The premise is that we all carry, in our unconscious, a reservoir of negative feelings and beliefs (what Jung calls The Shadow) which we are afraid to look at. So we try to suppress or escape them, perpetuating the pain they cause. To heal our inner turmoil, Hawking suggests “being aware of a feeling, letting it come up, staying with it, and letting it run its course without wanting to make it different or do anything about it. It means simply to let the feeling be there and to focus on letting out the energy behind it.”
All of the negative feelings are essentially forms of fear: fear of loss of esteem by ourselves or others, or fear of not surviving and a loss of security.
Letting go is like the sudden cessation of an inner pressure or the dropping of a weight. It is accompanied by a sudden feeling of relief and lightness, with an increased happiness and freedom. It is an actual mechanism of the mind, and everyone has experienced it on occasion. A good example is the following. You are in the midst of an intense argument; you are angry and upset, when suddenly the whole thing strikes you as absurd and ridiculous. You start to laugh. The pressure is relieved. You come up from anger, fear, and feeling attacked to feeling suddenly free and happy. Think how great it would be if you could do that all of the time, in any place, and with any event. You could always feel free and happy and never be cornered by your feelings again. That’s what this technique is all about: letting go consciously and frequently at will. You are then in charge of how you feel, and you are no longer at the mercy of the world and your reactions to it. You are no longer the victim.
This is employing the basic teaching of the Buddha, which removes the pressure of involuntary reactivity. We carry around with us a huge reservoir of accumulated negative feelings, attitudes, and beliefs. The accumulated pressure makes us miserable and is the basis of many of our illnesses and problems. We are resigned to it and explain it away as the “human condition.” We seek to escape from it in myriad ways. The average human life is spent trying to avoid and run from the inner turmoil of fear and the threat of misery. Everyone’s self-esteem is constantly threatened both from within and without. If we take a close look at human life, we see that it is essentially one long elaborate struggle to escape our inner fears and expectations that have been projected upon the world. Interspersed are periods of celebration when we have momentarily escaped the inner fears, but the fears are still there waiting for us. We have become afraid of our inner feelings because they hold such a massive amount of negativity that we fear we would be overwhelmed by it if we were to take a deeper look. We have a fear of these feelings because we have no conscious mechanism by which to handle the feelings if we let them come up within ourselves. Because we are afraid to face them, they continue to accumulate and, finally, we secretly begin looking forward to death to bring all of the pain to an end.
It is not thoughts or facts that are painful but the feelings that accompany them. Thoughts in and of themselves are painless, but not the feelings that underlie them! It is the accumulated pressure of feelings that causes thoughts. One feeling, for instance, can create literally thousands of thoughts over a period of time. Think, for instance, of one painful memory from early life, one terrible regret that has been hidden. Look at all the years and years of thoughts associated with that single event. If we could surrender the underlying painful feeling, all of those thoughts would disappear instantly and we would forget the event.
Therefore, when we relinquish or let go of a feeling, we are freeing ourselves from all of the associated thoughts. The great value of knowing how to surrender is that any and all feelings can be let go of at any time and any place in an instant, and it can be done continuously and effortlessly.
Letting go involves being aware of a feeling, letting it come up, staying with it, and letting it run its course without wanting to make it different or do anything about it. It means simply to let the feeling be there and to focus on letting out the energy behind it. The first step is to allow yourself to have the feeling without resisting it, venting it, fearing it, condemning it, or moralizing about it. It means to drop judgment and to see that it is just a feeling. The technique is to be with the feeling and surrender all efforts to modify it in any way. Let go of wanting to resist the feeling. It is resistance that keeps the feeling going. When you give up resisting or trying to modify the feeling, it will shift to the next feeling and be accompanied by a lighter sensation. A feeling that is not resisted will disappear as the energy behind it dissipates.
As you begin the process, you will notice that you have fear and guilt over having feelings; there will be resistance to feelings in general. To let feelings come up, it is easier to let go of the reaction to having the feelings in the first place. A fear of fear itself is a prime example of this. Let go of the fear or guilt that you have about the feeling first, and then get into the feeling itself. When letting go, ignore all thoughts. Focus on the feeling itself, not on the thoughts. Thoughts are endless and self-reinforcing, and they only breed more thoughts. Thoughts are merely rationalizations of the mind to try and explain the presence of the feeling. The real reason for the feeling is the accumulated pressure behind the feeling that is forcing it to come up in the moment. The thoughts or external events are only an excuse made up by the mind. As we become more familiar with letting go, it will be noticed that all negative feelings are associated with our basic fear related to survival and that all feelings are merely survival programs that the mind believes are necessary. The letting go technique undoes the programs progressively. Through that process, the underlying motive behind the feelings becomes more and more apparent. To be surrendered means to have no strong emotion about a thing: “It’s okay if it happens, and it’s okay if it doesn’t.” When we are free, there is a letting go of attachments. We can enjoy a thing, but we don’t need it for our happiness. There is progressive diminishing of dependence on anything or anyone outside of ourselves. These principles are in accord with the basic teaching of the Buddha to avoid attachment to worldly phenomena, as well as the basic teaching of Jesus Christ to “be in the world but not of it.”
