What does Mindfulness mean in practice?
Part 1- Letting Go (or "Getting out of our own way")
When you hear someone say “just let it go” what does it mean and how can it sometimes be helpful and at other (i.e: most) times just be irritating and unhelpful? This week during a hospital meeting I decided, in the heat of the moment, to make a comment about how I saw a clash between the mandate of administration (to keep the hospital on budget and to provide clinical care) and that of the academic mandate of physicians (that includes clinical care but also teaching and research). While making “my point” I realized that the way I had framed what I said made the administration out to be the bad guys and the physicians out to be the good guys. In retrospect my comment did not further creative problem solving and only reinforced the unhelpful and untrue way of seeing the problem as residing in “them=bad guys” and not at all with “us=good guys”. Thinking all of this over later on in the day I regretted having spoken at all and wished I had better thought through the intention behind my speaking. My intentions in fact included a desire to find reasons why "we" were in the right and 'they" were in the wrong, yet again. Rarely is this a helpful position to take. Feeling regret over what I said I quickly reached a point where I learned what I could from the episode and further ruminating, further wishing I had not said anything at all, became pointless because no matter how hard I may re-imagine the past I really cannot go back and undo what was done. At that point all that is left to do is to “let go” of my disappointment in myself. But how to do this when the feelings (e.g. disappointment) appear to have a life of their own?
Mindful practice at that point would be to “stay with energy and drop the storyline”. That is, to be aware of the thoughts and feelings (i.e. regret and feeling bad), accept these thoughts & feelings as they are (rather than try push them away or deny them) and then, seeing the futility of repeating the unhelpful negative thoughts, make a conscious choice to stop the “repeating story line/internal narrative” and just accept the “negative energy=feeling lousy”. By doing this, that is stopping the thoughts from ruminating by seeing them for what they are, the energy (or mood if you prefer) is like a fire without fuel, it just dissipates on its own.
Seen in this way "letting go" is not something that we actively make happen but rather a process that happens on its own when we stop fuelling the fire of thoughts that are unhelpful.
So while we cannot make letting go happen we can stop getting in the way of its happening on its own. Getting out of the way means accepting the feelings and seeing unhelpful ruminating thoughts for what they are. After all, continuing to replay what already happened over and over again in our minds is like “continuing to wish for a better past”.