What does it take to let go in our lives? To allow for loss – of a loved one, a cherished object, a known and familiar feeling or experience. How do we go about surrendering and letting go?
My experience is that most of us will cling to that someone or something, refusing to let it go completely. We make excuses, rationalize and bargain with ourselves. Confronted with the event of loss we tend to grip, to cling, to wrap ourselves around the very thing we need to let go of.
It is human nature to fear surrendering what we most love, what we have grown accustomed to. It is human nature to fear surrendering and letting go, period. It frightens us, it makes us feel vulnerable, makes us feel alone, existentially doomed to loss.
What will we have once we let go?
Once we surrender? It takes a leap of faith, a belief that once we release our grip we will be able to continue our life in a different, and perhaps even fuller way. We build our lives around loved ones, family, things, objects, habits, beliefs, you name it. And letting go of “it” whatever “it” is, threatens our very sense of being.
Talking with a patient about her struggle letting go of her persistent binging, and of her tendency to isolate and sleep, to wrap herself in familiar patterns, her fear that she will always have a black hole inside, she tells me a Buddhist story:
To let go is counter intuitive to us, and yet, we cannot advance without doing so. The very act of clinging keeps us immobile, tightly wound around the thing we cling to. Even when we want to let go, we fear… the precipice. I think this must be akin to what Sartre had on his mind when he described existential angst.
A man slips and falls down the side of a mountain, he begins to fall quickly, the end of the precipice thousands of feet below. He manages to grab a branch, and as he clings to it for dear life, he begins a dialogue in his head:
“Dear lord, if you get me out of this one I promise I will pray and I will never do wrong again.”
“SURE” a voice replies, “THAT’S WHAT THEY ALL SAY.”
Startled, looking for the source of the voice and glancing down at the precipice below, the man continues, “No really, I will, I promise, just help me get out of this one, and I will do anything you want, anything really!”
“EVERYONE SAYS THAT IN YOUR SHOES.”
“Please, I promise, I will, I will do anything you say.”
“ARE YOU SURE, ANYTHING AT ALL?”
“FINE….THEN LET GO!”
Very unlike the next example, which celebrates letting go as part of the natural order of life.Around Christmas time of 2009, I heard a beautiful sermon on WQXR radio (by Reverend Bruce from the Unitarian Church in NYC) on this very topic. He was speaking on the need to let go with gratitude and an open heart. He shared an experience, which was recorded by an observer in the Metro section of the New York Times newspaper. It went something like this:
A woman steps out of a subway car and starts to put her gloves back on when she realizes that she is missing one. She turns to look at the subway car and sees one lonely glove on the seat, the companion to the one she is holding in her hand. It is now too late to retrieve the glove from the train, so with a shrug of the shoulders she throws the glove that is in her hand back into the train as the doors close. She smiles and walks away.
Surrendering with gratitude and open heart.
My colleague, Dr. Mark Epstein (Open to Desire) talks about the difference between holding and clinging. Holding is done with an open hand, so that whatever we hold near and dear to us is free to move and be.
Clinging is more akin to gripping- tightening our hand around something so that it lies prisoner within our grasp.
Surrendering with gratitude and open heart requires an open hand. It requires a lightness of touch, a lightness of being. Openness rather than tightness. Think about what we do when we are afraid: we tense up, tighten up every muscle we have; we crouch, cross our arms, we close up. We grip and hold onto ourselves. We do this to try and protect ourselves. The question is: from what? Some fears, perhaps most fears, come from within, even if they are triggered by external events.
In the case of letting go, it is our fear of not having, of looking into our own precipice, of losing our (known) sense of self, that makes us grip and hold on.Once we think of surrendering with an open heart we are immediately confronted with the fact that to do so requires an act of faith on our parts.
I do not mean of the religious or spiritual kind, I mean of the personal kind. A personal leap of faith. The woman on the train platform did exactly that when she threw her remaining glove into the train: she released her grip with a smile. Her act of faith exemplified in her release of the glove – in her belief that she could let go, and that she was better off throwing it back into the train to join its companion, rather than bemoaning her loss, or worse – attempting to retrieve it.
The act of letting go creating new possibilities of ownership (anyone need gloves?) as well as freedom. Can any of us disagree with that?
Surrendering has to do with acceptance. Acceptance of who we are, of all of those parts of ourselves that we spend much our lives not wanting to know, but nevertheless know of. Acceptance of what we do, how we think, what we say, and of course, of what has happened to us in our lives. Acceptance of our limitations and our not so nice parts.
