Letting Go

Years ago, when I was working long hours, feeling stressed, and focused on externals, I declared, “I just need to let go.” A wise friend looked at me and noted: “Joy, you can’t, all of sudden, completely let go. What’s one small step you can take?” I wanted things to change right away, but this was impossible. I needed to be patient and persistent. And, most importantly, I needed to prioritize my own well-being, self-awareness, and healing.

In my mindfulness courses, I hear people say, “I have this nagging thought (or judgment or memory or worry) and I know I just have to let it go.” Sounds so simple in a sentence, but the reality is much different. The idea of letting go all at once feels like a meme on social media—“Just let it go”—which people “like” by the hundreds yet don’t really understand. 

We often get stuck in life. Stuck in grief. Stuck unable to forgive. Stuck in storylines of our mind. Stuck in despair or loneliness or hurt or frustration. We wish we had a magical pill that could flip us 180 degrees to a different, happier, unstuck heart-mind state. That pill doesn’t exist. But we do have inner-resources (and outer-resources), which can help shift our perspective. We can’t flip 180 degrees, but we can change our view by 2 degrees. And then 2 degrees more. That’s just enough space to create possibility. 

My old journals were filled with hateful messages about myself. At that time, I desperately wanted to love myself even though the strongest voice in my head was my nasty inner-critic. I longed for the 180-degree flip, but I chose to move forward with 1-degree turns (even a 2-degree turn felt big). Some examples: Self-compassion practice, small acts of kindness for myself, looking in the mirror and saying “I love you,” self-portraiture, writing myself a letter whenever I sent a card to a friend, speaking up for myself and my needs, being vulnerable and real, paying attention to the critical voice (writing it down) —then shredding those papers, choosing exercise that felt good to my body, and spending time on silent meditation retreats.

These small steps eventually led to me loving myself; to me befriending myself. In this process, there wasn’t one most-important step. It was an amalgamation of many 1-degree shifts toward kindness, compassion, and authenticity.

Our cultural messages and marketing claim there are “quick fixes” for everything. Buy [fill in the blank] and you’ll be happy. The hard truth: There aren’t quick fixes for deep wounds, painful life circumstances, or stuck places. The good news: We can shift perspective by 2 degrees and begin to feel more awake and whole. Then, when we feel ready, we can make another 2-degree shift. This is the slow, persistent, patient path towards change.

I recorded a meditation on “letting go.” Each day, we do many things that are “letting go” practice. We might not recognize them as such, but they’re there. In ordinary ways, we can take small steps toward wholeness, acceptance, and letting go: