get triggered by something someone says that all of a sudden brings back negative thoughts and feelings, it’s not what they say that upset us, it’s something we haven’t dealt with from the past. It may have been buried with activities and events, but it’s still there. If there’s an emotion that’s sitting inside of us, its energy affects our body and creates thoughts. Until you let the feeling out, thoughts will be generated and churned. Ever dealt with someone you can’t even say the truth to anymore, because they just get upset about everything? It’s really scary how we all dance around each other on tippy toes because something is a “pain point”. The way out is letting go!
Everything in the universe has an energy and emits a vibration. Hawkins explains from scientific standpoint how our emotions calibrate on different energy levels and have a physical effect on our body. Mind blown! He experimentally proved by what he calls muscle test that when you hold negative emotions like fear, sadness, apathy, anger – your body is physically weak, compared to when holding emotions like courage, empathy, hope, love – body is stronger.
To test this out in practice you need a partner. You hold your arm straight in front of you with muscles flexed. Your partner should guide you to focus on various feelings and then press on your arm. Your muscles are stronger and weaker depending on emotion you’re holding, and that shows up in how easy it is to push your hand down. Fascinating.
Mechanism of Letting Go
The way to let go is to simply focus on the feeling when it comes up without engaging with the thoughts. I try to identify a location in the body where the feeling is. Most of us are engaged in thoughts and rationalizing our way out of them, and avoid dealing with emotions themselves, so this is really counterintuitive.
So instead of talking to myself in my head, which I always do until I remind myself to let go, I actually take time consciously to just sit there with the feeling – whatever it may be – and just let it run through me, really feel it. It can be very uncomfortable. For example that night after the break-up, I felt so lonely and sad and scared. I felt like I’ve lost yet another close person and with family far away I’m completely alone in the whole world. So I just sat up on my bed and let myself really feel it in my heart, in my chest. When thoughts came up like “I don’t know what to do now, I have no one, I’m never going to find anyone, I’m a failure, what’s wrong with me, I’ll be forever alone, etc, etc, etc”, I would just stop engaging with them and instead focus again on the tingling in the body, on the heaviness inside, and acknowledge whatever is there. Sometimes I’d say “I acknowledge you, sadness”. Sounds weird, but not weird enough compared to the kind of talking we’re doing in our heads without even realizing it. In a few minutes thoughts started fading away and I felt slightly lighter, like a bit of weight was slowly lifting off and a dark cloud was leaving my head. It really all comes down to doing it enough until it’s lost its power. (I’m super proud of my grammar skills here – by the way).
“Fear of life is really the fear of emotions. It is not the facts that we fear but our feelings about them. Once we have mastery over our feelings, our fear of life diminishes. We feel a greater self-confidence, and we are willing to take greater chances because we now feel that we can handle the emotional consequences, whatever they might be. Because fear is the basis of all inhibitions, mastery over fear means the unblocking of whole avenues of life experience that previously had been avoided.”
Excerpt From: David R. Hawkins. “Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender.” iBooks.
Scales of Emotion
Since each emotion emits energy, each of them has a different frequency and effect on the body and physical and emotional state. There is a scale from Shame, Guilt, Apathy (some of the lower ones) to Joy and Peace (some of the higher ones). Lower end is associated with lower energy, worse life circumstances, poor relationships and poor health. But as we practice letting go, we move up the scale with Courage being the critical minimum point from where we’re able to start taking control of life again. Below this point there isn’t much aliveness at all, and beyond that life flows with more ease. We become more open to opportunities, attract what we want easier, things start coming to us: better self-esteem, more energy, stronger relationships, health, finances.
It’s obvious when people are depressed or apathetic, nothing matters; it’s like we’ve given up on life. There isn’t much openness to any opportunities, and life appears to have lost any meaning. In this state, nothing is possible. This is basically the law of attraction: like goes to like, or poor gets poorer while riches get richer. As we let go of negative emotions and stop holding on to them, we start experiencing other emotions previously hidden from the surface: behind apathy we recognize fear, fear of looking stupid or making a mistake. This is big for me: sometimes I’d rather miss out on life than take a chance of losing a face. That is all in my head, since in reality there’s no such thing as losing face. Life keeps going anyway. Behind fear there is often anger at something that happened in the past that now inhibits us from taking action. These emotions, however, are higher level compared to apathy or guilt. So there’s more energy in them that can push us over the edge to actually do something, which is at the level of courage. As we start taking action and catch the momentum, there come levels of neutrality, willingness and acceptance, which are much more laid back and easy-going. Many doors open up here, and as we take chances and keep letting go of resistance to love and joy, those emotions become available and come with self-expression, forgiveness and happiness.
It takes practice to notice moments when negative feelings come up. My mind starts racing to shatter everything that I’ve built. I would say something like this to myself “this is a waste of time, it’s so stupid, I’m stupid, I can’t figure this shit out!” when things don’t go my way, or if I’m stuck on some problem. To recognize the pattern of my behavior and actually consciously choose to stop, introspect and let the feeling come out without venting in my head does not really feel natural. It’s just not. But I know that going with my default mode is not going to create anything positive, and at the end of the day is hurting me and those around me. Suppressing it won’t keep it down for a long time, because knowing myself I’d just explode on another occasion, probably even less appropriate. Then I’ll just ruin someone’s day, definitely mine, and make a negative impact on someone I care about without even taking responsibility for my behavior. So instead, I decided to remind myself to let go once a day. Just taking a minute or two to look inside and let myself feel whatever is going on in the body, so I get to feel lighter after. It helped me during a few hard times when I was losing my mind and prevented me from ruining in a second something that took months or years to build, and a few times from self-sabotaging myself mentally and emotionally. I’m nowhere near being a monk, but I’m further away from being a ticking bomb or a depressing emo like my friends would jokingly (?) call me before.
Here are some resources, but really just get the book, seriously, you really can afford it. And if you can’t, let me know – I’ll get it for you!
I just googled it, and it came up on Amazon with amazing reviews, I never realized it’s actually so popular.
- Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender by David R. Hawkins M.D. Ph.D
- For you lazy ones – it’s available on Audible too but I believe it’s better to read it
- Found a charismatic white guy explain it on video better than me – JulienHimself