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Releasing negativity
Letting go of your negative thoughts and emotions allows you to make clearer, stronger choices; to become happier immediately; and to act in ways that will help you to achieve your goals.
By Hale Dwoskin

One of the main ways that we ourselves create disappointments, unhappiness, and misjudgments is by holding on to limiting thoughts and feelings. It is not that "holding on," in and of itself, is inappropriate; holding on is perfectly appropriate in many situations.

I wouldn't suggest, for instance, that you not hold on to the steering wheel of a car that you were driving, or not hold on to a ladder that you were climbing. Obviously, the results of such choices could be unfortunate. But have you ever held on to a point of view even when it didn't serve you? Have you ever held on to an emotion even though there was nothing you could do to satisfy it, make it right, or change the situation that appeared to cause it? Have you ever held on to tension or anxiety even after the initial event that triggered it was long over?

The opposite of holding on is letting go or releasing: both are part of the natural process of life. This fundamental understanding is the basis of the Sedona Method. No matter who you are, I can guarantee that you've already frequently experienced letting go -- often without being aware that it was happening. We frequently get stuck because we don't know when it's appropriate to let go and when it's appropriate to hold on. Most of us err on the side of holding on -- often to our detriment.

There is an emotional component of holding on or releasing, and our feelings impact our bodies. For instance, when people are upset, they often hold their breath: both inhalation and exhalation can be inhibited by holding on to unresolved emotions. Most of us also hold residual tension in our muscles, which never allows us to relax fully. Again, it's the unresolved or suppressed emotions that are the basis for these forms of constriction.

There is an emotional component of holding on or releasing,
and our feelings impact our bodies.

When we suppress our emotions, rather than allowing ourselves to experience our feelings fully in the moment they arise, they linger and make us uncomfortable. Through avoidance, we are preventing our emotions from flowing through us, and it doesn't feel good.

Suppression and Expression

Have you ever watched a very young child fall down and then look around to see if there is any reason to be upset? When children think no one is watching them, in an instant, they just let go, brush themselves off, and act like nothing has happened. The same child in a similar situation, on seeing the opportunity to get attention, may burst into tears and run to the arms of a parent. Or have you ever watched a young child get furious with a playmate or a parent, and even say something like, "I hate you and will never speak to you again," and then, just a few minutes later, the child feels and acts as though nothing at all has happened?

This natural ability to release our emotions was lost to most of us because, even though we did it automatically as young children, without conscious control, our parents, teachers, friends, and society as a whole trained us out of it as we got older. Every time we were told "no," told to behave, to sit still and be quiet, to stop squirming, that "big boys don't cry" or "big girls don't get angry," and to grow up and be responsible, we learned to suppress our emotions. Furthermore, we were often seen as an adult when we got to the point where we were good at suppressing our natural exuberance for life and all the feelings that others convinced us to believe were unacceptable. (Of course, children need to learn boundaries in order to function in life, and they need to be protected at times from obvious danger. It is just that adults can unintentionally go overboard.)

What we are referring to here as "suppression" is keeping a lid on our emotions, pushing them back down, denying them, repressing them, and pretending they don't exist. Any emotion that comes into awareness that is not let go of is automatically stored in the subconscious. You have probably heard the expression "Time heals all wounds." It's debatable. For most of us, what that really means is, "Give me enough time, and I can suppress anything."

Granted, there are some times when suppression can be a better choice than expression: for instance, when you are at work, and your boss or a coworker says something that you don't agree with, but it is not the appropriate time to give them feedback. It is habitual suppression that is unhealthy and unproductive.

We escape our emotions by watching television, going to movies, reading books, drinking, using prescription and non-prescription drugs, exercising, and a whole host of other activities designed to help us take our attention off our emotional pain long enough so we can push it back down. Most of the items on this list are not inappropriate in and of themselves, but we tend to pursue these activities to excess, using them as a compensation for our inability to deal with our inner emotional conflicts.

By the time we become adults, we're so good at suppressing that most of the time, it is totally second nature. In fact, we have suppressed so much of our emotional energy that we are all a little like walking time-bombs. Often, we don't even know that we have suppressed our true emotional reactions until it is too late: our body shows signs of stress-related illnesses, our shoulders are stuck in our ears, our stomach is in knots, or we have exploded and said or done something that we now regret.

Suppression is one side of the pendulum swing; the other side is expression. If we're angry, we yell; if we're sad, we cry. We put our emotion into action. We have let off a little steam from the inner emotional pressure cooker, but we have not put out the fire. This often feels better than suppression, particularly if we have blocked our ability to express. We often feel better afterwards; nonetheless, expression also has its drawbacks.

The Third Alternative: Releasing

The balancing point and natural alternative to inappropriate suppression and expression is releasing, or letting go: what we call the Sedona Method. It is the equivalent of turning down the heat and safely beginning to empty the contents of your inner pressure cooker. Because every feeling that has been suppressed is trying to vent itself, releasing is merely a momentary stopping of the inner action of holding these feelings in so you can allow them to leave, which you will find they do easily under their own steam. As you use the Sedona Method, you will discover that you will be able to be free to both suppress and express when it is appropriate, and you will find that you will more often opt for the point of balance, the third choice of letting go. This is something you already know how to do.

True laughter, for instance, is one of the ways that you let go spontaneously, and the benefits of laughter in the area of health and stress elimination are well documented. Although most of the time you won't laugh out loud as you let go, you will often smile and feel the same sense of inner relief that comes from true laughter.

As you perfect your use of the Method, you will find yourself able to go right to this point of realization and relaxation, even on long-standing issues that you were tearing your life apart trying to resolve. You will discover that the answers have been right inside you all along.

Practical Releasing

There are three ways to approach the process of releasing, and they all lead to the same result: liberating your natural ability to let go of any unwanted emotion on the spot and allowing some of the suppressed energy in your subconscious to dissipate. You can:

  • choose to let go of the unwanted feeling;
  • welcome the feeling -- allow the emotion just to exist;
  • dive into the very core of the emotion.

Try this simple exercise: pick up a pen, a pencil, or some small object that you would be willing to drop without giving it a second thought. Now, hold it in front of you and really grip it tightly. Pretend this is one of your limiting feelings and that your hand represents your gut or your consciousness. If you held the object long enough, this would start to feel uncomfortable yet familiar.

Now, open your hand and roll the object around in it. Notice that you are the one holding on to it; it is not attached to your hand. The same is true with your feelings, too. Your feelings are as attached to you as this object is attached to your hand.

Now, let the object go. What happened? You let go of the object, and it dropped to the floor. Was that hard? Of course not. You can do the same thing with any emotion: choose to let it go.

Sticking with this same analogy: If you walked around with your hand open, wouldn't it be very difficult to hold on to the pen? When you allow or welcome a feeling, you are opening your consciousness, and this enables the feeling to drop away all by itself -- like the clouds passing in the sky or smoke passing up a chimney with the flue open.

Now, if you took the same object -- a pencil, pen, or pebble -- and magnified it large enough, it would appear more and more like empty space. You would be looking into the gaps between the molecules. When you dive into the very core of a feeling, you will observe a comparable phenomenon: nothing is really there.

As you master the process of releasing, you will discover that even your deepest feelings are just on the surface. At the core, you are empty, silent, and at peace -- not in the pain and darkness that most of us would assume. In fact, even our most extreme feelings have only as much substance as a soap bubble.

Please keep these analogies in mind as you go through the releasing process. Releasing will help you to free yourself from all of your unwanted patterns of behavior, thought, and feeling. All that is required from you is being as open as you can be to the process. Releasing will free you to access clearer thinking, yet it is not a thinking process.

You will get the most out of the process of releasing the more you allow yourself to see, hear, and feel it working, rather than by thinking about how and why it works. If you find yourself getting a little stuck in trying to figure it out, you can use the identical process to let go of "wanting to figure it out." As you work with this process, you will understand it more fully by having the direct experience of doing it.

