Archive for the ‘Letting Go’ Category

Meditation is Not Religion

October 15, 2011

I’ve often heard it said in AA “Religion is for people afraid of going to Hell, but spirituality is for people who’ve been there.” Spirituality in this context refers to the practical elements of mental habit and practice that bring renewal, relief and a sense of connection with something greater than ourselves, as contrasted with ‘religion’ which in this instance would refer to a collection of beliefs, possibly including elements of scripture or dogma. “Religion” and “faith” are often used synonymously, and taken to mean “a set of beliefs in things that cannot be proven but have been handed down to us.”

Faith has another definition: “comfort in the presence of the unknowable,” or “acceptance.” This latter definition has great practical value, especially for the modern person who’s been exposed to modern science and has a tough time accepting religious dogma literally. There’s been an increasing division in the world between progressives and fundamentalists because of this dichotomy of definition, with the fundamentalists rejecting modernity and science, and progressives rejecting religion because of perceived incompatibility with cherished beliefs. Fear of the unknown is a primal condition for humans. It’s uncomfortable, and people seek relief from it, and doing so in the manner of the first definition above has lead to most of the organized religions of the world, with people willingly following the teachings of one great teacher or another. Finding ones’ own faith is a challenging lifelong task that most are unwilling to undertake. We are taught to listen to the wisdom of experts; when we’re sick we go to the doctor. We have an accountant do our taxes, we see a lawyer for legal help—and we leave our spiritual life in the hands of the clergy and do as they say…or, at least we used to until science came along and made that hard to do for many of us in the modern world. Unfortunately, if we don’t have our own practice for spiritual maintenance, we’ll get spiritually sick.


Some people are easygoing and seem to have good mental habits (maybe including a spiritual practice of some kind, intentional or not), but the vast majority of us do not have good habits. We need some kind of program or practice, possibly including some organized religion—or meditative practice. For some, recreation or exercise is enough. Beliefs play a huge part in the course of human life. People tend to identify with their beliefs, forgetting that they have adopted these beliefs themselves voluntarily, or that they can change them. People are not born with beliefs—they have to be taught, or adopted. Humans identify so strongly with their beliefs that they are willing to die for them, and frequently would rather do so than change them. Beliefs are routing nodes of the mind, a prism through which reality is interpreted, forming the nature of experience. Changing a belief is fundamental mental work; it’s difficult, requires a lot of thought, letting go and processing, and can be very painful; consequently many people would rather die than do it. People can identify so strongly with their beliefs that they are willing to do battle, kill or die in the defense of them. For a person to “change” (which could mean “recover” or “get better”) means to change either beliefs or physical form (such as weight loss, muscle mass or tone, or posture).

Buy direct from author (via paypal), $11

Maybe a persons’ belief system includes an exclusivity provision; many religions do…there’s only one way, it’s this way, and if you do anything else, you’re going to hell. As common as this is, it’s not unusual for people to have unwillingness to explore a practice that seems to reside outside the bounds of their religious beliefs. Apostasy, idolatry, and paganism are big no-nos to many people, and consequently they are unwilling to investigate anything that has the appearance of a competing belief system. When it comes to meditation, however, further investigation reveals that every major religion has contemplation, prayer or meditation somewhere in it. Or, maybe a person is so firmly agnostic or atheistic that adopting a practice that has any appearance of religiosity is equally anathema to them. These individuals will benefit the most from the second definition of “faith”: “comfort in the face of the unknowable.” It’s OK to have a daily practice to maintain psychological and physical well being, and meditation has proven effective for thousands of years—ever since the Buddha said “don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself!”

“Letting go” is the most effective weapon in the war on obsession, resentments, grief, and depression.

The preceding post is the final chapter of Jon’s new book “Letting Go: Practical Meditation for Everyday People.” Available now!

Life getting you down? Stressed to the max?

“Let Go.”

What does that mean? How do you do it? It’s explained in this book.
Jon Burr has created a practical manual for personal renewal, recovery and healing using insights from his own experience.
“This writing is immensely helpful and I have sincerely benefitted from reading it…Apparently I/we really needed this. Who knew that letting go was an art form that needs to be practiced! Mil gracias.” –María Elena Gaitán (aka ‘Chola Con Cello’), a reader
“I love the multidimensional/multidisciplinary approach…The neuroscience aspect of it is in a way a discipline on its own and is really advanced thinking…your thinking runs parallel to the essence of that book, ‘The Brain That Changes itself’” —Arlyn Valencia, M.D. Neurologist, Stroke Subspecialist

Letting Go – Practical Meditation for Everyday People

October 12, 2011

This post has become the basis for an eBook!
Practical Meditation for Everyday People

Life getting you down?

