The Art of Letting Go

Experiencing A True Sense of Freedom

In the last two days I witnessed two inspirational examples of brave people who beautifully demonstrated the practice of letting go. And while both of these cases were in fact “physical” acts of letting go, they proved to be powerful illustrations for how letting go is not only an acquired skill, but that its acquisition offers invaluable emotional benefits.

A few days ago, I was awoken to a loud “Boom!” Within minutes, the sounds of sirens filled the air and smoke was seen filling the sky. It wasn’t a terror attack that many suspected, but rather an F-16 that was hit and downed by enemy fire. Before the plane ultimately crashed just a few miles from my home, the two pilots ejected from the aircraft within minutes of getting hit and were praised for their quick response.

Last night, rather than going food shopping, I decided to stay to watch my 12-year-old during his wall climbing class. My son had recently graduated from the beginner’s class of “top-rope” (a technique used to exert tension on a climbing rope where there is a pre-placed anchor at the top of the route) to the advanced class of “leading” (a technique where the climber attaches himself to the length of a dynamic climbing rope where there is no pre-placed anchor at the top of the route). There are many differences between the two climbing techniques, including the tremendous difference in the length of the fall. The fall in the “top-rope” technique is a matter of inches, whereas the fall in the “leading” technique is at least twice that of the distance to the most recently placed protection device. For example, if the climber is five feet above the last piece of protection device, the fall will be a minimum of 10 feet.

Both the pilot and the climber are trained to learn how to let go spontaneously. It is not natural for the pilot to leave his aircraft via parachute and it is not natural for the climber to be told to suddenly “drop!” during a training. And although it seems counter-intuitive, it is the learning to let go that leads them to advancement and success, and in the case of the pilot, safety. Had the pilot stayed stuck on fear of ejecting, he would have gone down with the plane. Had my son stayed stuck on fear of learning to “drop”, he never would have graduated to the advanced class and continue to further his skills in climbing.

Humans have an innate fear of letting go, both in the physical and the emotional realms. We hold onto thoughts that cause feelings of anger, frustration, disappointment, guilt, resentment, embarrassment, anxiety, aversion, worry, boredom, self-righteousness, stubbornness, hopelessness, overwhelm, shame, pity, impulsiveness, envy and so on. The concept of letting go of a thought, in order to feel better or to save a situation, simply goes against nature. Humans want to feel safe and secure. They naturally hold on to what belongs to them (their thoughts, for example) because their “belongings” offer them a sense of protection, regardless of their validity. Ironically it is the grasping onto thoughts that leads to suffering.

When you are willing to let go of a thought that is not serving you, you will experience a true sense freedom. While letting go is an acquired skill and while suspending your thoughts may not be comfortable, when you put them into practice, you recognize you are no longer a slave to your mind. Even more so, when you recognize a thought may be limiting, you open up windows of opportunities to consider other possible perspectives, which ultimately leads to a better, happier, more productive, and more successful life.

The only way to get emotionally unstuck is to be willing to let go. And I am grateful to the pilots and my son for modeling that for me this week.