What I’m about to offer in this blog post isn’t revolutionary. It’s been done before. Really, all spiritual tools and techniques have been done before. Any time I hear someone trumping a tool as the latest and greatest thing, I am more than a little skeptical. That’s not even the right word. It’s not skepticism. I simply know that all these tools are leading us back to the simplicity of letting go, and they’re all really the same thing.
As such, I am happy to announce this is NOT the latest and greatest thing. You most likely have and/or will find other people saying the exact same things with different words in other spiritual traditions, psychology, and so forth. So let me repeat. This is not new. But hopefully, it is immensely helpful.
In this vein of thinking, I wanted to offer this spiritual awakening blog post as one of the more fundamental spiritual techniques and ways of thinking about healing and spiritual growth. Especially for healing, this process of identifying, accepting, embracing, and letting go can be immensely valuable. Initially, you probably will experience these things as a jumble. Then you’ll get better at separating them as you practice looking within yourself, and then they very naturally start to happen all at once. In truth, we are very used to having something pass through us–an experience or thought–very easily. It’s only when we have some attachment, pain, or story that some new experience or thought can latch onto does this whole process become necessary.
With that said, I’d like to break out these four phases and talk about what they are and how to use them.
Identify: Bringing Light to the Problem
If you can’t see it, you can’t deal with it. The identify step tends to be of huge importance especially for the spiritual newbies. Initially, people are used to being very self-ignorant and sometimes very self-arrogant, which is when we think we know ourselves but actually haven’t a clue. So learning to turn the spotlight of awareness on ourselves tends to feel very unnatural, strange, and unsettling. People can get very upset by what they start to notice because…well, they’re noticing they’ve got a lot of pain. Lots of people have ego stories that believe they are just fine, and when their own light illuminates all these broken pieces, that story can get extremely agitated. This is where the defensive mechanisms can kick in. A person may decide to look away and go into a knowing-ignorance. That means the person knows there’s a problem but just won’t deal with it. They may also try to self-medicate and re-numb themselves with a variety of things such as constantly staying busy or going to drinking and doing drugs.
But the problem doesn’t go away. Ignorance is not bliss. If your leg is broken, just because you can’t feel it doesn’t mean you’re really thriving in life. No. You are continuing to damage yourself further and further. Pain, by and large, is simply the way we get our own attention that something is wrong. As such, a lot of the identification phase for many of you will be noticing all the pain that you live in. Keep in mind that this phase will go in waves and move into deeper levels as you work through issues. It’s generally not the case that someone identifies every issue off the bat. We generally work through layers of limiting beliefs and issues as we work down into core beliefs.
At the identification level, tools like journaling, meditating, working with a spiritual teacher, and so forth are all about finding issues and noticing what is actually going on in your mind, heart, body, and subtle energies.
Accept: Letting the Truth of Yourself Sink in
After you’ve identified an issue such as old wounds from your mother’s emotional abuse, the only rational thing to do is to accept it. However, the very human thing is to deny it. You’re noticing that I’m pointing out the polar opposites as I’m going here. I hope to help you better understand yourself by showing you the reverse because this is what people are so practiced at doing. So where ignorance and denial are operating in your life, you are living in darkness. You are closing your eyes. Open eyes can identify and accept life as it is. It doesn’t mean you like things as they are. But you can see the forest fire, and therefore, you can make better decisions as opposed to closing your eyes and trying to ignore the burning smell.
Going back to the example of emotional abuse, accepting this truth doesn’t mean that you have to confront your mother. Rather, it means you can begin to identify further elements involved with the emotional abuse inside of you. You can go back up to that identification step and see where this issue affected your relationships with other women, how you use your emotions and your voice, and so forth. Doing a little coloring or diagramming of this can be a useful way to visualize the whole system of this issue and further shine your light on the situation. And lots of issues are systemic, which is why it can feel like it takes forever to release something. We don’t need a long time to release an issue, by the way. But you also need to understand the system because it’ll help you see how committed you still are to it, and it’s your commitment and attachment to pain that really drags things out.
Acceptance of whatever issue you are working on naturally takes you deeper into it. It moves you towards embracing it–not cutting it out. For difficult emotions such as fear or shame, a lot of people won’t want to embrace those feelings, but my experience is that fully feeling them is the doorway to fully releasing them. Be mindful as you move deeper that denial may continue to try to rear its ugly head. Impatience may also show up, which is another way we try reject the current moment and what we are feeling. Patience is key in all of this.
Embrace: The Long Hug that Makes Your Skin Crawl
Yes, cuddling with fear is not fun. That’s why it’s still inside. Hanging out with shame is gross. Sadness is a sopping wet mess, and anger just wants to burn you from the inside out. Sitting with these upset emotions is never on anyone’s short, fun-day Sunday list. Which is why they’re there. They’re all your past due bills that you have avoided paying, and this is why so much of a spiritual awakening and most spiritual transitions involve sitting with the upset emotions. Most people don’t postpone joy (although some do), which is why we don’t spend a lot of this process releasing emotional energy in giggles.
