Letting Go: How to Use Meditation to let go of difficult emotions


March 17, 2022
Filipe Bastos

Throughout most self-help or meditation practices, “Let it go” is an oversimplified mantra. It can be frustrating to be told to let things go, especially when this instruction comes at a time when we’re struggling with a negative experience or feeling. It can also be difficult to determine what letting go actually refers to. How can we let go when something feels so unfair, scary, or even devastating to us? It can be really tough; however, meditation can offer a transformative and enlightening guide to letting go. 

What is letting go?

Letting go is the removal of a strong attachment to anything that makes you unhappy or causes suffering. It means letting go of painful thoughts and memories, harmful desires, anxiety and stress, and unhealthy habits. It’s also about learning how to focus on the present moment instead of dwelling on the past. Separating yourself from matters that don’t concern you or are the source of suffering might seem difficult, but with some training and patience, it will become possible.

If an item of clothing is old or torn or not useful to you, there is nothing wrong with throwing it away. We should act the same when it comes to negative thoughts, unpleasant memories, bad habits, unhealthy lifestyles, and even people who are toxic or hurtful. Sometimes, you need just to let these things go from your life, and even from your memory.

Why should we let go?

Some of you may be wondering why you have to let things go — how does it benefit us? 

Picture this: you had a bad experience with a friend and haven’t been able to move beyond it. Whenever you think about them, you get angry or upset all over again, as if it’s a fresh situation. Trying to let go of these negative emotions might feel like defeat to you, as if you’re somehow condoning the past event. However, this isn’t the case. There’s a big difference between condoning something and accepting that it happened in order to let yourself to move past it — you’re simply doing the latter.

The thing is, no amount of resistance can change the simple facts of the past, but you do not have to ruin your present or your entire life by living in constant regret, anger or fear over these events. So, if you really think about it, the only person who suffers when you hold onto these feelings is you. Our article entitled ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’ explores this idea in greater depth. 

Letting go vs Letting it be

During meditation practice, the phrase “Let it go” is commonly used. This saying, which is in so many meditation scripts, comes off as action-based. It implies that if we make the necessary effort, we can rid ourselves of these things as if we’re physically throwing them away. But this can present problems. Ultimately, we cannot force ourselves to think differently. There is no way to just erase thoughts from our minds. Often, when we try to get rid of our thoughts, they actually end up controlling us instead.

When we try to forget, the thoughts occupy our mind unnecessarily, allowing their presence to grow like we are putting out fresh food for unwanted visitors. So, another way of thinking about the term “let it go” might be to rephrase it as “let it be”, or to think about letting things “pass us by”. Allowing things to be just the way they are, without trying to change them can be liberating. Let’s use a mosquito bite to illustrate the point. When we scratch bites, we’re actively trying to alleviate ourselves of their irritation. This action only makes the wound worse and allows it to fester. But if we were to leave it alone, it will eventually heal by itself.

The same thing happens with our thoughts. If we try to force them away, it only causes things to get worse. When we non-judgmental­ly observe them, without needing to alter them, we can mend our relationship with ourselves and others. Using non-judgmental observance and daily mindfulness meditation practice can make us much better at practising acceptance; when we embrace radical acceptance, we’ll let go of the need for control. At this point, the thought-form can exit our minds without us actively trying to get rid of it.

Does meditation help with letting go?

Meditation can help you realise that these negative emotions aren’t what makes you, you. All feelings and thoughts will eventually pass, and we should try not to latch onto them and convince ourselves that they represent us. Feelings cycle through phases that give the illusion of permanence, but they are really not permanent at all. Nature is full of beautiful cycles of letting go, whether it’s the apple tree shedding its fruit so that the seed inside can sprout, or the mother bear needing to let go of her young so that they can learn how to fend for themselves.

Your daily life experiences are also packed with examples of letting go. We let go of each breath in order to make room to take the next one, and each night before we sleep, we let go of the day’s events, experiences and stresses. It’s worth remembering that this process can come naturally whenever you are struggling to let go. By practising complete surrender meditation or a simple breathing meditation, we can shine a light on what’s holding us back and become more accepting of our situation. This allows us to begin letting go of unwanted feelings, thoughts, and actions.

Over time, regular meditation makes us better at observing our thoughts outside of our meditation practice. When we identify negative attachments, the key is to just get back to living an intentional and meaningful life. Be with your friends, do your work, watch nature — whatever it may be. When we learn to live in the present and to flow with everyday life, things are more likely to go well.

How to practise letting go meditation

There are some things you can do to help yourself let go of whatever it is that’s stopping you live the life you want. Even just a small bit of meditation practice can set us on the path towards achieving this goal. It gives us a chance to reflect on ourselves and identify what we need to let go of, and it provides us with tools for coping with pain and suffering. Practising daily meditations can help you develop a deeper connection with your inner self, and allow you to understand the true nature of reality.

So what does a letting go meditation script actually look like? Here’s a short meditation session designed with this intention in mind. Have a go and see what arises for you.

  1. Find a comfortable seat. Close your eyes if you’d like, although it’s not necessary.
  2. Pay attention to your whole being. Can you feel any physical tension in your entire body? Think deeply about your physical sensations – which body parts feel warm, and which ones are cold? Does the tension have a shape, a colour, a texture? Be aware of what they are and how they make you feel. What happens to certain tensions as you become aware of them? Do they ease or remain? Have a sense of your body image and go through each part mentally to gain a clearer sense of what you are feeling and where it’s building up.
  3. Bring your attention to your emotions. What happens when you observe them? Get a sense of how strong the emotion is. Don’t try to let go yet. Putting effort into letting go here may create more tension – instead, become aware of it and allow the emotion to take its course. If you notice the feeling lingering, can you be okay with that, and accept it as it is?
  4. At the end of this short guided meditation, see if you’re willing to let go of anything you discovered – anything that you’re now holding on to. Trust that you have within you all that needs to be known and accept that you are in fact okay at this moment.

It can plenty of time and some careful thought to get better at letting things go. If you’re finding it particularly difficult to let go of certain things, it can be useful to think of the process as having three stages. The first stage is an experience of something bad, like anger or fear. You’ll then be able to move on to something good, like acceptance or willingness. Finally, you will settle on inner peace. It’s when you’ve reached this final stage that you know you’ve begun to let go.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What’s the difference between giving up and letting go?

Giving up and letting go are both things we do to stop something permanently, but giving up is about stopping because it’s hard. Letting go is about realising that a person, thing, or situation isn’t serving you anymore, and deciding that you no longer want or need that pressure.

What it means to truly let go

To truly let go of negative emotions, thoughts, and memories means you will free up energy and resources and develop a greater sense of liberation and happiness in life. You can find out more about the path towards real happiness in our free taster course.

How do you give yourself permission to let go?

Grant yourself the compassion and understanding you extend so easily to others. Try to treat yourself and your mind with the kindness and compassion that you would show towards a small child —raise your small wins and notice your baby steps toward change. By giving yourself permission you are allowing yourself to start over, to move on, to put the past behind you and focus with your face forward.

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