My last article focused on the fact that while people think they pursue happiness, they really don’t. They pursue things they think will make them happy. Like being successful in a career, getting married and having kids or trying to end world poverty.

None of these endeavors brings lasting peace and happiness. What does? Eliminating our emotional, psychic baggage.

What is baggage?

Before diving into how to do that, let’s first describe what this baggage is so we know what we’re trying to get rid of. I think most people get it. It’s our stuff. The emotional traumas, both big and small, that we experience in childhood and throughout our adult lives.

There are an infinite number of examples of these experiences, but here are a few to give you an idea of what I mean.

-When you were ten your dad abandoned your family.

-At age 17 you found out that your boyfriend, your first true love, had been cheating on you incessantly and it caused your relationship to explode in disaster.

-You grew up poor and went to bed hungry many nights.

-Your dad was highly successful in his career which made you feel pressure to achieve.

Holding on is the problem

What is of paramount importance is that we held on to these experiences. We kept them inside instead of experiencing them and then letting them go.

We don’t hold onto all of our experiences in life. Just the ones that cause us some kind of inner disturbance.

Old traumas run our lives

The fundamental obstacle to happiness for most people is that these traumas end up running our lives. How? Let’s revisit each of the above examples and see.

Because your dad abandoned your family when you were ten, anytime you get involved in a relationship you freak out that your significant other is going to leave you. To the point that you break off all your relationships before they get too serious because you can’t handle even the prospect of being abandoned.

Because your first true love broke your heart by cheating on you, anytime your husband comes home late from anything, you think he’s cheating. Or if he’s on a business trip and doesn’t respond to your phone call within five minutes you think he’s cheating.

Even though you have made a significant amount of money, because you grew up poor you live your life in abject fear, thinking that poverty is always lurking around the corner.

Because you felt pressured to achieve as a result of your dad’s success, you never feel that anything you do is good enough in your career. You always feel inadequate.

Getting rid of the baggage

So how do we get rid of all this baggage? Again, Mickey Singer has a beautiful way of describing the whole process.

He likens the energy flow throughout our bodies to the flow of a river. When the river contains no impediments it flows smoothly. But when rocks make their way in they cause disturbances in the water flow in the form of eddies, currents and rapids.

Likewise, when we have no impediments in our psyches our energy flows smoothly and we feel fantastic. But most of us don’t feel fantastic most of the time. The reason? We have “rocks” inside us blocking our energy flow.

What are these rocks? That emotional baggage we held onto. The baggage caused by our dad abandoning us, growing up poor and all the other myriad traumas humans experience.

Baggage is normal

Of course, developing emotional baggage is perfectly normal. Not too many souls escape the jaws of life that clamp down on us and cause suffering.

The key is to recognize that those rocks inside you are running your life. And they’re not running it well.

Eliminating the rocks

How do we get rid of these rocks? When one of our traumas is triggered, instead of jumping in and falling prey to it, we do the opposite. We step away and resist the energy that is trying to pull us into the disturbance.

Then we take a few moments to relax. Everywhere. In our head, shoulders, around our chest and heart. Relaxing like this loosens up the rock. And then we let go…

We don’t reach into the river with our right hand and try to remove the rock. Why? Because our left hand is feverishly holding that rock down. You are the one holding onto these traumas, something Singer calls Samskaras after the Sanskrit word.

It’s about letting go

The key is just relaxing and letting go. And when we keep doing that, over and over, disturbance after disturbance, day after day, week after week, month after month and, yes, year after year, these rocks fall away.

And with that, our energy starts flowing more smoothly. And we feel better and better.

When that happens we are no longer dependent on job promotions, wedding days or tennis tournament victories to make us feel happy. We’re just happy. Because our energy is flowing. Because we removed the rocks.

The spurned lover

Here’s just one example of this in action. Let’s take that 40 year old woman whose boyfriend cheated on her and broke her heart at age 17. Her husband, who is a good, faithful guy, is off on one of his periodic business trips. She calls him at 8 p.m. and he doesn’t answer. She immediately becomes overcome with that awful feeling in her stomach telling her he must be with another woman.

The moment she feels that, she leans away from the impulse trying to pull her down the freak out rabbit hole. Then she closes her eyes. Takes some time to relax all over — head, shoulders, chest. Then she lets go.

Imagine the rock

It may even help to conjure an image of herself holding the rock down in the river with her hands…then see herself unclenching her hands and letting go of the rock. And seeing the rock flow away, down the river.

That’s one example of letting go of a trauma that needs to be repeated with all the other rocks you’re holding onto inside. It also needs to be repeated a month later when her husband goes on another business trip and doesn’t answer her call immediately.

So that’s it. Our lives become dedicated to working on letting go of our “stuff.”

This is great news

And if there’s only one thing you take away from this article I hope it’s that this is stupendously good news. Why? Because continuing what most humans do — trying to manipulate the external world to satisfy their inner needs, NEVER works. It can work short term, but never long term.

The Tao te Ching sums it up perfectly:

“The master understands that the universe is forever out of control, and that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao.”

But we CAN work on our insides with great positive effect. They’re our insides and nobody else’s.

Think about how much better our lives would be if we focused all of our attention on fixing our insides rather than wasting energy on the fool’s errand of getting the world to be as we want it.

Start today. Start letting go of those rocks…