Advanced Lessons in Letting Go
(Excerpted from Let Go and Live in the Now, Red Wheel/Weiser, 2004: 2600 words)
Just as a storm in the atmosphere of the earth is born of conflicting fronts of different temperatures colliding with one another, so too must there be conflicting forces within us in order to form a mental or emotional storm. Our task is to become conscious of these unseen forces that dwell in the unenlightened parts of us. As we grow to realize that no disturbance can remain within us without our granting it the force it needs to sustain its fury, we realize that we have at our disposal two great powers. We are empowered to dismiss storms when they appear in our psychic system and, with time and practice, we can learn to dismiss these disturbances before they begin!
What are these invisible conflicting forces at work within us that cause so much foul weather? We uncover the first of these unconscious forces by recognizing that the storms in our lives all share a common cause. Each storm, large or small, centers on something that happens to us that we don’t want to be happening for whatever reasons. A few quick examples prove this insight, but best success is assured if you will fill in the blanks from your own experience.
Imagine a woman caught in an emotional firestorm of anger because she does not want to be treated like that. Or a man who feels trapped by a tormenting depression because he doesn’t want what life continues to bring to him. Can we see that these two storms share a common root? Both rise as they do because of our unconscious resistance to something that has already happened.
Whenever we face an unwanted event and find ourselves feeling nothing but resistance, we can discover that this stress-mess is made from our insistence that this should not have happened. And how about when we recall past mistakes, painfully reliving how we fell down — either a moment ago or ten years back? Aren’t we sure that whatever that error may have been — it shouldn’t have taken place? Which brings us to the following insight that deserves a few moments extra consideration. It feels natural for us to go along with the feeling of not wanting what we are powerless to change!
What on earth lies hidden in this strange struggle of ours that compels us to wrestle with what amounts to mental ghosts? After all, once something has happened in our life — that moment is over; it’s gone, done with, finished. Clearly, what was no longer exists in the here and Now. So, we have to ask ourselves, given this understanding that is above dispute, how can something from our own past feel as real and as alive as it does to us in the present moment? The following answer brings us one step closer to living in a world without storms.
Within our mind linger an untold number of chemically and electrically stored images of the way things were. These mental pictures include complete scenes of every experience past, as well as pleasurable or frightening images of what is yet to come. And these same images are secret storehouses of all the sensations that accompanied them in the moment of their creation. Each one is laden with its original emotional content that pours into us each time we revisit them. To help visualize how this unseen psychic sequence unfolds within, put yourself in the place of this imaginary person — Barbara — walking down the street.
As Barbara window-shops her eye catches sight of a lace-sleeved lavender blouse on sale in one of her favorite stores. In an instant, Barbara recalls wearing a similar blouse many years ago the night her father passed away. Now, virtually unnoticed, a small wave of regret washes over her. For reasons unknown to her, as she stands there still looking at a blouse she feels sure should be in her closet, she is beginning to think about the last words she had with her father, and how she wishes she would have said something else.
The more Barbara is drawn into these flooding considerations, the more she suffers. And the more unwanted this painful experience becomes, the more she unconsciously resists her mounting turmoil until she is caught in a full-blown storm. Haven’t we all been there before? Where a seemingly harmless thought, which we turn over in our mind, becomes a tornado? Well, it need not be like that . . . for any of us!
The only reason we ever find ourselves caught in a psychological storm is because we have been drawn, without knowing it, into identifying with — actually merging with — mental images from our past. These images are pre-loaded — rather like psychological time capsules — with punishing thoughts and feelings that flood into us the instant we identify with them. As the invisible, but psychically palpable blows from these painful memories pour through on us, we are unconsciously moved to try and resist them — all of which makes us feel as though we are trapped in a storm about which we can do nothing other than try to escape its lashing!
Once we invite the following insight to become our own, we need never again endure the pounding of such negative states: No storm of mental torment or dark, emotional suffering belongs to you. Any wave of resentment, anxiety, or fear that comes to wash you away is nothing more than a kind of psychic residue left over from who you once were. Not only do these negative states have nothing in common with your True Nature, but they cannot enter into the living Now where this higher consciousness lives.
This same truth can be said in a slightly different way: we cannot be punished by any painful storm when we are grounded in the present moment. The reason for this perfect protection is as pure as it is simple: psychological storms are powerless to push their divisive and destructive forces into the spiritual harbor of Now because, within Its native wholeness, they have no way to remain there. Now let’s pull these important lessons together in a short summary.
We have seen that the storms we suffer are not born simply from any particular event that takes place, but rather they rise from an unknown ground in us due to our undetected resistance to them. Further, these unwanted events that we so strongly resist are not the actual events themselves. What we secretly struggle against in these moments are unwanted images of that event fashioned by ourselves. This occurs, for example, when we imagine a fearful future, or see ourselves thrown for a social loss of some sort. In these moments we suffer, as we do, because we are looking at what we don’t want to see. And then, because we don’t know that we have been tricked into giving these negative fantasies our attention, we try to imagine ways to escape their punishing presence. The more we struggle to get away, the more attention we inadvertently lend to what we wish would disappear! It’s a great paradox: not wanting to look upon what is bothering us keeps what is bothering us in plain view! But now we are beginning to see our way out of this trap.
From this moment forward, whenever some dark storm appears in us we must neither run from it, nor stand there and hate what we think is happening. Instead we must awaken to ourselves, bring ourselves back into the Now and quietly, deliberately, drop any image that our thought-nature presents within us to justify the brewing conflict. Learning to dismiss the storms that sink our chances to be happy takes dedicated inner work, but you may be assured such powers are possible. Your True Nature already dwells beyond the reach self-wrecking storms.