Welcoming an Emotion

You may have noticed that when you focused on your feelings in Step 2 of the releasing process, you let them go. They simply dissipated. Because we spend so much time resisting and suppressing our emotions, rather than letting them flow freely through us, welcoming or allowing an emotion to exist is often all that is necessary to allow it to release.

Diving In

Your experience of letting go through diving in may be quite different from the processes described above. First of all, it is not recommended that you try diving in while doing anything else. It works much better when you take time out, by yourself, to focus inside. It also works best when you are in touch with a stronger feeling.

For instance, if you receive some news that gets you upset, you'll start to feel a strong feeling of fear or grief. Sit down, close your eyes, and relax into the feeling as best you can. Then you ask yourself questions such as:

  • What is at the core of this feeling?
  • Could I allow myself to go in consciousness to the core of this feeling?
  • Could I allow myself to dive into this feeling?

You will probably come up with your own versions of these questions as you work with them over time. You may picture yourself actually diving into the center of the feeling and/or you may find yourself merely feeling what is at the core.

Once you start to go deeper, you may experience various pictures and sensations. You may also notice a temporary intensification of the emotion. So, keep asking yourself: "Could I go even deeper?" Cajole yourself to go beyond whatever picture, feeling, or story you may be telling yourself about the emotion.

As you persist in this direction, you'll reach a point where something pops inside, or you may find that you can go no deeper. You'll know you've reached the core when your mind is calm and you feel peaceful inside. You may even see yourself bathed in an inner light or surrounded by a warm, welcoming emptiness and silence.

If you're not sure, or you get stuck and feel like you can go no further at any point in this process, or you do not feel complete and free of the original feeling, then switch to one of the other forms of releasing.

Remember: if the feeling still feels strong or has even intensified, you are not at the core. All feelings except peace are on the surface. This may be very different from what you have been told before about going deeply into a feeling. Many of us avoid diving into a feeling, because we are afraid we will get lost or it will get worse. However, if you really let yourself go past the surface and get to the actual core, you'll discover that this could not be further from the truth, as my student Margie found out.

Margie came to class with a deep sense of grief that she had been carrying around for over ten years. Without getting involved in the elements of her story, I asked her the questions from above, and at first, her grief intensified. As she began to cry, I simply encouraged her to go even deeper than the sensations and the story, and we kept going. To Margie's surprise, in just a few minutes, she entered a state of profound peace. She said afterwards that she'd avoided the grief because she felt like she was drowning in an ocean of it. After she released, she realized that the grief was always just on the surface. What she'd actually been avoiding inside, without knowing it, was an ocean of love.

As most people work with this way of letting go, they find that it gets easier and easier to drop into the core of any emotion and allow it to dissolve. They notice that every feeling, no matter how traumatic, has little substance and is much ado about nothing.

Feelings Only Lie

When you catch yourself rationalizing a specific emotion, telling yourself what a useful function it serves and justifying why you're absolutely right to hold on to it, it is a signal that you're being handed a pack of lies. As you move further into the exploration of letting go, one of the things that you'll notice is that the feelings you're releasing tend to argue for their own preservation. Feelings lie and make empty promises, such as: "Fear keeps you safe," "If I feel guilty, I won't do it again," "If I hold on to my anger, I'm getting back at another person (rather than only hurting myself)." All that's happening is that a particular feeling is perpetuating the problem it appears to be preventing.

Two simple sentences that I use in my classes sum this up. You may find them a little like a Zen Buddhist koan that cannot be understood unless you just let go. So, here we go: "Feelings only lie. They tell us we are going to get from letting go of them what we already have from holding on to them."

Write Down Your Gains

As you let go, I highly recommend that you write down your gains, as they occur, to spur you on to even greater self-discovery. Keep track of these positive outcomes in your releasing journal, or purchase a second notebook small enough to carry around in your breast pocket or handbag in which to jot down your thoughts.