Sometimes we surrender a feeling and we notice that it returns or continues. This is because there is more of it yet to be surrendered. We have stuffed these feelings all of our lives and there can be a lot of energy pushed down that needs to come up and be acknowledged.
“What is the basic feeling that I’ve been ignoring?” 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.
The corollary to letting go of negative feelings is to stop resisting the positive ones. A good and very illuminating exercise is to sit down and look at the feeling that is directly opposite the negative one that we are experiencing and begin to let go resisting it. Let’s say, for instance, that a friend’s birthday is coming up and we are feeling resentful and stingy; therefore, we just can’t seem to get out to shop for a present, and the day is getting closer. The exact opposite feelings are those of forgiveness and generosity. We just start looking for the feeling of forgiveness within ourselves and stop resisting it. As we keep letting go of our resistance to being a forgiving person, it is often surprising that it will come up with a surge. We will begin to recognize that part of our nature has always been willing and wanting to forgive, but we didn’t dare chance it.
The purpose of this exercise is to locate within ourselves that which can only be described as greatness. Greatness is the courage to overcome obstacles. It is the willingness to move to a higher level of love.
When that inner emptiness, due to lack of self-worth, is replaced by true self-love, self-respect and esteem, we no longer have to seek it in the world, for that source of happiness is within ourselves. It dawns on us that it cannot be supplied by the world anyway. No amount of riches can compensate for an inner feeling of poverty.
The results of letting go are deceptively quick and subtle, but the effects are very powerful. Often we have let go but think that we haven’t. It will be our friends who make us aware of the change. One reason for this phenomenon is that, when something is fully surrendered, it disappears from consciousness. Now, because we never think of it, we don’t realize that it has gone.This is a common phenomenon among people who are growing in consciousness. We are not aware of all the coal that we have shoveled; we are always looking at the shovelful we are handling right now. We don’t realize how much the pile has gone down.
Each of us has a limit to the amount of negative feelings we have stored up. When the pressure behind an emotion has been let go, that emotion no longer occurs. For instance, if fear is constantly surrendered for a period of time, eventually it runs out.
Grief is an experience common to us all. In grief, we feel that things are too difficult; we’ll never make it; we are unloving and unlovable. We have thoughts such as, “All the years I’ve wasted.” It is a feeling of sadness and loss. Loneliness. The feeling of “if only.” Regret. Feelings of abandonment, pain, helplessness, and hopelessness. Nostalgia. Melancholy. Depression. Longing. Irretrievable loss. Heartbrokenness. Anguish. Disappointment. Pessimism. Grief can be precipitated by the loss of a belief system, a relationship, a capacity or role, a hope about ourselves, or an overall attitude toward our life, external circumstances, or institutions. It’s the feeling: “I’ll never get over this. This one is too difficult. I tried, but nothing helps.” There is a feeling of vulnerability to pain and suffering, and so we see a great deal of it in the external world to reinforce and justify our own inner feeling. There is a crying for someone to help because we can’t do anything about it, and we feel that maybe someone else can do it for us. This is in contradistinction to apathy, where there is a feeling that no one can help.
The psychological basis of all grief and mourning is attachment. Attachment and dependence occur because we feel incomplete within ourselves; therefore, we seek objects, people, relationships, places, and concepts to fulfill inner needs. Because they are unconsciously utilized to fulfill an inner need, they come to be identified as “mine.” As more energy is poured into them, there is a transition from identifying with the external objects as “mine” to being an actual extension of “me.” Loss of the object or person is experienced as a loss of our own self and an important part of our emotional economy. Loss is experienced as a diminution of the quality of ourselves, which the object or person represented. The more emotional energy invested in the object or person, the greater will be the feeling of loss and the greater the pain associated with the undoing of the bonds of dependence. Attachment creates a dependency, and dependency, because of its nature, intrinsically carries with it a fear of loss.
Because of the nature of attachment, the first state preceding the actual experiencing of loss is that of fear of loss. This is usually defended in one of two ways. One is to increase the intensity of the attachment by ever-persistent attempts to strengthen the bonds. This approach is based on the fantasy that “the greater the bond, the less likelihood of loss.” However, this is the very maneuver that often precipitates loss in personal relationships, because the other person struggles to be free of the possessive attachment and the amount of restrictive control they feel being placed upon them. Thus, because what we hold in mind tends to manifest, the fear of a loss can, paradoxically, be the mechanism of bringing about that loss.
To handle the fear of loss, we have to look at what purpose the external person or object serves in our life. What emotional need is being fulfilled? What emotions would arise were we to lose the object or the person? Loss can be anticipated, and we can handle the various fears associated with the sense of loss by disassembling the emotional complexes that they represent, and letting go of the individual component feelings.
Another emotion associated with grief and mourning is that of anger. The loss of that which is important frequently brings up a feeling of rage, which may be projected onto the world, society, individuals and, ultimately, God, who is held to be responsible for the nature of the universe. Anger results from prior refusal to accept the fact that all relationships and possessions in this life are transitory. Even the physical body, which is our biggest attachment, eventually has to be relinquished, as everyone is aware.
