Maybe you’ve come across one of those bumper stickers that reads Let That #$!% Go, or you’ve seen a T-shirt with the same expression and a serene image of Buddha. But how to let go?
Some of us are ruminators who chew on a problem endlessly—often between 2 and 4 a.m. Sound familiar? Some of us are champion grudge holders, clinging to them for months or even years. Or maybe it’s a bad habit we’re trying to release, or a relationship that no longer serves us, or a painful memory from which we would just as soon move on. And sometimes our #$!% is physical, such as boxes in the garage or a storage unit. No matter what form it takes, baggage piles up. Here are ways to find sweet release.
1. EXPRESSIVE WRITING. Write for at least 15 minutes each day. Write only for yourself, not worrying about grammar, sentence structure, or any perceived audience. Just write down what’s bothering you, focusing on your feelings and any sensations that arise as you write. Then tear up the piece of paper and throw it out.
2. THROW TROUBLES OFF A BRIDGE. Shred up some leaves or grass to create organic confetti. Head for the nearest scenic bridge—even a little footpath will do. Cup the confetti in your hands, transferring whatever stress, worry, or grievance you want to unload, and scatter it into the wind.
3. MAKE LIKE A PIRATE. Take a small shovel and walk into the woods or along a beach. Dig a little hole, and with great intention, bury that sense of shame or the painful memory you want to release. Really visualize sticking it in there. Cover it back up with the sand or soil, tamp it down, and leave.
4. DIP INTO WILD WATERS. “Being near or immersed in wild water gives the opportunity to set an intention of cleansing on all levels,” says our editorial director, Kalia Kelmenson. She recommends thinking about what you want to release as you enter a body of wild water such as the ocean, a stream, river, or waterfall.
5. SCRUB OFF. If you can’t get to wild water, a hot shower or bath with a salt scrub can help you remove what’s troubling you. Remember that song “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” from South Pacific?
6. BLESS THEM AND SEND THEM ON THEIR WAY. Someone cut you off in traffic? Otherwise annoying you? Send them blessings and send them on their way.
7. WRITE WITH INVISIBLE INK. Sure, go ahead and write a flaming response to an email or social media post. But don’t put it out there into the world. Delete it instead of posting it or hitting Send (be careful with this one!). Consider it a gift to yourself. You said your peace yet kept negative energy from flowing too far afield.
8. MAKE A CLEARING SPRAY FOR YOUR HOME. In her book Wild Beauty, Jana Blankenship suggests making spray for your home or even your body to clear negative energy. She blends 4 ounces of distilled water with 20 drops of lime, 15 drops of eucalyptus, and 10 drops of white sage essential oils, and pours it into a 4-ounce spray bottle.
9. USE A SMUDGE BOWL. Many peoples use sacred herbs such as sweetgrass, cedar, palo santo, and sage as part of a space-cleansing ritual. Use a fire-safe bowl and a single match (as opposed to a lighter), and then gently fan the herbs, such as with a feather, as opposed to blowing directly onto them.
10. STAY IN THE NOW. As Eckhart Tolle tells us in The Power of Now, a key to alleviating human suffering is to “realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.” The mind will always work to deny and resist the Now, but it’s all we really have. As Tolle suggests, “Make the Now the primary focus of your life.”
11. STOP WEARING HAIRSHIRTS. Our physical clothing can be surprisingly powerful. If you are still wearing a dress from the day you got laid off, for example, or dread a shirt because it reminds you of the awful night your dad died, donate it. Strong negative emotions don’t need to hang out in your closet.
12. JOIN A GROUP. Whether you want to let go of a nightly Chablis habit, let go of some clutter, or relieve a heavy heart, there’s probably a support group tailored to that exact goal. A few to try: GriefShare has weekly support meetings (currently online, but usually in person) around the U.S. and world; find one near you at griefshare.org. Thisnakedmind.com has an online, no-cost, 30-day alcoholfree challenge. Joshua Becker’s clutterfree.com has a 12-week course that will support you and connect you with others trying to own less stuff.
13. SET IT AFLAME. With fall upon us, it’s the perfect season for a bonfire, campfire, or backyard charcoal grill ceremony. Write down what you want to release on a piece of paper, and then watch as it ignites into beautiful little sparks—and then nothingness.
