I love the 13th century Persian poet, Rumi. And judging by how many articles I see on Medium about him, I know many of you love him, too.

I’ve written articles about his work before. And I’ve even written an article about the very quote this article is about.

But it hit me recently that this quote I’ve written about before beautifully captures the sentiment taught by two of my favorite teachers, Mickey Singer and Ram Dass. The difference? Rumi came up with it almost 800 years earlier!

It concerns the human pursuit of love, about which Rumi wrote:

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

He expresses beautifully here the spiritual concept that the path to love lies within us. We don’t ‘seek for love,’ or anything else, by looking out to the world.

Barriers = baggage

The barriers within ourselves that Rumi references are synonymous with the egoic baggage I’ve written about so often. He urges us not to look for that perfect mate ‘out there,’ but rather to let go of those samskaras we have held onto that prevent us from finding the right person.

What kind of barriers/samskaras have we modern humans built inside us that we need to remove if we are to find love? Here are some examples.

-Your parents divorced when you were ten years old and it shattered you, to the point that you’re not willing to risk intimacy well into adulthood. You forever associate intimacy with pain and won’t let any relationship advance beyond the superficial.

-Your college girlfriend dumped you after you confronted her about cheating on you. You’re forty years old now and still not able to fully trust another woman.

-Your parents never thought much of you which resulted in a life-long struggle with low self-esteem. Your relationships never take off because you always feel you are unworthy of anybody’s love.

Do all of these sound like a big downer? Yes. But the truth is, they are all too common in our world today.

And they are all examples of traumas that we have held onto. Yes, you read that right.

Most stuff passes right through us

We humans have all kinds of experiences, good, bad and neutral. As Mickey Singer says, 99 percent of them happen and they go right through us. No problem. Those are the neutral ones.

Like what? You look out the window and a car passes by. You brush your teeth. You eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast. You’ll never think of these experiences again. They happened then they passed right through you.

But when your husband leaves you for another woman, you take those traumatic feelings and store them. Same when you get straight A’s on your report card. Or have an exquisite meal at a new restaurant.

So what’s a regular human to do? It’s simple. Difficult to pull off, but simple.

It’s two steps.

The two-step process

First, we do what Rumi so wisely observed: We go inside to seek and find the barriers that we’ve built up. We discover what’s holding us back.

How? I’m not a therapist, but I’ve been in therapy and know that it can be a valuable tool in helping us discover why we are the way we are. Which is step one.

Second, we LET GO of those barriers.

How? Well, let’s say you’re the guy who doesn’t trust women because your college sweetheart cheated and broke heart. You’re 38 now and three dates in with a woman you find attractive in all manner of ways.

For date number four she invites you to have drinks with her friends; the old “meet the friends” thing.

Freaking out on friends’ drinks

Upon hearing this, your insides clench up. You get a pit in your stomach. It’s a clear escalation in intimacy and your lower self wants nothing to do with it.

But you’ve done the work of step one and you know why you’re having a near panic attack at the thought of meeting this woman’s friends. So what do you do?

This is where the rubber meets the road. Right when you feel yourself clenching, tensing and freaking out, you stop.

Notice the feeling. Start breathing deeply. Do your best to relax. All over.

Watch the freak out…then let go

Then you use every fiber of your being to watch this feeling…but not engage with it. Or let it overwhelm you.

Then you let it go.

Is this hard? Yet bet it is. Every example I gave above involves painful, suppressed emotions.

As Mickey Singer says, they went down with pain and when they come back up to be released, they leave with pain. But leave they must.

Developing a steely resolve helps

One thing that might help this guy who got cheated on in college is to get firm in his resolve. Through therapy and other work he has come to learn that letting these old feelings rule his life is costing him in a big way.

So while he’s struggling with trying to let go when she asks him for drinks with the friends, part of the arsenal he brings to bear might be saying something to himself like:

“Screw it. I’m done letting this old relationship ruin me. No more. Let’s go. Relax, stay calm and let’s let go of these feelings!”

The takeaway

Look at it like this: We’ve spent our lives collecting a bunch of smelly junk that we’ve left all over our inner house.

Letting go is the process of taking all that junk out our front door and throwing it in a giant garbage bin, to be hauled away Thursday morning.

It’s the most important work of our lives.

Something the wise Rumi realized way back in the 13th century.