When I hear people tell me I just need to let go, it ironically makes me tighten up. There seem to be more questions in that statement than answers. Let go of what? Why should I? How can I? That is, until I came across a rather incredible idea that changed the way I thought of letting go.
There is a Taoist philosophy called “wu wei” which I have been extremely inspired by as I learn more and more about it. This idea resonates with me so strongly, and has given me a lot of peace. I am not an enlightened Taoist philosopher by any means, but I am going to try and explain it as best I can through a concise but profound quote in the Tao Te Ching.
“Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear” – the Tao Te Ching
Allow that to sink in.
Okay, I am actually trying to contain my excitement as I read this because it is so profound on so many levels! The writer is explaining the principal in the same words he demonstrates it!
This quote explains that holding onto something and trying to force an outcome is often the very thing preventing that outcome from occurring. If we let go, and allow nature to take its course, you are no longer muddying up the water, so the water can become clear again. The writer explains this using the simplest, most natural form, and it just absolutely blows my mind. There are infinite ways to apply this principal, but for now I would like to focus on emotions.
Sometimes our emotions can feel like muddy water. Scattered, unorganized, and chaotic. When we feel this way, it makes it difficult to complete even the simplest tasks. This is related to an idea I talk about in Bad Feelings Don’t Exist . Namely that emotions are impossible to control, just like its impossible to make muddy water clear by scooping it with our hands. The harder you try, the muddier it gets. If we want clear water, we must accept that only natural processes can do this.
There is a type of meditation which teaches you to view your emotions like a river. Each emotion comes and goes regardless of what we do. However, if we make a dam to stop emotions we don’t like, these emotions stay with us in the dam. I have found it helpful to allow myself to instead accept these emotions, which allows them to pass by with more ease.
This doesn’t mean accepting that these emotions define you. For example, it does not mean that if you feel depressed, that you are an depressed person. It means simply accepting that you feel this emotion right now, and understanding that it will come and go in its own timing outside of your control. In other words, its a commitment to let the ‘river of your emotions’ flow without your influence. You are not there to move the river, you are there to experience the river.
In less metaphorical and more practical words, when I feel an emotion I don’t particularly like, I do three things. The first thing is something I do, and the second two are facts to remind myself of.
What to do:
Address your emotions.
Instead of calling them bad feelings, address the specific feeling itself. It may sound ineffective at first, but the more you do this, the more aware you will be of what exact emotion you are feeling.
For example, instead of simply saying, “I feel bad”, say, “I am feeling”… anxious, depressed, worried, etc..
When you address these emotions for what they are, and not how you feel about them, it helps free you from the perspective that its wrong to feel these things, and you can have a clear way of finding the root of that emotion.
What to remember:
All emotions are valid.
This is because emotions are based on your past experiences. In other words, you always have the right to feel the way you do because of the events you have gone through already. I always find this to be a comforting thought.
Emotions are just suggestions, they are not law.
Even though you have a right to feel them, and an obligation to listen to them, you are not required to obey them. We may not be able to control our emotions, but we can always control our actions.
This is really one part of the puzzle, and I will be posting the other pieces in future articles; so its important to find how to balance this in your own life! You can read the articles I have already written if you click on the Emotions tab at the top of the page. If you found this helpful, its possible a professional therapist or psychiatrist can help you find even more growth!
Do you agree that emotions are impossible to control? If you have found a way, I am very interested in hearing it, so leave a comment down below, or email me at email@example.com
As always, be patient with yourself. Its not about being perfect, its about growing.