Letting go of thoughts and emotions is often talked about in the worlds of yoga, meditation and spirituality. It is held up as an important ability to have and is an integral part of many practices.
And yet I always struggled with the entire concept. What did it really mean? To me it felt alien and not something I even wanted to do. Holding on, as opposed to letting go, felt like a good thing quite often. For instance, when I’m angry about the injustice of something, that anger inspires me to do something about it. It fuels me to be proactive and make a difference. Why would I want to let go of that anger?
Even if I wanted to let go how on earth was I supposed to? It seemed impossible. Besides if I knew how to let go wouldn’t I already have done so?
At times my inability to let thoughts and emotions go and to understand it fully left me feeling a complete failure. I didn’t get it and I couldn’t do it so surely, I wasn’t spiritual enough. (Please don’t ever think that – it is never true.)
Letting go is not women’s way
Letting go, as it is often applied, involves overcoming, or ignoring, the mind and emotions to achieve spiritual enlightenment.
But this is not the women’s way.
Women achieve spiritual connection or healing through knowing, acknowledging and honouring their bodies, minds and hearts, including the natural rhythm of their menstrual cycle.
Letting go doesn’t work
The approach to letting go is an area where current psychotherapy and neuroscience are more useful than yoga. The yogic approach was developed in another time and another culture. It does not take account of 21st century life or contemporary psyches which are totally different to those of men in India in the last century or even longer ago.
The idea that we can let go of thoughts and emotions is also a limited one. We might like to think that we are in control of what we think and feel but the conscious part of our brain controls only some of it. So much of it is controlled by the unconscious mind. This is not to say that it can’t be changed – thankfully the brain can be re-wired but letting go doesn’t seem to help with that.
As Bessel van der Kolk, a US medical doctor and trauma expert, explains:
“Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves.”
I am forever indebted to Tina Gilbertson, a psychotherapist, for setting me right and freeing me from my struggle with all this. In her fabulous book, Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them, she explains that letting go of feelings, not only doesn’t work but “makes them hang around longer than necessary”.
What to do instead of letting go
Tina goes on to say: “In order to let go of painful emotions, you have to feel the pain, and let it matter to you.”
Bingo. That’s clear and simple. And I can do that. It’s not easy but I can do it. I have done it and it works.
Letting go and your menstrual cycle
And how do you apply this to your menstrual cycle?
There are times in the cycle when strong emotions and challenging thoughts come up from the unconscious mind. This can happen at any point in your cycle and if you chart your cycle, you may well discover that similar emotions or thoughts come up at the same point of your cycle, every cycle. Thoughts and emotions tend to be most intense premenstrually and we can also be very tender during our periods.
If we have been exposed to yoga or meditation or other spiritual paths, then we may try to let these emotions go. It’s important to understand that we can’t.
The way through
The way through is to fully feel our emotions and they will let go of us when they are ready.
The right kind of yoga and meditation, particularly premenstrually will assist us in this.
It will enable us to express emotions in a way that doesn’t have a detrimental effect on ourselves or others.
It will provide us with the simplest of meditation techniques to allow us time and space to feel our emotions.
It will be compassionate so that we don’t push it or spend too long practising which can tip us into the painful state of overwhelm – especially premenstrually. We don’t need hours of practice – a few minutes is perfect.
And so, I invite you to let go of letting go! Instead give yourself time, space, kindness and patience to simply be with your thoughts and feelings. That’s all that’s needed.