On the other side of the emotional coin, we have to mindful in our lives to not try and to hold on to “good” feelings. This is the quickest way to sour a good relationship or situation. We keep trying to have this feeling again and again. Letting go is natural for all feelings. On the spiritual path, we aren’t laying down a preference. We are opening to all feelings and experiences, which is a very profound thing indeed.
With upset feelings, the polarity can be avoidance and procrastination. We don’t want to deal with them. At this point, you know they’re there. You’ve accepted them, but there may be another inner story that must be dealt with before going further. You will find many guards, guard dogs, and closed gates of your own making inside of you, which is why spiritual healing often goes in layers. In this case, a lack of self-belief may be shielding you from going into really upset painful emotions. In another situation, it could be a fear of the unknown. In yet another, it could be fear of being overwhelmed. But all these emotions, old traumas, pains, stories, and whatnot are just you. You can handle you.
Let Go: At Long Last, the Release
For the upset emotions, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. But still, even amidst the embrace, you may notice a desire to hold on for whatever reason. Holding on is the opposite of this phase, and you may want to look at the many parts of your life where you are holding on. The embrace of the romantic relationship is ending after 5 years. It’s time to let it go. The job is ending. The conversation is ending. Your phone contract is ending. It’s time to find a new one or let go so you can renew something. Even when things are uncomfortable, the trained habit of holding on in some people will have people grasping to things that they know they should let go of. It’s really pretty insane. But it happens. Keep noticing what is holding on. The more you stay in this sacred embrace, the clearer it is why you are hanging onto.
But then, something goes. And ahhhhhhhhhhhhh. Relaxation. Opening. A moment of peace. For those in intense shifts, this moment may soon be quickly submerged by the next set of issues. But most of you will have this moment. A new expansion in your life may soon follow, but not necessarily. Lots of things can happen. But typically you feel way better. If the letting go happened in the mind, you may feel more at ease in speaking. It may be clearer what is true and what is not. Your intuition may be sharper. If the letting go happened in the heart, you may feel more loving and compassionate. If it happened in the body, the body may feel more relaxed and flexible. If it happened in the subtle energy, then you may simply feel clearer in a way that I can’t really describe much more than that. With this letting go, there also may be shifts in the people and situations around you as everything realigns to this new energy you are flowing in and the next set of issues gets ready to be revealed.
The Speeding Up of the Process
As we have greater and greater faith in this process, it tends to speed up. We often don’t need to spend as much time identifying and accepting because we actually know who we are. In some instances, all four phases may seem to happen seamlessly together for an issue. This is often what a lot of spiritual masters and teachers are talking about, and I hope breaking out some of these phases will give you a few stepping stones towards this truth. That way when someone says, “Just let go,” you’ve got some temporary scaffolding to follow in terms of allowing that.
And letting go is an allowing. Ultimately, it takes a lot of energy to hold onto things. Feel the resistance in your body some time. Think about how much energy goes into holding a muscle tight like that. If you want to, just clench your fist as tightly as possible for 2 minutes and see how it feels. You probably will hate the exercise after about 30 seconds (and please don’t hurt yourself–this is just an example). The point is that this is how many people are living their lives at the intellectual, emotional, physical, and energetic levels. Generally speaking, the pain you feel is simply the pain you have been living in your whole life. Awakening and the spiritual path aren’t making you suffer; they helping you to see that you already ARE suffering. Now it’s time to make a choice to find a way out.
The Way Out Is the Way In
We cannot get away from ourselves. We’ve tried in this culture. I encourage you to list your escape routes and think about how truly effective they are. All of our escapes really just cover up the issue, which doesn’t deal with it at all. So I encourage you to have courage to go within. Look at what is going on inside so that you can identify what is happening. This can take awhile. It also is very humbling to realize that we have no idea who we are. Then it very naturally follows that you have to accept this and everything else you see. This simply is what is. If you don’t enjoy the pain you live in, you really only have one person to point the finger at even if you’ve had horrible traumas (and while there are exceptions, blaming other people still doesn’t help you heal). Then you take a really big deep breath and embrace this truth. You feel it. You sit with it. You may cry. You may scream. You may ache in your body. It varies by issue. Not all issues feel like someone is pulling your teeth out. But even when it does feel that bad, just understand that it is temporary. It is already passing as you sit with it, but make no timetables for how long it should last.
Then it lets go. Something opens up, and you get to be a little more free and clear. It’s different with every issue, but once something does let go, you don’t have to deal with that piece of the issue again. And that freedom is why many of us become so dedicated to the spiritual path, and it truly is worth the messiness that comes through healing.