14. GO METTA. The Buddhist practice of metta meditation, also called lovingkindness meditation, extends warm feelings to all beings. It starts with filling your own heart with feelings of safety, love, and openness. The meditation/prayer expands out in layers to someone whom you love, then to someone who is harder to love. “May all my enemies be happy …”, then to all beings, everywhere. It’s a good one to practice if you are working to forgive someone.
15. THROW A PARTY. Rituals like weddings have been used for millennia to mark a transition. These days, some couples (or one half of a couple) are choosing to have a divorce party, marking the end of their marriage with a little levity and a celebration of new beginnings. You can extend the idea to any other change in your life.
16. THROW A STONE. Write the issue you’re trying to unload onto the surface of a hefty stone with chalk. Hurl it into the nearest lake, safely away from the ducks and the guy in the canoe, of course.
17. SET A DEADLINE. Give yourself 24 hours to wallow—or, if need be, a firm one-week timeline—marked on a calendar. Allow yourself to feel all the feels, knowing that after that set time you are not going to feel bad about conversation X, or Ms. Q, or situation Y anymore.
18. BOX IT UP. Create a little mailbox at home called a Higher Power Box. Any situations you can’t let go of can be written down and sent off to be dealt with by a Higher Power.
19. OUTDISTANCE THE #$!%. Many troubles do not have good stamina, so get out there for some running, walking, biking, or swimming, and watch the troubles fall behind at mile three.
20. SWEAT IT OUT. Troubles also do not like stretching or getting misty. Try yoga, lifting weights, Pilates, or ballet, and leave it all on the dance floor, as they say.
21. TAP OUT FEAR. Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT, is like emotional acupuncture—sans needles. It’s sometimes called tapping, and according to EFT International, a professional association of EFT practitioners, it’s an ideal tool for working through old relationship pains and traumas. Find a member at eftinternational.org.
22. LOOSEN THE HIPS. We tend to store deep, trapped emotion in our pelvic region. Loosening up the area with yoga asanas such as child’s pose, pigeon pose, low runner’s lunge, tree pose, and seated spinal twist can help resolve old emotional states.
23. SEE AN ACUPUNCTURIST. A practitioner may work on the large intestine meridians to remove energetic blocks and help a patient let go of old baggage from the past—literally and figuratively.
24. REDUCE THE NEUTRAL PILE. Have a ton of old family photos you can’t decide if you should keep or toss? Karen Lievense of the blog Downsizing Made Simple has an interesting suggestion. Place all the photos face down and, as you grab one, see if you have a strong emotion, whether that be positive or negative. Anything with a neutral response can get tossed or passed onto other family members.
25. SQUISH SOME CLAY. This one is especially good for anger. Sculpt a representation of what is bugging you out of clay or kid’s-type dough, then squish the heck out of it until it’s completely flattened.
26. CORD-CUTTING. An energetic cord-cutting ceremony is especially useful after a breakup or the end of a relationship with a toxic person. You’ll need black thread or cord, paper to write down your name and the person you are separating from, and scissors. Write down each of your names on a little piece of paper and tie the names on either end of the cord. Take some deep breaths, focus, and, with great intent, snip the center of the cord. Some people prefer to use a candle to burn the cord apart. Remove both pieces from your home once you are done with this ceremony.
27. FOCUS ON THE BEDROOM. Overwhelmed by physical clutter and not sure where to start streamlining? Make the bedroom your top priority. According to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, even when our eyes are shut, parts of our brains are still scanning for dangers around us and are stimulated by things such as heaps of laundry or teetering stacks of books. This can inhibit deep, restorative sleep.
28. WHEN IT COMES TO VENTING, HAVE A THREE-TIME POLICY. For life’s little annoyances—an unjust parking ticket, a run-in with some nasty person in the produce aisle, that thing your mother-in-law did—only tell the tale three times, max, before never bringing it up again. Why give it any more power than that?
29. LASTLY, REMEMBER WHATEVER YOU ARE HOLDING ONTO ISN’T PERMANENT ANYWAY. Fundamental to Buddhism, and also taught in Hinduism and Jainism, is the idea that the very nature of reality is impermanent. Reality is always changing, flowing like a river. If we can align our perception to that truth, we’ll feel a lot more relaxed and satisfied
So as the phrase goes, the good news is that nothing lasts forever. And the bad news is that nothing lasts forever. Whatever you are ready to let go of, may you do so in your own time, and feel lighter, more energized, and ready for whatever comes next.