Illustration: Wenting Li
Stop carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. Here are a few simple steps to release your stress.
As I was heading out with a friend one day, I slung my oversize purse over my shoulder. “Do you really need all that?” she asked. You know those moments when everything seems to slow down and come into sharp focus, when everything clicks into place and becomes more solid, more certain? Well, as I rummaged through my purse, unpacking my unused notebooks, collection of pens and stuffed makeup bag, I had one of those moments. It was then that I realized I had the weight of the world on my shoulders—and I bet you do, too.
We carry around a lot of crap, and most of it is unnecessarily burdensome. I think you know what I’m getting at. The load we bear is both mental and emotional—and optional.
My office is filled with people who are holding on to thoughts that take up precious space in their psyche and slow their steps forward. I’ll ask you what I ask them: What would happen if you let that baggage go?
“Let it go” is the mantra of the month. I’ve created a menu of choices for you; feel free to order à la carte or go ahead and devour all of them. The more you bite off, the lighter you’ll feel.
1. LET GO OF CONTROL
If you get butterflies even thinking about loosening the reins or letting someone else take the wheel, this one’s for you. When we worry that anything short of perfection is shameful, we tighten our grip; we control ourselves, others, the agenda, the conversation—all in an effort to ensure that imperfections aren’t exposed. When we release control, we’re letting go of perfectionism.
2. LET GO OF ATTACHMENT
Buddhist sages have long espoused the wisdom of relinquishing our often unhealthy hunger for material possessions. The problem isn’t the objects themselves but, rather, the meaning we ascribe to them. Acquisition has become an accounting system for self-worth and, worse, a ranking system we use to evaluate one another. When we let go of attachment, we connect with ourselves and others on a more spiritual level.
3. LET GO OF EXPECTATIONS
When we hold others to our own entirely subjective standards, we’re asking friends, coworkers and family to be mind readers. We’re also setting ourselves up for disappointment should loved ones fall short of these standards. When we let go of expectations, we open the door to communication.
4. LET GO OF PETTINESS
Keeping score and gossiping are all ways in which we attempt to make others seem small. But really, we’re only diminishing ourselves. When we stop acting on petty behaviours, we rise above.
5. LET GO OF RESENTMENT
Many of us nurse past hurts and grievances, and by doing so, we keep them alive, allowing them to fester. For some, a grudge is something to hold over another—a trump card for the win. Others hold on to resentment because they’re holding on to a revenge fantasy, a settling of the score.
The great Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön preaches that when we treat resentment as a reminder, not an opportunity for revenge, we open ourselves up to past pain and, by doing so, to healing. Letting go of resentment forces us to confront our hurts and embarrassments, to understand them and to move on. It invites us to forgive. And when we forgive, we drop a lot of weight.