You have your mother-in-law over for dinner. As she’s leaving, she makes a subtle, ever so passive aggressive comment about the quality of the dinner you served. And you get so pissed you want to wring her neck. Then she’s gone. Out the door. Out of sight.
But five minutes later. And a half hour later. And an hour later, you’re still seething about what a miserable jerk she is.
That’s an example of, she was gone from the outside, but she wasn’t gone from your inside. In other words, she left. She wasn’t there anymore. But you kept ruminating about her anyway.
We all hold on to stuff
Every single one of you reading this understands this example. We all become infuriated or bothered by outside stuff and then hold onto it even after it has passed.
Someone honks at you, flips you off and then drives away. Ten minutes later you’re still upset about it, your heart pounding. Still brooding.
This is a Mickey Singer idea
I heard this idea of ‘gone from the outside, gone from the inside’ from, no big surprise to any of you regular readers, the great Mickey Singer. He mentioned it one of the talks on his Temple of the Universe website.
[BTW, you’re NUTS if you don’t go to his site and listen to these talks. Every one of them is a gem. And they’re free! You can find them at tou.org.]
So the idea is, when the outside cause of your inner disturbance is gone, don’t let it stay on the inside. And how do we do that?
We let go.
There they are. Those two beautiful, powerful, yet unceasingly perplexing and challenging words: Let go.
And how do we let go? I’ve read countless spiritual books, articles and essays and listened to hundreds (thousands?) of hours of talks as well. I still say that Mickey Singer’s teaching on this, which is really the only actual technique he teaches, is the best. Here’s my best shot at summing up Mickey’s teaching on letting go:
The moment you notice that someone or something has made you angry or upset, RELAX. Everywhere in your body, but especially your head, neck, shoulders and chest. Then watch yourself lean away from the feeling of upset. And then, instead of engaging with that feeling and crawling down your lower self rabbit hole, simply watch that feeling; as objectively and nonjudgmentally as possible. Breathe with it. Then let it pass, like a cloud in the sky.
So, the moment the door closes on your mother-in-law, you relax and let go by doing the above. The moment that car honking, finger flipping idiot drives off, out of sight, you relax. And let go.
It takes work
This takes a lot of practice and commitment, but the payoff is immense: The shedding of emotional baggage or the prevention of additional baggage burrowing into our psyches, there to stay for the rest of our lives unless and until we let it go.
As Mickey points out, this doesn’t only apply to stuff that happens in our daily lives. It also applies to deeper, older baggage.
For example, you’ve been divorced from your husband for ten years, yet you still get whipped into a frenzy on a regular basis whenever anything related to him comes up. ‘If it’s gone from the outside, it’s gone from the inside.’ He’s gone from your life. Let go of him. For your sake. For your happiness.
Use it as a framing device
The key is to use the ‘If it’s gone from the outside, it’s gone from the inside,’ idea as a framing device. When you get upset or angry about something, simply have that sentence at the ready.
And be your best advocate. Get tough. Say, ‘Screw it. My mother-in-law is gone and I’m not going to let her comment ruin even the next ten seconds of my life. I’m going to relax, breathe with it, let it go, then enjoy the rest of my evening.”
How this has helped me
I’ve found it hugely helpful to frame these stressful situations with some version of this conversation in my head, taken from an incident this morning:
“Okay, so my wife just told me I need to be at my kids’ school in five minutes for an assembly…just as I’m about to begin my writing session. I’m pissed. But I know I have to go. So I have a choice: I can go and be pissed at her, in which case I’m just screwing myself over because I have decided to hold on to these crappy feelings. OR, I can let it go, head to the school and make the best of it.”
Again, my wife was gone from the outside, so I decided to let go and not let it stay on my inside. I really am getting better at this. And by this, I mean not screwing myself over by choosing to give in to my ego, which only serves to make me feel bad.
To sum up, when you find yourself upset about something and the cause of it is gone, have this at the ready: If it’s gone from the outside, it’s gone from the inside.’ Then do your best to fight for yourself by deciding to let it go. Like anything, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.
It’s all about letting go. And letting go. And letting go. And letting go.
Until all that’s left is the beautiful, loving consciousness that is the real you.