The following is a short list of the type of gains you can expect through releasing:

  • Positive changes in behavior and/or attitude
  • Greater ease, effectiveness, and joy in daily activities
  • More open and effective communications
  • Increased problem-solving ability
  • Greater flexibility
  • Being more relaxed and confident in action
  • Accomplishments
  • Completions
  • New beginnings
  • To acquire new abilities or skills
  • An increase in positive feelings
  • A decrease in negative feelings
  • More love towards others.

Coming Back to Life

It's my goal to help you learn everything you need in order to have, be, and do whatever you will or desire. I promise that if you work faithfully with releasing, it will transform every part of your life for the better. You will feel as though you're coming back to life. You'll catch yourself with a smile on your face and laughing out loud as your inner stress and tension easily melt away.

Practice releasing throughout the day and also notice ways you already release on your own. The more you focus on this way of dealing with your emotions, the more the benefits and ease of letting go will grow on you. Be persistent. The more you explore letting go, the more natural it will become as an alternative to suppression and expression -- and it will set you free.

Choosing To Let Go

Make yourself comfortable and focus inwardly. Your eyes may be open or closed.

Step 1: Focus on an issue that you would like to feel better about, and then allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling in this moment. This doesn't have to be a strong feeling. Just welcome the feeling and allow it to be present.

This instruction may seem simplistic, but it needs to be. Most of us live in our thoughts, pictures, and stories about the past and the future rather than being aware of how we actually feel in this moment. The only time that we can actually do anything about the way we feel (and, for that matter, about our businesses or our lives) is now. You don't need to wait for a feeling to be strong before you let it go. In fact, if you are feeling numb, flat, blank, cut off, or empty inside, those are feelings that can be let go of just as easily as the more recognizable ones. Simply do the best you can. The more you work with this process, the easier it will be for you to identify what you are feeling.

Step 2: Ask yourself one of the following three questions:

  • Could I let this feeling go?
  • Could I allow this feeling to be here?
  • Could I welcome this feeling?

These questions are merely asking you if it is possible to take this action. "Yes" or "no" are both acceptable answers; you will often let go even if you say "no." Try to answer the question with a minimum of thought, staying away from second-guessing yourself or getting into an internal debate about the merits of that action or its consequences.

All the questions used in this process are deliberately simple. They are not important in and of themselves but are designed to point you to the experience of letting go. Go on to Step 3 no matter how you answered the first question.

Step 3: No matter which question you started with, ask yourself this simple question: "Would I?" In other words: "Am I willing to let go?" Again, stay away from debate. It doesn't matter whether the feeling is justified, longstanding, or right. If the answer is "no," or if you're not sure, ask yourself: "Would I rather have this feeling, or would I rather be free?" Even if the answer is still "no," go on to Step 4.

Step 4: Ask yourself this simple question: "When?" This is an invitation to just let it go now. Remember that letting go is a decision you can make any time you choose.

Step 5: Repeat the preceding four steps as often as needed until you feel free of that particular feeling.

You will probably find yourself letting go a little more on each step of the process. The results at first may be quite subtle. Very quickly, if you are persistent, the results will get more and more noticeable. You may find that you have layers of feelings about a particular topic. However, what you let go of is gone for good.

Written Releasing

Upon occasion, you might want to explore your feelings on paper in self-created worksheets. I recommend that you purchase a spiral-bound notebook or a simple journal to devote to this purpose.

Make a list of anything and everything you would like to change or improve in your life; this list will serve as a declaration of your intentions.

Remember not to limit yourself to what you think is "possible" to achieve from reading an article: you are learning to use a tool that will be with you for the rest of your life. Have fun. The process is so powerful, in fact, and works at such a basic level, that many of the intentions on your list will come to fruition even without you working on them directly.

This article has been edited and excerpted from The Sedona Method: Your Key to Happiness, Success, Peace, and Emotional Well-Being by Hale Dwoskin, foreword by Jack Canfield. This unique program teaches you how to make positive changes in your life by releasing the emotions that block your ability to experience peace and happiness in everyday life. This method offers help dealing with fear, anxiety, anger, and depression -- emotions that rob you of self-esteem and joy -- in order to create a great life for yourself.

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