â€œLetting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.â€
â€• Thich Nhat Hanh
If you haven’t started, no worries â€” start today.
A note on the “Sacred Bow” title of our challenge: It’s not “bow” as in something you’d tie on a present … it’s the “bow” you do after a performance, and rhymes with “ow!” It’s like, “I bow to you.” In this case, we are giving a bow of gratitude to this year, and setting intentions for the next year, as if we are bowing to our meditation cushion or practice space. This bow to our practice space is not only in gratitude, but acknowledgement of the sacredness of our practice.
OK, if you’ve been playing along, you’re ready for Week 2: Letting Go. Let’s dive in!
Here’s what we’re going to do this week, just 15 minutes a day:
- Spend 2 days making a list of things you’d like to let go of (shame, guilt, pain, anger, resentment, and what’s holding you back).
- Spend 1 day reflecting on what these things are doing to you (without beating yourself up about it).
- Spend 2 days investigating the thoughts.
- Spend 1 day raging.
- Spend 1 day tossing them out into space.
This is about letting go of the things that are holding us back from being fully intentional and whole-hearted in the coming year.
If we can let go, we’ll be clear. We won’t be weighed down by so much baggage. We can step into the next year of our lives with courage and love.
This week will be incredibly useful for the last two weeks of our challenge, as we set intentions and create plans & structure for our next year.
Treat yourself to this letting go process. Again, set aside 20 minutes in your calendar every day for this month. Block it off. You only need to use 10-15 minutes, but set aside 20 minutes on your calendar. Or 30 minutes if youâ€™re feeling ambitious, but you really only need to do 20 minutes. This will be your block of time for this challenge.
Two Days: Make Your Let Go List
For your first two days, simply make a list of things you’d like to let go of â€” your Let Go List. Use these questions to prompt you â€” but you’re not limited to these, and you don’t have to have an answer for each one:
- What in the year-end review brought shame or guilt?
- What struggles happened that cause you pain, anger, or resentment?
- What are you incredibly sad about?
- What has been holding you back from being loving towards others? Towards yourself?
- What has been holding you back from being fearless towards your goals or meaningful work?
- What do you fear going into the next year?
- What feels like itâ€™s weighing on you?
As you move through the rest of this week, feel free to fill in more things as you remember. The same goes for the rest of the month â€” maybe next week you remember things to add to your list. This Let Go List doesn’t only have to be done this week.
One Day: Reflect on the Effect of Your Let Go List
Today, simply sit still in a quiet place for 10-15 minutes … and reflect on your Let Go list:
- What effect have these things had on you?
- What effect have these things had on your relationships?
- What effect have these things had on what you’re trying to do in the world?
- How do these hold you back from being the person you’d like to be?
Don’t beat yourself up about these things. Just get clear on what effect they have in your life. You can write down your most important answers.
Two Days: Investigate Your Thoughts
For the most important items on your Let Go List, try to write down a thought that causes them. Hint: The sentences will usually have a “should” or “shouldn’t” in them.
- I’m angry at my dad … the thought that causes that anger is, “He shouldn’t be using drugs.”
- I feel shame about my weight … the thought that causes that shame is, “I should be slimmer and have a better body than I have.”
- I feel guilt about not calling my grandma … the thought causing that guilt is, “I should call my grandma more often.”
- I feel resentment towards my spouse … the thought causing that resentment is, “They shouldn’t always be so critical of me.”
And so forth. Make a list of these thoughts.
Then ask yourself these questions (from Byron Katie’s The Work) about each thought:
- Is it true? (Yes or no only — if No, skip question 2)
- Can I absolutely be sure it’s true?
- How do you react when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
These are questions to help us investigate the thoughts that are causing us pain. It’s a process of inquiry that might help us let go.
I’ll share an example from one of the thoughts above: “My spouse shouldn’t always be so critical of me.”
- Is it true? Yes! I don’t know why they always have to criticize me, I’m a good person!
- Can I absolutely be sure it’s true? Hmmm … well, no, I can’t be absolutely sure anything is true. I don’t know exactly how other people should be have, I usually don’t even know how I should behave! I guess I can’t tell other people how to behave, that’s a bit too controlling. So no, I guess I don’t know for sure that it’s true.
- How do you react when you believe that thought? I am angry and resentful. I’m not happy. I create distance between me and her. And I’m not very loving. I retreat and stew in resentment.
- Who would you be without the thought? Woah. I’d definitely be happier, at peace. I’d be more loving and open toward her. My marriage would be better and I’d be a better partner.
For me, the answers are almost always some version of the ones in this example, but yours might be different. Just investigate your thoughts, which Byron Katie says are the source of all our suffering.
On these two days, you don’t have to let anything go. You’re just investigating.
One Day: Let Yourself Rage
We hold onto anger, shame, guilt, resentment and so forth … because we haven’t fully expressed those emotions. Actually, they’re all version of unexpressed anger â€” we resent others because we haven’t expressed anger at them, and we feel shame and guilt because we haven’t expressed anger at ourselves.
We will continue to hold onto these things until we really express them. Like rage at others or ourselves.
An important point: it’s totally OK if our anger towards others or ourselves is not rational or justified. It pretty much never is â€” and it never has to be rational or justified. Anger is irrational, emotional, coming from our childish side. That’s OK, but if we stop ourselves from expressing that anger, we’re not going to let it go. It’ll clog up our psyche for years.
So. Today I’m giving you permission to feel anger. Fully. To rage, to throw a tantrum, to yell into the sky like an animal.
Yes, it will feel strange. Silly. Foolish. Do it anyway, if you really want to let go.
Here are the instructions:
- Pick one of the more important, emotionally charged items on your Let Go List. (Example: anger at my dad.)
- Now go out into nature, or find a place at home or somewhere, where you can yell. Ideally, you won’t be worrying about other people hearing you. Take your list with you.
- Think about what you’re angry about. Let the anger rise up in you. Now start expressing it with your body and your voice. Clench your fists in anger, and shake them in the air. Yell in rage. Jump up and down. Move your body around wildly, letting out anger and expending your energy. Do it for at least a minute.
- Repeat this with several other of the important items on your list. Including at yourself.
Express the anger fully, with your body and your voice. It will release these emotions.
Feel free to continue this process all month, with items you don’t get to today.
Last Day: Toss Them Out Into Space
On this final day, we’re going to take each item on the Let Go List … and consciously and intentionally toss them into the cosmos.
Don’t worry, the cosmos can take it.
Imagine that each item on your list were a ball of energy inside you. Pull out one, and hold it in your hands. What color and temperature is it? How does it feel in your hands?
What effect has this difficulty had on you and your relationships, your life? Is it true? What will you be without it? What did it feel like when you expressed this energy yesterday through your body?
Are you ready to live without this energy?
Now gently (or energetically, up to you), toss it out into the cosmos. See it going up into the sky, out into the galaxy, absorbed by the vastness of this universe. It dissipates, and you are free.
Repeat with every item on your list, until you are completely free, clear, unburdened.
â€œI am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.â€ -Carl Jung