Stressed to the max?

“Let Go.” (and please hit the “like” button!)

What does that mean? How do you do it? It’s explained here.
Jon Burr has created a practical manual for personal renewal, recovery and healing using insights from his own experience.

“This writing is immensely helpful and I have sincerely benefitted from reading it…Apparently I/we really needed this. Who knew that letting go was an art form that needs to be practiced! Mil gracias.” —María Elena Gaitán (aka ‘Chola Con Cello’), a reader

“I love the multidimensional/multidisciplinary approach…The neuroscience aspect of it is in a way a discipline on its own and is really advanced thinking…your thinking runs parallel to the essence of that book, ‘The Brain That Changes itself’” —Arlyn Valencia, M.D. Neurologist, Stroke Subspecialist

Release from obsession, resentments, grief, depression

 How many times have we heard this? Somebody sees us suffering, and they tell us we need to “Let Go.” “Get over it.” “Move on.” “Fuhgedaboudit.”

 How aggravating! That was my reaction… let go? I’m not holding on to anything… that I’m aware of – so you can TAKE your “let go” and @^%$%#!! Can’t you see I have PROBLEMS? I feel bad! I’m angry! I’m sad! I’m a victim of my feelings! I’m a victim of my circumstances, and I’m having a rational reaction to them!

 Well… maybe you’ve experienced this, or maybe not, but this hypothetical person was unknowingly giving me a great gift, and in the process imparting a great secret about the nature of mind, consciousness and feeling.

 We tend to think of our minds as being the series of pictures in our heads, and our thoughts are the contents of our life, like the characters on a stage in a play. The supremacy of intellect and the superiority of the human mind over our “animal instincts” is drummed into us from infancy; humans are rational beings, science and logic are our rulers, while our parents admonished us “don’t feel that way,” or “you shouldn’t be angry,” or “don’t cry, be brave.” Our feelings are viewed as unruly and suspect, as if they belong to another being… we even call it our “unconscious,” as if their source is a mysterious, inaccessible pool of darkness. We need to rule them with an iron fist. They are the manifestation of our base nature, and they come unbidden like gophers from a hole in the ground, and need to be tamed and even suppressed. We are taught to be aware of our thoughts, to use our power of thought to solve problems, and to ignore our feelings or to use our mind to control or suppress them.

$11, direct to the author

 We have not been taught about the total structure of mind, or the true relationship between awareness, the “conscious” mind and our feelings/unconscious. Over the centuries, this realm has been the province of the religious, the mystics, poets and artists; this realm of feelings, spirit and the soul. Knowledge of feelings was thought to be beyond the reach of science, even as psychiatry and psychology stepped into the breach and sought to collect data about them. Many theories and schools of thought emerged, but the study of the mind, psychiatry and psychology lacked the stature of “true science” because of the unavailability of empirical data.

 There is new science now, however, empirical science, that has very interesting implications pointing to a new paradigm. There are new data gleaned from powerful new techniques using electronics and imaging, and a new model, a new way of looking at the nature of mind, consciousness, awareness and the nature of feelings is emerging. There have been discoveries tracing electrical activity; it has been discovered that there are brain cells scattered throughout the body; it has been discovered that the immune system carries neurotransmitters. Functions of the brain have been localized and identified with ever greater precision than before; thought processes and emotional reactions have been observed and measured. It has been discovered that the mind has two independent memory systems.

 This last development, coupled with the idea that there are brain cells scattered throughout the body, is particularly interesting when it is considered that the brain cells in the body are connected in particular to one of the two memory systems… in fact, these corporeal brain cells are one of the memory systems. It has been written that these discoveries suggest that the body “is the unconscious mind.”

 There is a fundamental problem with our traditional cultural understanding of the “unconscious.” To the extent that “consciousness” has to do with the activity of the Cortex – the outer layer of the brain, the ongoing “thought movie” in the front of our minds, the so-called “human” thinking brain (although all mammals have it in varying degrees of development), then the activity of this “other” brain can be described as unconscious… but that does not mean it’s beyond the reach of awareness. This is the huge misconception in our culture; it is a widely-held belief that because something is not on the “movie screen “of our Cortex, at the forefront of our “thinking mind,” that it is somehow beyond reach. Consciousness has been equated with awareness.

