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Flappy Arms Realizes She is Wasting Her Time
Imagine a passenger on a plane flapping her arms wildly because she is convinced it is helping the aircraft stay in the air. Gyrating her limbs continuously is sure to be tiring, and it is bound to be annoying for other passengers, but so long as she sees this as a vital task, she will keep on doing it.
It may be possible to get this passenger to stop flapping her arms if she is convinced it will lead to a more comfortable flight. This is conditional letting go because if the airplane encounters some turbulence, she may once again feel compelled to resume the arm flapping – in fact, she may be more convinced than ever of the importance of this behavior.
Our passenger will only be able to completely let go of her arm flapping when she realizes it is doing her absolutely no good. It is not about using the behavior as some type of bargaining chip – I will stop so long as this happens – but the understanding it would be useless to continue. This is real letting go.
Real Letting Go is Not Really a Decision
I never had any problem accepting the potential benefits of being able to ‘let go’. I just could never figure out how to do it. I might manage to go a few days where it felt like I was just trusting the universe, but then something unpleasant would happen, and I would be back at the steering wheel – for me this meant obsessive thinking, worrying myself sick, wildly fluctuating mood, and a persistent state of anxiety.
So long as I continued to see any benefit in obsessive thinking, I would never be able to let it go completely. This situation felt familiar because it was exactly the same as my relationship with alcohol. I was only able to let go of drinking for good when I could see beyond all doubt there was nothing more in it for me.
Letting Go is Realizing You Have Never Been in Control
What if instead of being our thoughts and emotions we are just experiencing our thoughts and emotions?
It is easy to see how some of our thoughts and emotions are beyond our control (e.g. addiction cravings and obsessions), but what if all of it is sort of beyond our control? What if all the stuff we do to tame our thoughts and emotions is actually making things worse for us?
What would happen if instead of trying to control our thoughts and emotions we start to treat them more like the weather? This would mean we stop taking them so personally. This is what mindfulness is all about. It is letting go not because we are bargaining with the universe to treat us better, but as the realization we don’t have much of a choice.
Realizing You Were Never Really in Control is Liberating
The wonderful thing is that once we truly let go, as a realization and not as bargaining chip, things do go far more smoothly for us in life. Most of our thinking involves bickering with reality (e.g. ‘this shouldn’t be happening’ or ‘this should happen’), so when we let this go, we fall into the flow of things. Instead of being tightly controlled by our fears and desires, we our picked up and moved by the currents of passion, compassion, and childlike curiosity. Life is appreciated and lived fully in the moment.
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