-Remember This Simple Truth and Be Self-Ruling-
At this point one great, bright, new idea should be dawning in us: we are not meant to be the slave of any negative thought or feeling, nor are we intended to live under the limitations inherent in these darkened states. Our true role is to be the sovereign governor of our interior lives and all that this spiritual estate implies. It is our spiritual right to decide what kind of thoughts and feelings are permitted to roam through our consciousness and to rule their relationships as the overseer of our own soul. Of this let there be no doubt.
In line with this last idea, the following insight amplifies what we’ve learned about letting go and living in the Now: there is not a thought that can stay in our mind, not a feeling that can remain in our heart, that is not willingly remembered. Let me explain this amazing truth about an equally amazing, but as yet unrealized, power of ours.
Have you ever had appear in your mind the image of someone who hurt you, or run a whole mental movie about something that didn’t work out, so that in recalling the event you actually relived the sense of loss? How does such a painful image seem to stay in the mind, especially given the fact of how much we struggle to make it go away? We all know how it feels to try and “fix” such visitations, where we dream up a new solution, tell ourselves what we should have said, hope that something we can think of will make it go away. Of course none of these answers work for one very good reason. Here is the key to unlocking this continuing conflict.
These unwanted images return again and again as they do because something within us keeps recalling them and drawing them to the forefront of our mind. Perhaps your reaction to this lesson is something like: “Impossible! How can that be true since all I want is to free myself of their painful presence?” The answer is self-evident, even though our present senses dictate otherwise.
Since the truth is we do not have to share a single moment with the memory of anything that we don’t want to, this means there is something in our present nature that wants to recall painful past experiences. Such new self-knowledge lends us the light we need to make higher choices for ourselves, based in conscious awareness. Now we can choose to remember what it is that we want to! In other words, rather than allowing ourselves to be drawn into battle with unwanted thoughts or feelings that appear by themselves within our heart and mind, we can do something completely new. We can choose not to focus on what these troubled states want us to; we know that’s the road to ruin. Instead we will choose to remember what it is that we want above all else — the Light of Truth that not only reveals what has been hurting us, but that frees us from these unconscious conditions at the same time.
The Wise Ones have always taught the great gift of remembering the Living Light and the practice of placing ourselves in its presence before we embrace anything else. Of course the elevated nature of this kind of remembrance in the face of our trials requires our deliberate and conscious willing of it; but, to paraphrase St. Augustine, “My remembrance of thee is really an effect of thee remembering me.”
This means that everything about Reality is already set up to help us succeed with our new aim.
So, in that same moment when you realize that something painful from your past has again pressed its way into you, holding you hostage to a hated image or painful regret, here is what to do: right there, right in that Now, instead of capitulating into that familiar state of feeling yourself to be a captive of what this pain tells you that you must remember (along with all of its suggested solutions for ending the suffering), you choose to remember the Light. Here is a quick look at what this new inner action entails.
Instead of being drawn into a struggle with that unwanted sense of conflict, complete with its cast of supporting characters drawn from your past, intentionally withdraw your attention from that stage show. And at the same time as you close the curtain on it, bring all of your reclaimed attention into the Now. Come awake to the sense of your own physical body. Observe what thoughts and feelings are pressing themselves into your awareness and, while working in the Now like this, welcome into you a conscious remembrance of the Light, of God’s Life, of the whole truth as best you understand it.
For instance you might work to remember that the Living Light that has no burden, as opposed to identifying with an old bitterness that is itself the burden that it always blames on others. The key, regardless of one’s individual approach, is to make interior effort based upon bringing your new self-knowledge into a willing watchfulness. To help get you started, here are a few other suggestions. When an angry thought flashes in your mind, accompanied by the fiery sensations born of recalling some injustice done to you in the past, instead of remembering the resentments this little image stirs in you, turn the tables on it. Bring its little troubled life into your remembrance of that greater presence within you that dwells well beyond its punishing power. Work like this whenever you can and, like a pebble tossed into a deep pond, the ripple effects of that past pain will simply disappear into the healing nature of the Now. Instead of a life of endless resistance, you will learn the timeless secret of how to replace any form of darkness with the Light you have chosen over it.
Choose to remember the Light. Let it fight for you. Not only will this Living Intelligence lift you above the fray of all that should be forgotten, but it also will guide you back home to a timeless place in yourself where the past no longer dwells.
Key Lessons In Review
1. There is nothing in the universe with the power to hold the human mind in painful captivity except for the cage it builds for itself out of its own mistaken thinking.
2. Detect and deliberately drop all fearful thoughts about what may be your future and you release yourself from a present torment whose unseen driving force is, in fact, your own consent to dwell on darkly imagined tomorrows.
3. Remember that all dark thoughts and feelings require our consent to punish us and that these negative states are, in themselves, literally nothing without the powers we grant them. Then, in this same bright moment of recalling the truth of ourselves, we are made the conqueror of what would overcome us!
4. Spiritually speaking, the cost of starting over is not what we pay to achieve some distant desire, but it is in our willingness to let go of — to dare to live without — any desire we may have whose promise of fulfillment drives us to search for it in yet another tomorrow.
5. Once we understand how to use them, life’s many unwanted twists and turns are no longer seen as isolated, disjointed experiences under whose yoke we are born to be burdened, but instead are realized as unique opportunities, whose rewards are the lessons that can lead us, if we will follow them, up to and through the successful education of the soul.