 We are not the movie. We are the watcher of the movie. We have a “spotlight operator” (Freud’s “superego”) that has the power to focus awareness, and to shift the focus from the “movie” to our feelings. If we are anything, we are “awareness.”

 Constantly, in every waking moment, if we allow our focus to shift to our “feeling” state, we are often painfully (or blissfully) aware of our emotions. It’s our sense of “how we are,” “how we’re doing” – it’s the underlying subtext to our life. It’s like a musical score in a movie; our emotional state is with us constantly, and in fact is the greatest determining factor in the course of our day and our life. Our emotional state governs our reactions, colors our thoughts, produces our mood, our ability to think and to function… in short, it is the dominating function of mind. Frequently we have a task to perform in our daily life, a job to do, and our emotional being can overrule our “conscious” mind and make it literally impossible to function. We can feel distracted, or bothered, or angry – or elated, joyful, energetic… and often have absolutely no clue as to why we feel the way we do. Maybe we’ve felt a particular way for years, and don’t know any other way of being. This is the “unconscious” mind at work, often barging into our awareness with demands for attention, or action! We have been conditioned since childhood to ignore the single largest factor in our sense of well-being, of “okayness” in our life!

 Where do feelings come from?

 They come from the “other” brain, with its memory scattered throughout the body. Scientists have called it the “limbic” brain. All mammals have it. We have two brains, functioning together, at the same time, each of which has its own memory. The limbic memory is the feeling memory; feelings are the product of the limbic brain. The limbic brain remembers motion, and can memorize repetitive tasks; something we “know by heart,” “do by instinct,” “automatically,” “as a matter of habit,” or something that I “feel in my gut” – all these are contents of the limbic memory. “Muscle memory” is limbic memory. We can instruct our bodies by imagining and planning with the cortex, as in learning a piece of music, then at some point, as the focus is changed to “the feel of it,” it enters the limbic memory.

 So, the “unconscious” isn’t nearly as inaccessible as we are taught to think. The unconscious mind is always with us and always accessible if we use our awareness to focus on it. It runs on a track that is not underneath the conscious mind; it’s parallel, a constant companion, and, potentially, our greatest ally, rather than the mysterious enemy as it has come to be regarded.

 How does this apply, then, to “letting go?” First we’ll ask what we’re “holding on” to.

 The limbic brain sees the “movie;” it responds to the thoughts we have, as well as to actual events, which still must enter it through the process of perception. The limbic brain doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined events, particularly if we believe what we are imagining. The limbic brain responds to beliefs and logical conclusions of the conscious mind.

 Feelings are corporeal events, felt through the nerves in muscles and organs throughout the body. Feelings are organic states, chemical changes in regions of the body. As an emotion occurs, chemicals rush to or are generated at a particular location in the body, and we experience it as a feeling. The feeling can persist and become an attribute of our reality; an attitude, or a persistent state of emotional being, a part of our emotional makeup. For example, we can experience a trauma of some kind, and as a result a part of the body will “lock up,” enter a persistent physical state, which is related to the thought or experience that produced it in the first place. Feelings parked in the body in this fashion become persistent reminders of the event, person, place, object, chemical, or thing associated with them.

 Feelings can pile up, and suffering can compound. We can get to the point of feeling bad for feeling bad, and wonder what’s wrong with us, or begin to condemn ourselves. As the accumulation of unreleased negative emotions grows, conditions like depression can develop; depression is a state of persistent self-condemnation, coupled with a loss of functionality and feelings of despair and hopelessness. An inadequately maintained emotional mind can lead to serious difficulty and suffering.

 Let’s look at an example of an emotional event.

 Say some idiot cuts us off on the road, and we feel insulted, disregarded, or criminally endangered by the incident. We experience a flood of fear, followed immediately by anger, and sometimes this leads immediately to an attack response followed by retaliatory behavior and a “road rage” incident…. or, possibly, the car passes, and we resolve to let the incident go by without causing further endangerment, and spend varying amounts of time during the day reliving the incident and trying to get rid of the feeling it left in us. Or, we might let the idiot go past, recognize and accept the reaction it has caused in us, conclude that we are in fact OK nonetheless, take a few deep breaths, and forget about it.

