Freedom is Attained Through Letting Go
A common misbelief is that freedom is attained through doing, pursuit, and acquisition. We get freedom through money, status, a certain level of success, an assistant, material possessions, the right mix of things.
This is a dangerous belief. If you are not free with whatever you have now, how much is enough? The pursuit of more becomes endless.
One important lesson I’ve learned is that we cannot attain freedom through pursuit or acquisition. Freedom is attained only through letting go.
In fact, it’s the resistance to letting go that often keeps us stuck.
Why We Resist Letting Go
In the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers wrote that
All experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
In other words, complacency. We often choose to stay in suffering rather than to destroy the thing that causes our suffering.
This is how we become trapped in prisons of our own making. The good news in this is that because we created the prison, we also hold the key to our own freedom.
We may not need to overthrow the government (although the Founding Fathers did contemplate this possibility), but the Founding Fathers’ prescription still applies: to claim our freedom, we must abolish the forms to which we are accustomed.
Once again, we see the principle of the creation/destruction cycle at work.
What Blocks Our Freedom
The worst form of slavery is when the slave doesn’t know he is a slave. This is often us. We are often unaware of what and who controls us.
The path of letting go starts with awareness.
Here are the top 10 areas in which we typically resist letting go.
(1) Money/Material Comforts
Last year, a mentor told me that he was contemplating a change in certain aspects of his business. He felt he had new territory that he wanted to explore. He also could envision a bigger audience for his work, and hosting his own events. When I asked what was stopping him, he admitted that he was reluctant to give up the “comfortable life” that he had created. Embarking on this new path would put at risk his stable income, his scheduling flexibility, and other aspects of his life.
This is an example of “golden handcuffs.” The more we acquire, the harder it is to give it up. And when we know that we are capable of more, those handcuffs can create our suffering.
(2) Other People
The relationships we have with other people influence many of the other elements that can control us. This could be family, friends, intimate relationships, clients, acquaintances, or anyone else.
Note that it is not the other people themselves who block us, but how we respond or react to them.
Here are a few different ways that our relationships with other people can block our freedom.
Holding on too long. People come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Part of our task is to recognize when it’s time to let go. Some people in our lives may not be the best fit for us anymore. Relationships end, either by intentional break-up or because someone died.
When it’s time for someone to leave our life, we must mourn the loss to move on. Part of the outcome of fully grieving is to release the control that the other person had over us. Losing a loved one can be traumatic, but also it can be liberating. Acknowledging this doesn’t diminish our love for the person.
Other people’s urgencies. We often allow other people’s priorities and urgencies to control our decisions and actions. This is often the case for service-based business owners and parents (especially moms), who are strongly driven by the needs of others.
Impact on loved ones. If you have a family, you may hesitate to give up something that might impact your family dynamic. The mentor I mentioned above perceived that making a change might mean that he could no longer attend his kids soccer games’ or be available for them. Some people fear that increased visibility to them might bring unwanted attention on those close to them.
Even if you choose not to make a change because of these dynamics, it’s crucial to acknowledge that you perceive them as obstacles in your path. The suppression of this awareness is what creates your suffering.
Expectations of us: Attempting to meet the expectations that others have for us often causes us to do things that are not aligned for us.
Expectations we have of others: On the flip side, when others don’t meet the expectations we have for them, we can feel angry, disappointed, and betrayed.
Expectations not involving people: Expectations can also include things beyond human behavior. For example, we might have expectations for how long something should take.
Anytime something doesn’t meet our expectations, or we feel the pressure to conform to someone else’s expectations, we are in suffering.
Tip: Any time you hear a should, you are in the land of expectations.
We all have rules for life. What is fair? What is justice? What’s the appropriate thing to do or say? When people violate our rules, we often find ourselves in suffering.
(5) Mind Games
Mind games is a big category in which I include opinions, beliefs, thoughts, doubts, and fears. This includes the need to be right, the belief that we know something with certainty, looking at things through a narrow lens, and cognitive biases.
It’s not just our own mind games we need to look at; we often adopt or inherit the mind games of others — especially parents, teachers, and mentors.
Human beings are storytellers; we cannot avoid it. We often allow the stories we or others tell — about us, our circumstances, the world and “how it works”, the past, and the future — to define us.
Identity is a powerful motivating force. Stories can trap us in an identity that prolongs our suffering and blocks our freedom.
(7) Structures and Systems
Sometimes it is the actual bureaucracy or political system. It might be the industry standards and practices. It might be the physical structure of your home, your systems in your business, or your morning routine.
When we find a structure or system that works for us we often cling to it long after it stops working. The founding fathers acknowledged that structures are not meant to be permanent. They wisely incorporated the idea that even the form of government they were creating would likely need to change over time. We often forget that structures are not meant to be permanent.
Sometimes what blocks our freedom is that we distract our focus. Email. Social media. Streaming video. News. We are addicted to the ping.
Like Pavlov’s dogs, we often interrupt ourselves even before we hear the cue to react.
Our relationship with technology is a master/servant relationship. Who is the master and who is the servant?
(9) Old Dreams and Visions
As we grow, our values and visions shift. One of the biggest things that block our freedom to move on is when we hold on to the unfulfilled dreams and visions that we created when we were different people. Not every goal needs to be met. In fact, if you’re growing, it’s likely that your desired outcomes will change.
Obviously, this is a big one. Our emotions, especially when we don’t acknowledge them, cause suffering. What we suppress controls us.
What we try to escape or deny comes back in a bigger way until we deal with it.
Emotions such as anger, resentment, disgust, blame, and shame create separation within ourselves and between us and others. They block our heart from opening to love and belonging. With an armored heart, we are not free to love.
Letting Go vs Suppressing
“Letting go” of emotions that are blocking us is not the same as suppressing or escaping. To let go, we must first acknowledge and feel the emotions. We cannot release an emotion until we have processed through it. This principle holds for anything that we need to release. For example, it’s not enough to say “release expectations.” First, we must be aware of what those expectations are and how they are holding us back.
This is what the founding fathers did in the Declaration of Independence. After the pre-amble, they listed the things that were holding them back; they looked at the truth with unflinching eyes. Only then could they create their resolve for moving through.
We can learn from their model. You may not need to let go of something in every area. Or, you may choose not to destroy something for various reasons. But those decisions come later.
Acknowledging what’s in the way is the first step to letting go, and the first step to freedom.