This is a beautiful technique that’s as effective as it is simple. That’s because it’s very natural. We knew it as children but have forgotten how to use it.
It works right away with emotions, but once you have some practice with it, you can use if just as well for thoughts and beliefs, and for releasing emotional baggage around desires.
It helps to understand the structure of emotions. If we were fully functioning organisms, a feeling would simply be a transient message about something going on right now, and we would feel it as a quick ripple. That’s a feeling. An emotion, however, is a pattern, and it is remembered and it accumulates energy, leaving a deeper groove each time it is experienced, and it may or may not be about something happening right now. Emotions can come up as a response to circumstances, but more often, they come up as a response to thoughts. An emotion is an energized thought, and it always starts as sensations in the body. This is obvious with strong emotions like anger or anxiety. Anger starts off with muscular contraction, an increase in adrenaline, temperature, heartbeat and blood pressure, and a hotness in the face. Anxiety may start as sensations in the belly. Even the smallest of emotions starts as a sensation, though we may not be sensitive to the sensations. The sensations start up, and they trigger an associated thought-story. With negative emotions, the associated thought-story is usually in voice of the inner critic. The thoughts and sensations then get into a feedback loop, energizing each other, and the emotion gathers up a storm.
You will notice that with negative emotions, the first thing we do is contract. We mentally resist and physically contract our bodies, in anticipation how bad it’s going to feel.
You may also notice the paradox of negative emotions. Emotions promise to hold off the very thing they give us. Fear says I am trying to keep you safe. Anxiety says I am trying to give you the security you need. Anger says you are not liking what is happening. Hurt says you will feel bad if you don’t pay attention to me.
In Asia, they use this clever trick to catch monkeys. There is a circular shackle or a hole through which the monkey puts her hand to grab a banana on the other side. The hole is just big enough to let in an open hand, but not big enough to let out a fisted hand. The monkey cannot get her hand out if she holds on to the banana. This is exactly what we do with emotions. We grasp them. All we have to do is open our hands to release.
Here’s a quick experiment to show how this technique works. Make a fist and squeeze it hard as if you’re holding on to something, and keep squeezing. What does that feel like—a little uncomfortable? Perhaps it feels a little strange, but if you keep squeezing the strangeness goes away. It’s still uncomfortable but secure and automatic. Emotions in the same way are uncomfortable and automatic. And releasing emotions is as easy as opening your hand.
The technique is adapted from the Sedona method’s basic technique. It is a series of questions, which we answer very quickly. The questions in themselves are not important nor are the answers. The questions help us stop, look, and be aware of what’s going on, and they help us re-learn what we have always known: that it is easy and instant to release any emotion. Ask and answer these questions quickly. No matter what the answer is, move on to the next question. Soon they will become non-verbal. With practice the questions disappear and releasing becomes automatic.
When you experience an emotion, big or small:
Can I make a lot of space for this emotion?
Am I able to let it go?
Let it go
It’s easy to remember as space/can I/let go.
What are you feeling right now? You don’t have to label it, and it doesn’t have to be a big emotion.
Can you allow the emotion? See if you can allow the emotion without resistance. Make a lot of space for the emotion in the body. Don’t contract. Don’t resist. Welcome the emotion, allow it, and love it. Then, make even more space for it. If you don’t think you can welcome the emotion, it’s perfectly fine. Move on quickly no matter what happens.
Are you able to let the emotion go? You don’t have to let it go, the question is: are you able to? It’s okay if the answer is no. Just continue.
Are you willing to let it go? Move on, no matter what you answer.
Let it go now. It helps to sigh, or exhale long and easy while letting go.
Instead of questions, you can make them into statements, something similar to:
I am making space for this emotion.
I can let this emotion go.
I am letting it go Now.
With practice the technique becomes non-verbal and natural and technique-less. You will notice a sensation in the body, make space for it by not contracting, and release it.
The mind will immediately question whether this will work. “It’s too simple.” “If I knew how to let go of emotions, I would have done it already.” “How can this work?” “What is the mechanism?” “I can’t use this until I understand more.”
The answer is just to try it a few times. If you feel you are not able to let go of the emotion, don’t worry about it. Try it anyway. Keep trying. My experience first was with the Sedona method of releasing. I tried it with anxiety, several times a day for about two or three weeks. I didn’t think it was really working, and one day I realized I had not felt anxiety for several days. With practice the technique became instant and non-verbal.
Why does this work? Well, first, it is very natural. Second, we are bringing emotions back to their true function of feeling-message by interrupting the association with thought-stories. Also, we naturally develop equanimity with this method. After all, what we are experiencing is just a body sensation. And finally, we are breaking the false identification with the whole pattern of body sensation and thought-story.