I read Letting Go - The Pathway of Surrender by David Hawkins a number of years ago and it had a profound impact on how I viewed stress. There have been a few stressful things going on in my life so I decided to revisit it. It is an exceptional book that offers invaluable insights and practical tools to help you let go of stress and experience greater inner peace.
About David Hawkins
David Hawkins (1927-2012) was an American psychiatrist, spiritual teacher, and author known for his groundbreaking work in the field of consciousness and spirituality. During his career as a psychiatrist, Hawkins explored various therapeutic modalities and conducted extensive research on human behaviour and consciousness. He became particularly interested in the interplay between psychology and spirituality, seeking to bridge the gap between traditional psychology and the deeper realms of human experience.
The interplay between psychology and spirituality is deeply rooted in this book and his philosophy on how we can approach stress is similar to the message of the Buddhist parable of the Two Arrows. In this parable the Buddha explained:
“In life, we can’t always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.”
In his book Hawkins frames stress as:
"Stress is our emotional reaction to a precipitating factor or stimulus. Stress is determined by our belief systems and their associated emotional pressures. It is not the external stimulus, then, that is the cause of stress, but our degree of reactivity. The more surrendered we are, the less prone we are to stress."
Understanding the Nature of Stress
Hawkins examines the nature of stress and its detrimental effects on our well-being. He explains how stress arises from our resistance to accepting the present moment, our attachments, and our inability to let go of negative emotions. He encourages us to explore the roots of our stress so we can gain a comprehensive understanding of its origins and learn how to effectively address its impact on our lives.
The Power of Letting Go
Throughout the book, Hawkins emphasises the significance of letting go as a transformative process. He asserts that letting go is not synonymous with repression or suppression, but rather a conscious surrender to the present moment and a release of emotional attachments.
"Letting go involves being aware of a feeling, letting it come up, staying with it, and letting it run its course without wanting to make it different or do anything about it. It means simply to let the feeling be there and to focus on letting out the energy behind it. The first step is to allow yourself to have the feeling without resisting it, venting it, fearing it, condemning it, or moralizing about it. It means to drop judgment and to see that it is just a feeling."
Hawkins further details the mechanism of letting go and highlights that we will encounter resistance during this process - letting go of negative feelings is the undoing of the ego, which will want to protect itself.
Hawkins states that the primary human goal, superseding all others, is survival.
A key survival mechanism is the use of emotions and as such our basic underlying emotions are usually unconscious or at least out of our awareness. Hawkins beIieves that increasing our conscious handling of emotions allows us to let go and decrease the stress we cause in our own life. There is a chapter on each of the following emotions in the book and Hawkins shares examples and techniques on how to consciously deal with them:
- Apathy and depression
Practical Techniques for Letting Go
Hawkins provides practical techniques and exercises that encourage you to let go of stress and negative emotions. He introduces the concept of the "release technique," a simple yet powerful method to bring awareness to one's emotions and release them. The release technique involves acknowledging and fully experiencing the emotion without judgment, allowing it to dissipate naturally. I have broken down the release technique to these steps:
- Identify the emotion - begin by becoming aware of the emotion you are feeling. It could be anger, fear, sadness, or any other challenging emotion.
- Acknowledge and accept - allow yourself to fully acknowledge and accept the presence of the emotion. Avoid judgment or resistance. Simply observe it as it arises within you.
- Feel the emotion - dive into the sensation of the emotion in your body. Notice where you feel it most strongly and allow yourself to fully experience the physical and emotional sensations associated with it.
- Release resistance - let go of any resistance or attachment to the emotion. Remind yourself that resistance only prolongs the experience and adds to the stress. Practice allowing the emotion to be present without trying to change it.
- Breathe and let go - take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly and intentionally. As you exhale, imagine releasing the emotion with each breath, allowing it to dissipate and leave your body
- Repeat if needed - if the emotion persists, repeat the process. Sometimes it may take a few rounds of acknowledging and releasing before the emotion fully dissolves.
Real-Life Example of Letting Go
Like most of us, I experience frustration and disappointment during the work day. If I am not conscious in how I manage those feelings they can derail my productivity and impact my work output significantly. Without conscious thought I can allow the feelings to interrupt my focus and find myself undertaking activities that will help soothe the way I am feeling (eg scrolling on Instagram, doing easy tasks like emails).
Using the release technique I can prevent this from happening and help manage my stress levels effectively. This is what it looks like in my day:
- Identify the emotion - in this example it was disappointment and frustration that a potential stockist decides not to stock the drink.
- Acknowledge and accept - this creates feelings of self doubt, self criticism and inadequacy. I acknowledged all of these feelings without trying to talk myself out of them and see them as a natural response to the stress the situation has caused.
- Feel the emotion - I take a moment to focus inward and identify where the frustration has manifested in my body. My jaw feels tight, my shoulders have crept up around my ears and forehead feels tight too.
- Release resistance - I consciously acknowledge that holding on to these emotions will only increase my stress levels and that I can either choose to hold on to it or let it go and not let it derail the rest of my day.
- Breathe and let go: I take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly. With each exhalation, I focus on releasing the tension in my jaw and forehead, lower my shoulders and I visualise the stress and tension leaving my body.
Letting go like this is a practice like meditation or yoga. You get better at it and it becomes more natural the more that you do it. Some days I have to work harder than others to let go of the stress but persistence does pay off. Hawkin's release technique is a powerful tool for navigating through stressful moments and fostering personal well-being.
NB. This is not an easy practice to develop. It goes against how most of us have felt, acted, and thought for many years. It is challenging but like all things that challenge us, it helps us grow. If you are trying this, might be good to have some Adapt Drinks Relax on hand for some support :) .