“Awakening Joy,” a wonderful book by James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander, outlines a 10-step program for increasing joy in your life. I have been giving particular thought to Step Six, which is “The Joy of Letting Go.”
The idea of letting go is broad in scope. In the most fundamental sense, it refers to letting go of “the illusion that we have control in a world of change.” As the Buddha said, suffering comes from wanting things to be different from how they actually are. So letting go can mean acceptance of things as they are, which relieves us from “suffering our suffering” by resisting the reality of what is.
Letting go also means releasing clinging, whether to ideas, concepts, beliefs, things, or relationships. The more we can let go of clinging, the more peace and freedom we will have available to us. By letting go of stuff we don’t need, “to do” items that aren’t truly meaningful or important, and expectations, we can experience a feeling of lightness and make room in our lives for what we truly care about.
Another important area of letting go is related to something called fear of missing out (FOMO), or, as it’s called in “Awakening Joy,” fear of missing something (FOMS). We have so many choices and so many available inputs on a daily basis; if we try not to miss anything, we can become stressed, overwhelmed, and unable to truly enjoy and fully experience the moments of our lives. As the book states: “Being happy means recovering from FOMS and arriving at the somewhere in time that is this moment. It means being present for our lives in a balanced way and letting the rest go without regret.”
The book talks about shifting toward simplicity and avoiding complicating our lives and minds with “a clutter of things to do.” Peace Pilgrim is quoted as saying, “If [your life] is overcrowded, you are doing more than is right for you to do, more than is your job to do in the total scheme of things.” The book suggests a motto of “Behind is just a state of mind.” It suggests that we will never really get to the end of our “to do” list, and to focus instead on using our time in ways that will really nourish us and feel meaningful.
Another area where it can be very helpful to let go is limiting stories or beliefs about ourselves. Mindfulness practice can help us notice and begin to question things we may believe about ourselves that hold us back or keep us stuck in old patterns. Paying attention to words like always, never, and should can help alert us that we may be experiencing a limiting belief or story.
Finally, letting go can also mean being generous. This can refer to things other than material generosity, such as giving freely of our special gifts and doing what we are truly called to do. The book suggests that when you are completing a generous act, that you make a mental note to yourself that you are being generous; in this way, you can more fully experience the joy that comes from a wholesome act.
I am trying to keep the concept of letting go in mind as I make decisions. I can have a tendency to over-commit and take things on that cause me to feel overly busy. As a self-employed person, if I feel too busy or don’t like the way my schedule looks, I have only myself to blame! Therefore, I am looking for ways to simplify my life and am also thinking long and hard before taking on new commitments.