 Some of us are taught to believe that the only way to get rid of a feeling in a situation like this is to act (or, rather, react) to the situation immediately and not get stuck being a “patsy.” Others feel frustrated and powerless in the situation, and try to think their way through to a different outcome, possibly involving having the guy thrown in jail and pointing their finger at him at trial, or maybe trying to locate him and put a bomb under his car. Yet others understand that feelings are not facts, they are not permanent, and they will pass, and the smart thing to do is not to aggravate the situation and just get on with life, and trust that the feeling will pass as we leave the incident behind us.

 This last person has decided not to “hold on” to the feeling, but instead to “let it go.” The person that relives the incident over and over is obsessing about it, and can’t let it go, and relives it consciously with no difference in the outcome, although somehow hoping to think his way to a better result. The person who goes into retaliation mode has either forgotten or doesn’t know that his feelings are his own, that they are generated within him, and that they are his problem alone to deal with; this retaliator seeks to hold the other person responsible for his own feelings, regardless of the possible cost to himself.

 From looking at these three options, it seems that the person with the best outcome from the situation and making the wisest choice is the one letting go of the incident, and letting go of the feelings.

 “Letting go,” rather than a mysterious abstraction, is a necessary skill in the maintenance of emotional health. As emotions are experienced, they can pile up like trash in an unkempt house. “Letting go” is an essential form of emotional house-cleaning.

 It has been found that toxic emotions harbored in the body can cause disease of many different forms. “Holding on” can cause cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and many other ailments.

 How do we let go? What does it feel like? How do we know when we’re doing it?

 There are several ways; the most vivid practical example I can think of is in dealing with an obsession.

 Obsession is a defense against the experience of loss. In the car illustration above, and in many obsessions, the loss threatened is to our self-esteem. We may have a picture of ourselves as someone you can’t do that to, who has some pride, and doesn’t let people get away with things, for example. For this incident to occur unchallenged in some way would involve having to rethink these tenets of our self-image, and after the fact, we might end up mentally constructing a different outcome that protects our self-image, and rethink it time and again, replaying the incident, looking for a different result, all the time experiencing the anger of the original insult. It can become consuming and occupy our consciousness, taking us out of the present, preempting our capacity for awareness of life around us, or other feelings we could be having, or our work.

 OK. We have our hypothetical situation here… what do we do?

 The way to interrupt this frenetic cycle of feeling and circular thought is through a process of intentional interruption. There are simple steps we can take to stop the storm of thought and release the feelings that make the thoughts keep spinning:






Let go

 There is a sudden result in that the thinking is interrupted; the feeling remains, at first, The feeling needs to be released and swept out like old dust from a corner.

 As the steps above are practiced, several things happen. At first, we suddenly return our awareness to the present moment, rather than our endless replays of the incident. We focus on the immediate environment, interrupting the Cortex –  the thinking part –  first. We actively focus on other things like the sights and sounds around us, to fully return to the present moment.

 The human body is a miraculous healing machine. As we focus on other things, the body’s capacity to release and clean itself out can be invoked through regular rhythmic breathing, rhythmic motion, and feeling the pull of gravity. As we turn our awareness to our feeling, our “body-mind,” we are capable of monitoring where the discomfort is, and consciously relaxing the area. We are able to breathe into it, and feel a sensation of falling within as the tension releases,. We can assist the process by exercise,  dancing or movement, Yoga, or stretching.

 As the tension releases, the toxins causing the tension and bad feelings begin to enter the blood, and there’s a rushing or flooding sensation that may be not at all pleasant. Sometimes intense sadness or nausea comes with the release, or maybe a vague discomfort, and possibly a warming sensation in the area affected. Some people hold on to feelings forever to avoid these sensations. The unknown can lie beyond; it can be scary to let go of things, particularly resentments or regrets that had become cornerstones of our souls. Letting go is a real physical process.

 Ultimately the desired outcome is the disconnection of a thought, belief or conclusion from the feeling that had long been its mate. When an old resentment is revisited after a physical release of its manifestation in the body, we experience that its power is gone, and there’s a sense of detachment from it, that it can no longer hurt us.

 This is freedom from obsession… at least, from that particular one!

 “Letting go” is the most effective tool in the war on obsession.

%d bloggers like this: