"Letting go" doesn't work

When a new patient comes to see me in the clinic, they frequently say they want to “let go” of negative thoughts patterns or unpleasant emotions. These thoughts and feelings are seen by most people as things that get in the way of living the life they want to lead. And a lot of pop-psychology and pop-spirituality encourages this “letting go”. But as nice as it would be to just let those things go, in the long run it doesn’t work.

In the short term it can work, and it certainly helps people get through their day without having to a lot of emotional heavy lifting. But it is a mechanism of dissociation, and whatever we’ve dissociated from is never truly gone. “Letting go” creates an illusion of separation that prevents us from fully going into our feelings, which is the only way we can work really work through them. There are many ways we try to deflect or avoid our feelings, but “letting them go” is unfortunately very prevalent in a lot of spiritual communities and I believe it needs attention.

Here’s how “letting go” works. Someone or some thing triggers a painful memory or difficult feeling. And then our defense mechanism kicks in (what I usually refer to as the wall). The wall is the mechanism we’ve constructed to shield us from our wounded self. It encompasses the many dissociative processes we’ve developed to avoid feeling our inner wounds. The “letting go” voice is a particularly devious dissociative process. It sometimes appears to be a “spiritually advanced” inner voice that tells us we should not be bothered by such things, that we should we spiritually or emotionally evolved enough to just let go of the pain we’re feeling. Sometimes it tells us there’s no good reason to be upset, or angry, so just breathe and let it go. A lot of times it says that anger or other uncomfortable feelings don’t do anything positive, and we only want to cultivate positivity, right? Maybe after some practice we get better at “letting go” and after an emotional flare-up we get back to our emotionally balanced self.

But this is a mask and we are deceiving ourselves. The main thing I’ve been taught over and over again by my mentors is that whatever we react to externally is really only shining a light on an internal process. If we choose to “let go” of an emotion that arises during conflict we are robbing ourselves of the opportunity to heal the internal wound that is being triggered. In fact, our internal wounding will consistently bring about external situations to trigger us. Every triggering interaction we have is our own wound crying out for us to notice and be present with it. By “letting go” of emotions that arise during these episodes we are only pushing off their resolution till another day. Eventually a situation will come up again that triggers those same emotions, and then we’ll have to calm ourselves down again and “let them go.” It’s a vicious cycle.

The function of our wall is to prevent us from feeling the wound that is triggered by external situations. From the wall’s perspective, the problem is always outside of us. “There’s no need to get angry at my boss, that’s her issue” is what the wall may say when our boss yells at us and we get angry back at her. Paradoxically, it functions in the same way as a voice that says “My boss is the reason I’m so miserable” when she yells at us. In both cases, the wall is deflecting us from the internal work necessary to work through the internal wound that the boss is triggering. Even though they look radically different, each response is a manifestation of dissociation. This is why the wall is so tricky. It may bring us to radically different places, but it’s ultimate goal is to get us to avoid our internal self.

This is not to say that there are not external problems, far from it. But when we cannot understand the internal process that is arising in conjunction with the external issue then we are doomed to repeat the situation.

Instead of “letting go”, there is another way. If we take what we are feeling and go as deeply as possible with it, we can explore and eventually start healing our internal wounding.

From the earlier example— When your boss yells at you and for a split second you get angry at her, maybe you sit with it and feel into the anger instead of “letting go”. Maybe when you sit with it, you start to recognize that the pattern you have with your boss is similar to the one you have with your significant other, or one of your parents. Maybe you realize you shut down your anger with your boss in the same way you do with others. Maybe within that process you realize you’ve accepted a situation of not getting your needs met or your voice heard, and you recognize this pattern is present in many areas of your life. Then you realize that actually speaking up is really really scary and painful, and brings up all sorts of other issues. Maybe if you speak up to your boss, you’re afraid you’ll lose your job and then how will you survive?

This is just a theoretical example, which may or may not be applicable to you. But even if the exact scenario doesn’t fit you, I hope you can see that there is a very rich and deep emotional landscape hiding beneath your triggers.

But as long as we dissociate and disconnect from what is happening when we’re triggered we’ll never be able to explore the ways in which the triggers are reflecting back the parts of ourselves that need to be healed and integrated. When the healing and integration starts, we may even see glimpses of the harmony and beauty that exist within and beyond our wounds. But that is for another blog post!

This is why the “letting go” philosophy is so nefarious. It pretends to be an aspect of our spiritually evolved self yet in reality is based on fragmentation and dissociation.

This is what Kundalini Mediumship practitioners do when we’re tracking people during a personal session or workshop. We feel into and work with our clients’ wounds as if they are our own— because in a sense, they are. We have to be present with whatever our clients bring to us, no matter how painful. We have to know our client’s wounding and wall as aspects of our own wounds and walls. And in doing that we learn even more about ourselves and the human condition, propelling us deeper into our own personal healing.

I believe anyone can learn this type of tracking, but it takes real dedication to work through our walls and find the gods hiding within them.