Years ago, a patient described what it took for her to stop smoking. “I finally surrendered” she said, “finally gave up in acceptance that I could no longer fill myself with smoke, while telling myself I was soothing myself”. She surrendered to the idea that she wanted to live despite the inevitable suffering that might come as part of really living. This took accepting the fact that her addiction was not to nicotine, but to the way smoking filled her loneliness and cradled her agitation. Twenty years later, she tells me that she still believes that smoking is the best anti-depressant, and that when she gave it up, she had to deal with not being able to instantly fill that space up. She had to accept her loneliness and even her depression, and do something to address those. She had to let go.
Like the man hanging on a limb in the precipice, most of us will do “anything” not to let go. We will bargain, get angry, deny, all part of the cycle that leads us to acceptance and surrendering. We all have much to learn from the woman on the train.
And one more, just because I think it's a cool list ...
Christmas and New year are over, probably a busy stressful time for many and, whether we like it or not, a time to look back and look forward.
My first post of the year, just a light hearted glance at some of my favourite posts from Facebook and |tumblr over the past month ...
My personal Favourite is the one about the wolves: which one will you feed this year?
If you are struggling with the New Year, or any aspect of your life and feel you need help, support or counselling, maybe now is the time and this year is the year to find that support.
Gateway Counselling provides counselling and support, specialising in depression, anxiety and stress (which covers a huge amount of other things as well).
I also provide sessions using a variety of tools and chats to build life skills, maybe become more confident or talk through options.
Please do take a look at my Home Page and consider finding the support you need.
And as always, look after yourself and take care.
WHAT ARE THE TIPS TO PREVENT OR ALTERNATIVES FOR SELF-HARM?
Minimise self-harm damage:
If you feel an even stronger urge to self-harm, try the following harm minimisation tips:
• Use a red felt tip pen to mark where you might usually cut;
• Hit pillows or cushions, or have a good scream into a pillow or cushion to vent anger and frustration;
• Rub ice across your skin where you might usually cut, or hold an ice-cube in the crook of your arm or leg;
• Put elastic bands on wrists, arms or legs and flick them instead of cutting or hitting;
• Have a cold bath or shower.
"One of the reasons that young people say they self-harm and may be cutting or injuring themselves, is that something has happened in their life that has made them feel contaminated or polluted by what's happened, whether it's physical or emotional," says Frances McCann, mental health practitioner. "It becomes a way of 'letting something out' and dealing with feelings of self-disgust or low self-esteem."
The Butterfly Project (One of My Personal Favourites)
The A-Z of distractions
Often the best thing is to find out what has worked for other people who understand where you're coming from. TheSite.org asked young people from young people's mental health service, 42nd Street in Manchester, to come up with some of the alternatives that help them:
• Alternative therapies: massage, reiki, meditation, acupuncture, aromatherapy.
• Bake or cook something tasty. (Also builds self esteem once you get good!)
• Craft-work: make things, draw or paint. Be Creative. Express yourself.
• Dance your socks off.
• Exercise for a release of endorphins and that feel-good factor. Start jogging.
• Forward planning - concentrate on something in the future, like a holiday.
• Go for a walk, with friends if possible.
• Hang out with friends and family. Play some games (hangman, charades, etc)
• Have a bubble bath with lots of bath bombs fizzing around you.
• Hug a soft toy or a real person. Also, cuddles and hugs lower depression, reduce anxiety, Fact!
• Invite friends round, chat, have pizza, a film marathon,
• Join a gym or a club.
• Knit (it's not just for old people you know). This is surprisingly therapeutic.
• Listen to music. (preferably music you can dance to in your bedroom)
• Music: singing, playing instruments, listening to (basically making as much noise as you can).
• Open up to a friend about how you are feeling. Ask them to listen without talking to start with.
• Pop bubble wrap. Keep popping until every single bubble is popped.
• Play with a stress ball or make one yourself (balloons, flour).
• Read a book.
• Rip up a phone directory or thick catalogue (Argos, if you're in the UK).
• Scream into an empty room. (Make sure its empty!). Or find an empty field, remote place.
• Spend time with babies (when they're in a good mood). Watch children playing.
• Tell or listen to stories
• Tai Chi, Mindfulness, Reflection, Prayer
• Visit a zoo or a farm that lets you hold the animals(animals do the best things).
• Volunteer for an organisation (will make you feel all warm inside).
• Write: diary, poems, a book. Keep a journal in which you can be brutally honest.
• Write all your negative feelings on paper, then rip them up or burn them (safely). Let them go.
• Yoga: meditation, deep breathing - this might help you relax and control your urges.
• Zzz - get a good night's sleep.
There are many self-help tips that may help you, otherwise known as 'alternatives to self-harm', or 'coping tips and distractions'. You might find some are more effective than others. Don't be disheartened if a technique isn't successful. Try a different one to see if it works better for you.
Here are a few you might want to try:
The 15-minute rule - if you're feeling the urge to self-harm, give yourself 15 minutes before you do. Distract yourself by going for a run or writing down your feelings. When the time's up, see if you can extend it by another 15 minutes. Try to keep going until the urge subsides;
Meditation - try to visualise the urge as an emotional wave you can surf. Imagine it reaching a crescendo then breaking as you successfully resist its force;
Write a list of things you've achieved that make you feel proud, or fill a box with things that make you happy, such as pictures of friends and loved ones. Keep them handy and look at them when you're feeling bad;
Practice expressing your emotions and feelings through art or writing or talking to a friend.
And Finally, as always, if you need it, get counselling: you know where I am. x
Which ones did you find most interesting or meaningful?
Which did you agree with and not agree with (and why) ?
What would you add?
Make Your Own List.
Nightmares can be truly horrible and waking from one can leave you feeling very shaking and vulnerable. Trying to banish the pictures in your head of what has been happening in your dream can be very hard.
Grounding techniques can be helpful in bringing you back to the real world, for nightmares, anxiety attacks, panic attacks.
Put on a light. Try to get out of bed and put something warm on if you feel shivery. Make a hot drink and sit somewhere safe and comfortable. As you sip your drink say out loud your name, where you are and tell yourself you are safe.
Look round your room and identify familiar objects. Your pictures on the walls, a favourite ornament, a special soft toy, which you may want to pick up and cuddle.
If there are still images in your head that you don’t want to be there tell them out loud to go away and immediately focus on something very familiar in your room.
Put down your drink, place your feet firmly on the floor, hold the arms of your chair, or clasp your hands in front of you, and physically feel the floor with your feet and feel the arms of the chair, or one hand grasping the other. Achieving this will literally “ground” you in the here and now.
Now try to focus on your five senses;
SEEING – look around you and say out loud five objects that you can see – maybe a picture, a bedside rug, a vase of flowers, your curtains, and a clock.
HEARING – Maybe you can hear your own breathing, a clock ticking, birds beginning to sing outside, a familiar creak of floorboards, a car in the distance
TOUCHING – the softness of one hand against the other, the fabric of your chair, the material of what you are wearing, the warmth or coolness of your skin, the hardness of a wooden table.
SMELLING – any scent you might be wearing or soap you have used, the detergent you have washed your clothes in, maybe a cigarette if you are a smoker, any flowers that are in your room (leaves too have a distinctive smell), furniture polish
TASTING – the saltiness of your own skin, the trace of toothpaste in your mouth, the drink you have made yourself, imagine the taste of your favourite food, the cold taste against your tongue of the by now empty mug.
All the above are only suggestions – you will find your own “five senses”. This will take as long as it takes. There is no time scale. Everyone is different. Like anything else it takes practise. We are all individuals.
When you feel strong enough to return to bed tell yourself very firmly that you will not have that bad dream again. If it does visit you again, don’t blame yourself – it is NOT YOUR FAULT
A Personal Reflection
"I get angry when I read drug manufacturer’s definitions of depression and see drab commercials that burst with color as soon as the meds are introduced. Feeling sad, overwhelmed, hopeless, sleeping a lot…
as long as we hold onto the definitions that are fed to us as truth without exploring them we can never see anything more than that. If it were that simple, maybe popping pills would help. But it is their very definition that blinds us to the truth of discovering what depression is.
We feel like they really know us, with their simple definitions. We read each symptom on the checklist and say “Yes! that is exactly how I feel!”. Upon further examination, you have to admit that this is only part of the picture.
People are in so much pain, so desperate for immediate relief, needing someone to understand us in the worst way, that reading these simple sentences, seals the deal. We do not question if it is deeper than that, we believe that we can pop a pill and then all those symptoms will disappear. If it were that simple, why are more and more medications failing more and more people?
According to the Abilify website, 2 out of 3 people taking an antidepressant still experienced unresolved symptoms of depression!
I have taken the typical definitions of depression and injected a little bit of deeper truth.
- A suppressed level of functioning. At this level of functioning there is no hope that we will ever fulfill our dreams or become the people the voices in our heart tell us we are.
- Inability to connect the dots between where you are to where you want to be. Mindlessly repeating patterns of thought and behavior that are not positive and do not get us to where we want to go.
- Feeling “different” than others, and not in a good way. This comes from a skewed perspective on life and the world. This stems from our beliefs about ourselves and our perceived limitations. Our external environment is a direct reflection of our mental state of affairs.
- Crying frequently/ feeling emotional pain- without clarity as to what that pain is all about. Because there is no clarity, there can be no outlet or resolution. Often unconsciously, we still see our experiences through the eyes of our childhood. When consciously we examine these things with our adult minds, we realize that they are much different than we have processed them. When we see truly reality, we can make sense of it, grieve and be angry if we need to, and then let it go.
