Learning to practice mindfulness has helped me understand what it means to let something go. Growing up with a whole host of issues, it was something that was said to me often: “Just let it go.” As if it was easy. But I couldn’t. Because I didn’t even know what I was supposed to be letting go of.
In order to truly let go, we have to face ourselves. And all of our pain. And all of our fears. All of the things that have happened to us. That we’ve done or that we’ve been a victim of. Our darkest secrets. The secrets our ancestors probably carried too. And then, as we do the work to heal, day after day after day, we will learn to let go. And in the place of all the things we let go of — the things we used to try to control — we will find joy.
The Danger of Controlling
What I’ve learned while working through my trauma is that we cannot, “let it go,” until we know what it is we are letting go of. We can’t skip the agony of truly understanding our pain. We can’t skip the healing work and just let it go. And if we do, we will try to control everything. I know because I did it for decades without being aware of it. And it only caused me more pain.
I tried to control everything I did. Everything others did. Everything in my life. But there’s a danger in trying to control everything. Because when we seek to control, we will always fail. Because we cannot control life. We cannot control others. We shouldn’t even try to control ourselves (well, within reason; obviously self control is a virtue). Because when putting our energy into trying to control, we’ll miss out on the natural unfolding of things. The subtitles of life that make it feel whole. That make it real.
I’ve also found that in suffering from intergenerational trauma, the trauma of our ancestors, my pain hides itself in ways that I can only access when I relinquish control. When I’m quiet. Still. When I allow my mind to relax. To absorb ancient truths. Without judgement. The moment I judge a thought — try to control the information I’m receiving — it no longer carries the same wisdom. Which has taught me that the need to control my thoughts must go too.
Transforming our mindsets to truly understanding what we can control and what we cannot can also be the difference between life and death. My grandpa, a school board member who was known for his sky-high tomato vines and loving, charismatic personality, was also known for his temper and high stress. He passed just months before I was born while he was cutting carrots for my baby shower. And the woman’s bathtub in the apartment above him was leaking. Dripping into his space. And the anger that surfaced from not being able to control his environment led to a fatal heart attack. I’ve felt those pains in my heart too. The ones that speak to me like an echo from my grandpa. Warning me to let go of the pain. Or else.
But What If I Don’t Know What My Pain Is?
If you’re unsure of your pain, of what is holding you back, making you anxious, depressed. Overwhelmed. Irritated. Angry. My guess is it’s because you are not accessing your feelings inside of your body. That there are feelings you’ve tucked away. Buried deep inside. Stored in the crevices. Feelings of hurt. Of pain. Of trauma. And we must learn how to feel our feelings in order to truly understand ourselves. To gain access to ourselves. And ultimately, to let go. Freeing ourselves.
Once we gain access to our feelings, we have to accept the good with the bad. We must face the things we try to bury. And usually, the uglier the truth is, the more it will scream to get out. To be acknowledged. Feelings, like anything, have to be acknowledged before they can be released. And I’ve found that the ones that are hardest to face, that need to be released the most, are usually right under our noses. Scratching at the surface. Waiting for us to acknowledge them. To create space to unlock them. To let them go.
The Joy of Letting Go
Letting go applies to daily activities as much as it applies to our trauma. Even though I have to keep a fairly strict routine each day to help regulate my nervous system, I find I still have to be flexible. I still need to practice letting go. So that my structure isn’t rigid. And so my foundation cannot easily be shaken.
For example, my husband recently turned 40 and decided to take the day off of work. To relax. Read. Nap. To lose himself in the bliss of the day. But our air conditioner was leaking in the 90-degree heat, so we found ourselves at the mercy of the HVAC repair men. They text my husband at 9 a.m. to say they were coming. When he was running and I was doing yoga. When neither of us were available to let them in. Then at 11 a.m., they still weren’t here. My husband text but got no response. He was ready to take a nap and I still needed to take a bath. So once again, neither of us were going to be available to let them in. And I felt my body start to tighten. My nervous system begin to deregulate. My thoughts start to scatter. And then my need to control kicked in.
I wanted my husband to call. Cancel. Demand to get an exact time from them. So that the on-edge feeling of two strange men walking up to our house at any minute would leave my body. So that I could follow the next steps of my routine and take a bath without fear they’d knock on the door when my husband was asleep and I was in the tub. Be standing in our living room when I got out. Be drilling and hammering and making noises that would disrupt my sense of safety. Prevent my husband from being able to relax on his birthday and sleep. And then, as I brought myself back to the present moment, I saw my husband’s peaceful face and realized that putting all of that anxiety on him wouldn’t be kind. That if he was okay, I could be okay too. That I could let it go.
It set a joyful tone for the rest of the day. A day when my urge was to try to control things to make it a special day for him. Especially since we’d canceled his party because COVID numbers were surging. A friend wanted to bring a gift over, and I kept myself from texting her to try to figure out a time. To try to organize it so that she dropped it off when he was home. To try to control it. Instead, I let it unfold as it naturally did. To let it be. To let it go.
I was even able to break part of my daily routine in order to make my husband lunch on his birthday. Instead of letting my anxiety and attempt to control everything take away my well-being. My okayness. As it did during so many special times in the past. Instead, I let it all go and rode the waves of what came. Realizing nothing I was trying to control mattered anyway. So my husband could enjoy his day. And so I could be the wife I’ve always wanted to be.