These days, mindfulness — defined by neuroscientist of Harvard University Britta Hölzel as “the non-judgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment” – attracts many people interested in psychological health and happiness. Since Paul McCartney encouraged us to “Let it be” when our hearts are broken, we know about the importance of acceptance. And surely nobody can escape the “Let it go” songs and books of today’s culture. I think we have pretty much gotten the message: resistance to reality is futile and letting things pass through us is the best we can do for our happiness.However, knowing about something is not the same as being able to do it. Mindfulness is difficult. And as inspiring as it may be to hear from people who can go with the flow and stay emotionally positive no matter what, it can also exert pressure on those who struggle. “Let it go” may sound like “Let it go already!” which is a not-so helpful message of impatience in a stressed-out society. In fact, the pace has picked up so much since Paul McCartney sang that song, we are not going through life anymore; we are running. And so do our minds, a thousand miles a minute. It seems as if our minds are too full to be mindful.
What is it that we do with a box that is too full? We either reorganize it or empty it out a bit. I recommend we do both for our minds. We need to make sure that 1) not too much flows into our minds, 2) we relate constructively to what flows into our minds, and 3) we don’t obstruct the mind so things have a chance to pass.
“Let things in, let things be, and let things go” is a wonderful meditation practice. You can sit down, breathe deeply and observe your breathing, while repeating these words quietly to yourself. Indeed, meditation practice assures that the mind won’t clutter up, which is why I teach it in Chapter Nine in my book “A Unified Theory of Happiness” . Beyond meditation, I think it is useful to look at the three areas from a practical point of view:
1) Letting Things In – But Not Too Much
In the information age, it is essential that you protect your mind from overstimulation. I am a working mother of three children, but refuse to multitask as much as humanly possible. How? There is a magic word hardly used around those seeking optimal stimulation for themselves and their loved ones and the word is: NO. “Say no to drugs” has become popular and a few have signed on to include “No texting while driving.” But we need the word so much more often. We need it when we get a cellular phone call while talking to others. We need it when we speak to one person and a third enters the equation. We need it when people flank their new dress or car or phone and our mouth waters. We need it when someone calls us a name, acts without manners, or makes unreasonable demands.
And then, say “Yes” to life and wholesome activities, nature, a warm bubble bath, a quiet conversation, a pain you don’t like but cannot avoid, such as sickness, work, and taxes. Regulate what you can and stop trying to control what you cannot.
2) Letting Things Be – With Patience And Love
Who wants to feel pain? We avoid it as much as we can, even more so than we hang onto pleasure, and all because we are a human animal. O well. Now that we have established this fact, what can we reasonably expect from ourselves in the way we process painful or uncomfortable experiences. We can learn to relate to them constructively, meaning without judgment, but with kind attention. In other words, we need to become our own best friend who does not wish us to wallow in misery, but who is patient and supportive to help us out.
One form of self-compassion is highly undervalued in psychological circles, which is nurturing the body with both exercise and nutrition. For example, you can help your mind process the myriad of things by avoiding refined sugar as if it were poisonous and by eating primarily fresh fruits and vegetables instead. Did you know that greens give you magical energy? Also, it is an established scientific fact that physical exercise makes for a healthy, youthful, fluid brain. Please don’t deprive yourself of the fountain of youth and an important resource for your happiness .
3) Letting Things Go – Forgive, Throw Out, And Join The Club
Last, but not least, please don’t stand in the way when things are ready to leave your mind. If you can help it, forgive those who have wronged you for you will be happier for it. Throw out the garbage, literally and metaphorically. There are some bad thoughts you hold onto just as you hold onto a pile of outdated clothes in your closet. If you have a hard time with letting things go, if you lust for the old girlfriend or boyfriend you could not have, if you keep mourning over your losses for year after year, know yourself in good company. We all do it! We like to hang on as it feels safe. Understand yourself, humble yourself, and then, with a kind kick in the butt, let it go.
© 2014 Andrea F. Polard, PsyD.