We feel that what has become important or comforting to us is a permanent attachment. Consequently, when that illusion is threatened, there is anger, resentment, and self-pity, feelings which can result in chronic bitterness. “Impotent rage” is associated with the desire to change the nature of the world and the impossibility of doing so.
Associated with the feeling of grief is always a variable amount of guilt. This is based on the fantasy that the loss represents a punishment or that a different attitude or behavior would have prevented it from happening. Unless it is relinquished, the guilt can then recycle and refuel the anger and rage. The unacknowledged and unrelinquished rage may be projected onto others in the environment in the form of blame. Blame projected onto other relationships may, then, compound the loss by bringing about further loss.
A part of handling denial of the inevitability of loss is seeing through attempts at manipulation. In fantasy, the mind tries to develop tactics so as to avoid the loss. This may take the form of becoming “gooder” or more hard-working, more honest, more persevering, or more loyal. In religious persons, this may take the form of trying to manipulate God by promises and bargains. In relationships, it may take the form of over-compensatory behavior.
Resignation says, “I don’t like it, but I have to put up with it.” With acceptance, resistance to the true nature of the facts has been relinquished; thus, one of the signs of acceptance is serenity. With acceptance, the struggle is over and life begins anew. The energies that were bound up in the previous negative emotion are now freed up, so that the healthier aspects of the personality are now re-energized. The creative aspects of the mind develop opportunities for new life situations and further options for growth and experience, accompanied by a new sense of aliveness.
One particular form of fear is what we call guilt. Guilt is always associated with a feeling of wrongness and potential punishment, either real or in fantasy. If punishment is not forthcoming in the external world, it expresses itself as self-punishment on an emotional level. Guilt accompanies all of the negative emotions and, thus, where there is fear, there is guilt.
Guilt is really self-condemnation and self-invalidation of our worth and value as a human being. Guilt is as prevalent as fear, and we feel guilty no matter what we are doing. A part of our mind says that we really ought to be doing something else. Or, whatever we are actually doing at the moment, we ought to be doing “better.” We “should” be getting a better golf score. We “should” be reading a book instead of watching television. We “should” make love better. Cook better. Run faster. Grow taller. Be stronger. Be smarter. Be more educated.
Many people try to substitute pride for genuine self-esteem; however, genuine self-esteem does not actually arise until pride is relinquished. That which inflates the ego does not result in inner strength. On the contrary, it increases our vulnerability and overall level of fear. When we are in a state of pride, our energy is dissipated by the constant preoccupation with defending our lifestyle, vocation, neighborhood, clothes, year and make of car, ancestry, country, and political and religious belief systems. There is a tireless preoccupation with appearance and what other people will think, so there is a constant vulnerability to the opinions of others.
When pride and self-inflation have been relinquished, there is an inner security that takes their place. When we no longer feel called upon to defend our image, criticisms and attacks from others diminish and finally stop. When we let go of our need for validation or to prove ourselves right, then the challenges against us fall away. This brings us to one of the basic laws of consciousness: Defensiveness invites attack.
Is there such a thing as “healthy” pride? When we talk of healthy pride, we are referring to self-esteem, an inner awareness of one’s true value and worth. This inner awareness is different from the energy of pride. Self-awareness of one’s true value is characterized by lack of defensiveness.
The hallmark of courage is the knowledge and feeling, “I can.” It is a positive state in which we feel assured, skillful, adequate, capable, alive, loving and giving, with an overall zest for life. We are capable of humor, activity, confidence, and clarity. In this state, we feel centered, balanced, flexible, happy, independent, and self-sufficient. We can be inventive, creative, and open. In courage, there is a lot of energy, action, letting go, capacity to “be there,” to be spontaneous, resilient, resourceful, and cheerful. In this state, we can be very effective in the world.
The level of courage is very helpful in the mechanism of surrender. In courage, we know: “I can look at my feelings”; “I don’t have to be afraid of my feelings anymore”; “I can handle them”; “I can take responsibility for them”; “I can learn how to accept them and be free from them”; “I am willing to take risks, to let go of old points of view and to explore new ones”; “I am willing to be joyous and share my experience with others”; “I experience myself as willing and able.”
So, serious spiritual work is a continuous willingness to let things go as they arise. It is the willingness to surrender wanting to control everything as it arises, the willingness to surrender wanting to change it, and to have it our way. Very often there will be illusions about the nature of Reality that also have to be let go. That there’s a good and a bad, a desirable and an undesirable; that’s all in the mind. In Reality, the sun shines and then the clouds come; the rain falls and the grass grows up and dies; the stock market goes up and down; age comes and goes; people arise and leave. And, so, there’s the ebb and flow. If you are at this one point of the cycle, there’s no use in crying about it because the cycle will cycle itself out. By surrendering to whatever is cycling up, it eventually disappears. You disappear it by choosing to be one with it and refusing to want to change it as it arises. Do this continuously, no matter what, nonstop.