Releasing Negative Beliefs: How Letting Go Sets Us Free
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” ~Andre Gide
I have walked on water.
The frozen wasteland known as Chicago had kept me inside, wary of the intense cold that was breaking records that particularly frigid winter. But after interminable snow days, I began to feel like a caged animal that needed to break free.
I woke early one morning, overcome with the urgent need to connect to something living, something wild. I wrapped myself in countless layers like the kid in The Christmas Story and ventured out into the urban tundra. I felt compelled to walk to the beach that was a few miles from my house.
An eerie, otherworldly feeling washed over me as I walked, achingly aware of the stark endless whiteness all around me. The world itself felt as it was hung in frozen suspension and apprehension. Everything seemed to be hushed in reverence.
When I reached the shore, I was hyper aware of the need to maintain a safe distance from the water, but I felt compelled to get as close as possible.
As I moved forward across the frozen sand, I tried to gauge exactly where the land ended by using various items as points of reference—a fence, a wooden bench, a recycling bin. I inched my way toward the lake until there were no more reference points, and then became as still as the land beneath me. Or what I thought was land.
I looked down at my feet and realized I was standing on a frozen wave, not a snow covered sand dune as I originally thought. I had walked out too far. I could both hear and feel the movement of the wave beneath my feet.
I felt a juxtaposition of fear, exhilaration, and an overwhelming sense of weightlessness. My first instinct was to run, but I wasn’t sure of my footing. I was terrified that if I shifted my weight too quickly, I might fall through. I had no idea how deep the water was where I stood.
At that moment I zeroed in on my true purpose for coming to the water. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a little bag filled with small strips of paper like confetti. On each one I had written something I wished to release from my life.
The fear that I will never find the type of love I want and need.
The belief that I am unlovable.
The commitment to being alone.
I opened the bag to the wind, letting the belief-covered papers flutter out over the frozen lake. I did this quickly because I sensed the danger to my body on that unstable surface, and the danger to my heart if I held onto those stories a moment longer.
With my task completed, I gingerly walked back to solid land. I let out a deep breath and knew so much had been released with those papers still floating on the wind.
That moment on a frozen lake taught me a few very important things about surrender.
Surrender is about vulnerability and receptivity.
The opposite of surrender is resistance and control.
And it all comes down to fear and trust.
I realized that my heart had become like that lake. A living thing that is supposed to flow, constricted by a lack of warmth and space into a frozen and dangerous place.
One of the ways we keep our hearts frozen is by holding on to negative beliefs. These beliefs may be seem like they are about others or life in general. Usually, however, they are based on our perceptions. Negative beliefs are born from our wounds and stories.
Eventually, every life experience becomes colored by these beliefs. Everything we see, say, do, and even feel is filtered through these limitations, judgment, patterns, conditionings, and doubt. The sad and scary part is that these beliefs tend to hide themselves in our subconscious, making us think that we are acting from free will.
We may not even be conscious that we are holding on to negative beliefs.
Unconsciously, we begin to nurture our negative beliefs without even being aware that we are doing so. We feed them and help them grow by giving them energy. We affirm them by attracting experiences that validate their existence. This becomes a vicious cycle. Holding on to negative beliefs justifies our need to be right.
Many of us hold on to our grievances and emotional scars with fierce protection. They become like badges of honor.
We think that without our constant vigilance, the memory of our wounds or broken hearts will be forgotten. We believe that we are some how “honoring our personal story” by holding on. If we do not act as the constant “keeper of our wounds,” our suffering will have been in vain.
But spring must come if life is to flourish again.
We must allow our hearts to thaw. We need to frequently evaluate our belief structures, and release the stories that no longer serve us.
Releasing our attachment to our personal histories doesn’t invalidate the emotional pain we suffered. It doesn’t mean that the defenses and barriers we erected to protect ourselves weren’t based on a real need for self-preservation at those times. Instead, it means that we assimilate the lessons we have gained from the experience while loosening its ability to control our lives.
Just like the coldness and bareness of winter allows the Earth to rejuvenate, and ultimately makes everything stronger, so too do our personal winters allow us to access our depths. Every wound makes us stronger as we heal it, and gives us greater access to our power.
Letting go of beliefs puts a great responsibility on us. If we connect with our personal power we must give up the illusion that we are victims. We can longer view ourselves as passively vulnerable to the whims of others. We now must take responsibility for how our life unfolds.
This realization is a lot scarier than standing on a frozen lake.
To truly open our hearts, to truly wield our power, we must be willing to participate in life.
This requires both owning our part in situations, and allowing experiences to unfold as they will. Accepting others’ actions and emotions without making them fit into some box as a hero or demon. And especially releasing our mental constructs about how life should be, what we should or should not be doing, and how other people should interact with us.
Releasing expectations and resistance is one of the most empowering acts of life. Resisting what is can be emotionally, spiritually, and physically exhausting. We get stuck in patterns that begin to define how we interact with the world. And even though they are painful, because they are familiar and usually hidden, we can stay stuck for years.
I had developed many of my beliefs to protect myself after a series of break-ups and broken hearts.
I convinced myself that believing I wasn’t worthy of love was safer than opening myself up to the possibility of love. If I never opened my heart to anyone, I would never be disappointed or have to experience the excruciating pain of heartache.
I was keeping myself lonely and cut off from life. Trying to protect myself from pain, I was actually constantly hurting myself more.
When I finally relaxed enough to let go of my old beliefs, my life began to flow with greater ease and grace.
I walked out onto that frozen water because I needed to have a close encounter with life. I needed to let the primal elements cleanse me of my outmoded ways of being.
I went beyond the fear and conditioning because, finally, being alive mattered more than being comfortable. Now I recognize that I must trust that life will always provide the situations and experiences required for my evolution. And that surrender is the only way to be free.