Questions and Answers
What does it mean to "let go" of something?
We all experience upsetting situations in our lives. The fact of the matter is that these situations are, in reality, over and done but what is left over are our emotional reactions to the situation. When I talk about letting go I am talking about letting go of our emotions about the situation. And letting go is all about undoing everything that keeps an emotion stuck.
Aren't certain emotions normal in a situation?
Of course, they are. And it is not that we should not feel certain feelings. The question is how long we hang on to the feelings. Some people hang on to certain feelings way beyond their time. Some people hang on to certain feelings for a lifetime and are never able to let go.
This sounds a lot like “just get over it." Is that what I am understanding you to say?
Telling yourself or someone else to just “get over it” is not what this work is about. The truth is, we feel what we feel and we need to acknowledge what we feel whether it is to ourselves or to another. Yes, we do need to get over things for our own happiness and well-being but it is more than just commanding ourselves to do so. We need to acknowledge and accept our emotions for what they are, and to evaluate for ourselves what a certain emotion is doing to us, how it is affecting us before we can choose to let it go. We also need to evaluate our resistances to letting go because all of us have them. As human beings, we often feel more secure in our misery than opening ourselves up to the unknown of possibilities.
You talk about therapy taking a short time. You’ve even used words like “instant” therapy. How can therapy be so quick? I know some people who have been in therapy for a long time.
One factor that often determines the length of therapy is the therapist’s viewpoint and definition of the therapeutic process. Many therapists are steeped in the writings and techniques of Freud who gave a lot of importance to uncovering early childhood experiences and developing a “transference” with the therapist. And of course, the assumption is that this process takes a long time sometimes years or, as in Woody Allen’s case, a lifetime. Unless you are in psychoanalysis, the stereotype of “lying on the couch” is a thing of the past. I do believe that we are a product of our past experiences but it is the emotions that we carry in the present that grew out of these experiences that are still with us. This is why the focus on the present is essential. When you address your present emotions, whatever they are, you are at the same time dealing with your past. You don’t necessarily have to go back and dig things up.
It seems like your approach is too easy or even superficial.
I would say my approach is simple but not necessarily easy because we still must address certain inner resistances. That is what usually takes some time, and courage, to understand all of your fears and resistances to letting go. And many people do not take responsibility for their emotions and consequently get into the blame game, the victim game, or denial game, so we first need to identify the emotions and then unravel all of the things that keep you stuck with it. When you can undo all of the things that keep an emotion stuck, then it is a very short process to letting go. If you are holding an object in your hand, it really takes no time to let it go but if you are unwilling to let it go for whatever reason then you would need to get to a place of willingness before you actually let go. But still, it does not require a terribly long time to get to that place.
What do you mean by “taking responsibility?"
It is a very good question, a word that we need to define because there are so many ways to talk about this word. Taking responsibility is a key that opens many doors. But when we use the word what are we really talking about? If I say “I am responsible”, am I saying “I am someone who fulfills my obligations” or am I saying, “It is my fault” or am I saying “I am in charge” of something? Am I saying, I “own” something if someone asks for example, “who is responsible for this car?” or am I talking about “causing” something such as, “who is responsible for this action”? There are legal definitions and there are moral definitions. From a psychological point of view and particularly when we talk about our emotions, taking responsibility simply means that I own my emotions. These are my emotions, they are not your emotions and you are not the cause of my emotions. The way we disown responsibility for our emotions is when we say, in so many ways, “you are the cause of my feelings” and if I believe this then, of course, I am justified in blaming you, punishing you, nagging you, and complaining about what you do or did to me. It is a never-ending circle until I break out of it by saying, “I own my emotions”. When I own my emotions or take responsibility for them, then and only then can I truly do something about them. And doing something about them simply means learning to “undo” them or let them go.
But what about being superficial?
Well, if you call superficial as dealing with what is on the surface, it is definitely the place where we begin but not necessarily the place where we remain. Therapy is about dealing with the obvious, not searching for hidden meanings. You can think of your inner life as one that is layered, kind of like an onion. You are aware of whatever you are aware of in yourself and that is where we start. But as you begin to remove these layers, you go more into the depth of yourself. So it is a process more like shedding old skin, letting go of the old making way for the new. You cannot create a happy life on top of a shaky or negative foundation.
Is your approach spiritual in nature?
My view is that we are spiritual beings, it is our true identity and nature. To me, it is not a concept or some theory. The truth is, is that we typically don’t identify ourselves as such. If I asked you the question, “Who are you?”, what would you say? You might tell me your name, what you do for a living, whether you are married, how much money you make, what you believe in, and so on. The idea is that we have identified ourselves with all of these things, our name, our work, our family, how much money we make, our possessions, our belief systems and so on. We can only begin to know ourselves as spiritual beings when we can let go of our identification with these things. And I am not saying that we should not have things; it’s only our identification with and meanings we attach to things that we need to let go of. When we can get to the point where we can say, I have things but I am not those things then we begin to open ourselves up to our true nature which is our spiritual self. Our spiritual self is that which is the creator of our reality not the object of the creation. This is not something that we typically talk about in therapy because it is not necessary. We only deal with what is, what is real, what you are currently struggling with. That is all that is necessary.
Does your approach last?
That is a good question because the truth is, nothing lasts at least in this world. If you succeed in letting go of a certain negative emotion you could always pick it up again and that does not mean failure. But when you can fully experience what it means to let go, then why would you? But the fact is that we sometimes do, if for no other reason because it is a familiar way of coping. I continue to have so-called negative emotions every day and you won’t stop having them either. The point is how long we hang on to them. When you can learn the art of letting go then negative emotions don’t hang around too long. You can actually get to the place where the moment they come in, is the same moment they go out. But for some things, it takes a little working through. But if you can learn this simple technique then you have learned a technique for life, a tool so to speak which you can use any time and any place to come to peace of mind. And the more you use it the better you get at it. And let me add, you really want to get to a place where you are not hanging on to anything even so-called “positive emotions”. The point is to create flow in your life which, I believe, opens up the way for true happiness.
“When I own my emotions or take responsibility for them, then and only then can I truly do something about them. And doing something about them simply means learning to “undo” them or let them go.”