One of the (many) lessons I have learned – and frankly, re-learned – the hard way is that it’s incredibly difficult to receive more goodness when my hands are already full hanging on to negativity, frustration, or unhelpful thoughts, situations, practices, and relationships, and it’s impossible to accept a helping hand from someone when you’re gripping too tightly to something or someone else. Every time I have bumped into this, I have had to let go of something in order to make room for something even better.
I call this “release to receive”, and there are two key aspects to exploring this so you can let go of what’s not helping you and make room for all that yummy goodness trying to make its way to you. First, you need to identify what you’re hanging on to that needs to be released. And then, you actually need to do the work of releasing whatever it is you’ve identified!
Start by using friction and frustration as filters to identify what you may need to release. Wherever you experience either of these, spend some time examining that area. It’s possible that there is something there that’s not working for you! Ask yourself where you are hanging on to anything that may not actually be helping you. Some examples of things I have held onto long past their date of usefulness and positivity:
- A job (ok, multiple jobs, but who’s counting??)
- A relationship (ok, ok…. Multiple relationships…)
- A belief that I wasn’t capable of trying something radically different
- Clothes that don’t fit or don’t feel good
- A self-perspective that I “wasn’t a long-distance athlete”
- Underwear (oh come on, you probably have some ratty pairs in your drawer, too)
- Family obligations
- Mentor relationships that had run their course
- My Blackberry! (Man, I still miss that full keyboard…)
- Shame from incidents long past (hello, 8th grade!)
- Expectations that others will change for the better
I’ve developed expert-level attachments to some of these that are negative and unhelpful, and it can be difficult to wiggle them loose from my grasp. While there are a lot of ways to work through these, there are two specific strategies I start with when I’m ready to work on releasing something that’s no longer helping me get to where I want to go.
First, when I’ve identified something I want to work to release, I use a very simple practice: intentionally opening my hands whenever I think of it. I had a spiritual advisor once give me the visual of holding mud in my hands. She told me that when I clenched my hands or tried to hold on to the mud too tightly, I would only be able to hold less. The act of gripping it would actually make it more likely to slip through my fingers. Instead, if I opened my hands, I would be able to receive more and hold more of it by holding it loosely. I like applying that same visual when I’m working on getting ready to release something, and actually physically opening my hands helps cement that connection to release. Plus, I like the reinforcement that open hands (literally or figuratively) means I’m able to receive something else more positive. If you meditate, try practicing with an open hand posture. “Palm up” mudras (hand positions) are generally known as “giving and receiving” mudras. I like the idea of giving something up and also receiving something.
My other practice is creating a conscious release ritual. Don’t worry, no animal sacrifices required. This is about building some sort of intentional practice you can utilize to help you release whatever it is you are wanting to let go. This might be a one-time, very specific ritual you perform, setting an intention for ongoing release. Or, it may be something you can integrate into your daily work and life. Personally, I have one of each that I keep at the ready when needed. One of my favorite intentional rituals to use when I’m working on releasing something that’s particularly sticky is to take a mindful walk around my neighborhood. I intentionally try to focus purely on my surroundings- what the trees look like, sounds I can hear, what it smells like, what the air is like. Usually my monkey brain makes it all of about a minute and a half before I find my thoughts drifting to the thing I’m trying to release. When I notice the thought creeping in, I stop, notice what I’m thinking, and then reach down and touch the ground, symbolizing my release of it. I recently did this with a fear I was having about a business decision, and it was super powerful! I also have a conscious release ritual I use on an ongoing basis for anything that creeps up that I need to shake off. When I bump into the thought/desire/issue, I simply say “Stop. Release.” and I clap my hands twice (sometimes softly in my lap if I am not in a position to be clapping alone to myself out loud). It’s a good mental and physical reminder to myself that I’m working on releasing whatever it was that caught my attention. You can also incorporate this in other ways, like using your reps at the gym and intentionally saying “I release _________” every time you complete a set. Make this your own! No rules, no judgment.
The work of releasing ANYTHING can be hard work. Yes, it can feel freeing, and it damn sure feels good when it’s done, but in the meantime, don’t underestimate the impact of the effort. Be kind to yourself and lovingly patient. You may need 1,000 walks around the neighborhood, or your hands might get sore from clapping twice every time you come across the thing you’re working on releasing, but you WILL begin to wiggle it loose. Over time and with intention, you’ll consciously release what’s needed so you can receive what’s best for you.