- Excessive fatigue and sleeping- to avoid the pain of life. This is our mind trying to protect itself from things it can’t handle. Sleeping because of depression is dying without the commitment. I didn’t kill myself, but I avoided life and all the things that are too painful for me in it (mentally or in circumstance), by sleeping. By examining the multitudes of reasons we find life’s situations so painful, we can shed light on them and begin to heal.
- Feeling overwhelmed and hopeless- inability to effectively clear up emotional pain and dysfunction. Our minds combine all of our past experiences as if it were a blender. The thick murky soup that results is how we define ourselves, how we react, how we embrace the future. It is this murky soup and our inability to sort through it that causes hopelessness and the feeling of being completely overwhelmed.
- Less interest in activities- because we are carrying too much emotional weight and in too much pain (it is quite possible to be in complete emotional agony without even realizing it). Dysfunction comes from destructive methods of reacting to situations. Things that at surface value should be enjoyable are painful because of how we are processing them under the surface. Often our means of processing is not entirely conscious and so we must dig deeply to figure out why we are having this reaction.
- Thoughts or attempts at suicide. Depression is unbearable, and the life it creates is hell. Feeling suicidal is not really about wanting to die. It is about wanting to be free. Free from pain. Because most people do not receive the help and support that they need, they do not realize they can have this freedom in their life, and so they sadly conclude that they must die to achieve it.
All of these symptoms are the things circling under the surface of the depression. It is all a vicious cycle, all of these symptoms feed each other and create more depression until the point where we lose all hope.
Medication promises to treat these symptoms, but will never heal anything. What we need to do is dig below the surface, find the roots and work to dissolve them. As a result, all of the surface symptoms disappear.
The more I think about how much medication I was on, and how strong all of the symptoms still were, the more I realize how amazing my mind truly is. It never stopped telling me, no matter how medicated, that something is really wrong under the surface. It didn’t give up, until I listened to it.
Feeling suicidal is not really about wanting to die. It is about wanting to be free."
Adapted from James Aggrey's 'Parable of The Eagle' and James and Jongeward's 'Born To Win'.
Once upon a time, while walking through the forest, a certain man found a young eagle, only just from his mothers nest. He took it home and put the baby eagle in the Barnyard where he kept chickens. So it was that the eagle learned to eat chicken feed and behave as chickens behaved. Perhaps it's behaviour was so changed that the eagle believed he was a chicken and not an eagle.
One day a Naturalist passed by the farm and asked the owner why the eagle, who was now grown, was confined to live in the barn with the chickens when he should be free to fly and be who he really is?
The owner replied: 'I have fed it on chicken feed, and it has lived its whole life believing it is a chicken, and now it has never learned to fly, never learned who he really is. He is no longer an eagle because he does not know he is an eagle. I have persuaded him he is a chicken.'
The Naturalist disagreed, seeing the hidden potential in the eagle. 'He is really an eagle' said the Naturalist, 'but he has been so confined his whole life, given the wrong messages, not allowed to be who he really is. But I believe he is still an eagle, and if we give him the freedom to discover and the chance to fly, I believe he can break free of those limitations and fly.'
The same day, they took the eagle to the forest, and the Naturalist held the eagle up gently and said to the eagle 'you have been lied to. You are not a chicken, You are an eagle. You belong to the sky, and to freedom. Stretch out your wings, do what is in your own nature and fly.'
The eagle however was confused. He did not know who he was. He was afraid to spread his wings and fly (even though he desperately wanted to). So it was that he returned to the barnyard and ate chicken feed. It was all he had known.
For the next few days the Naturalist took the eagle to the forest, to different places and challenged him to fly. Each day he would say the same thing: 'You have been lied to. You are not a chicken, You are an eagle. You belong to the sky, and to freedom. Stretch out your wings, do what is in your own nature and fly.'
And each day the eagle who wanted to fly was afraid and returned to the barnyard and the familiarity of the lies he had been told about himself.
Then, one day, this day, now, the Naturalist took the eagle and held him high above his head. He said: 'You have been lied to. You are not a chicken, You are an eagle. You belong to the sky and to freedom. Stretch out your wings, do what is in your own nature, and fly.'
The eagle trembled, looked up into the sky, looked back at the farm in the distance behind him, and stretched out his wings. He let out the cry that only an eagle can cry, and took flight. It was an amazing sight. He flew, and then he soared.
It may be that the eagle still remembers the chickens. Maybe he looks back and wonders why he ever believed the lies he was told about himself. Maybe he regrets not flying sooner. Or maybe he just flies and soars and does not look back.