We have all heard the three phrases; let it be, let it go and let it in. What do they mean though, and how does this apply to our psychological well-being?
We live in a hyper-competitive society where it is all too easy to become obsessed with getting things done. This obsession is fueled by promises of opportunity, success, prestige and ultimately, happiness. It’s no wonder that anxiety is one of the most common things people face today. Stress is everywhere. We are hardwired to strive for more and often programmed to believe that in order to be “ok” or happy in life, we need to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish, and accomplish some more. This constant striving for more can advance both individuals and society, but when taken too far can cause us to lose perspective and therefore our awareness of all of the wonderful things that are happening in the present moment.
While it is true that anxiety is an emotion that can often harvest motivation to do better, it can be crippling when stressful thoughts and feelings are constantly flowing through out minds and bodies. If you find yourself regularly resting your mind on worries and self-criticism, your brain will develop neural structures that support the dynamics of anxiety, low sense of worth and even depression. Our minds and bodies are interconnected and the way we treat ourselves emotionally effects us physically in our brains, in our physical health and vice versa.
Practicing mindfulness in the present moment can help relieve us of some of the stress and anxiety the worries of the past and future. Rick Hansen PhD. reports in his book Just One Thing: Developing a buddha brain one simple practice at a time that being mindful actually increases activation of the left prefontal cortex, the area of the brain that puts the brakes on negative emotion. Similarly, having compassion for ourselves builds resilience and lowers negative rumination.
There are three phases to psychological and spiritual growth: letting be, letting go, and letting in. When faced with difficult emotional material like deep sadness or anger (which we will ALL be faced with at some point or another) we must first let it be. We must sit with the emotion, have compassion for ourselves, tell ourselves that it is OK to feel this emotion, that it is indeed uncomfortable and that it will eventually pass. Only after we have been with our uncomfortable emotions can we then let them go. After we let it be, we must let it go. It is only once we have let the negative thoughts and emotions go that we can make space to let the good in.
I’d like to point out that there is a big difference between letting be and ruminating. Ruminating involves replaying the same thoughts over and over in our heads. Letting be involves sitting with uncomfortable feelings such as sadness or anger and both acknowledging and legitimizing them rather than dwelling. An example of ruminating would be dwelling on thoughts associated with our uncomfortable feelings, such as how a certain situation causing us discomfort could have played out differently. Sit with your uncomfortable feeling, acknowledge and accept it, but don’t ruminate. Ruminating will only keep you further from being able to let go of the bothersome emotion and let in all of the goodness that the universe has to offer.
It’s important for parents to model this cycle for children, and the positive behaviors associated with it. Many scientific studies have shown that children learn how to cope with emotional discomfort by learning from the adults around them. If your child is upset about something that is seemingly meaningless to you, don’t minimize their discomfort. Remember that their experience of the world is drastically different from yours. Children lack the kind of perspective that comes with age and experience. Acknowledge their feelings and validate them without judging. There is no such thing as a wrong feeling. There are inappropriate ways to act on feelings, but feelings are never “wrong” in and of themselves. Listen to your kids and help them learn to regulate themselves by acknowledging and validating their feelings and correct their behavior in situations where their behavior may not be appropriate. If they are acting out, make sure they know that it’s their actions that are inappropriate, not the way they are feeling and help them figure out appropriate ways to deal with such uncomfortable or overwhelming emotions.
By first letting be, and then letting go we can release the crippling feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness, etc. from our minds and bodies and make space for all of the good that is out there for us. When kids see adults modeling this healthy behavior for them, they will learn to self-regulate and develop healthy coping strategies for dealing with the inevitable, uncomfortable emotions that we all experience.
Today, try to focus on letting be. Acknowledge your anxiety, sadness, or anger when the feeling arise and have some compassion for yourself. Be with your feeling knowing that it will pass. You will be able to let it go and make space for the happiness we all desire. Who knows, you may even find that by practicing letting be, letting go, and letting in you’ll actually end up being even more productive than you were before when your mind and body were plagued by negative emotions you may not have even known were there!