Dealing With Stress — How To Let Go
CLENCHED HANDS ARE a sign of stress. Open hands indicate relaxation. The man who keeps his hands in his pockets, jingling his coins, is an individual who is continually ill at ease, tense and anxious.
Many times mannerisms indicate the state of the mind of the individual, and nothing gives away the attitude any quicker than the habits that show an unwillingness to give or give up. Closed hands indicate a closed mind, and a tendency to hold on to people and things, emotions and thoughts. Crossed arms convey the impression of an unwillingness to learn, a refusal to accept new ideas.
In order to get rid of stress and live happily in our world we must be willing to let go. We must learn to live with other people without trying to dominate them or assume burdensome feelings of responsibility for the lives of others. We must be willing to give them the same freedom that we want for ourselves, the freedom to choose. We have to give them this freedom sometimes when we may feel that they are making wrong choices. If we don’t, we will find that our stress-filled feelings about others will express in our own minds, our bodies and our affairs, keeping us from the rich blessings that belong to all of us as children of God.
We also must be willing to release things, particularly things that have fulfilled their purpose in our lives. Those who hoard material possessions will never be free of the stress of fear of loss, but individuals who let things and events circulate freely and easily through their lives are in a position to enjoy greater good continually. They can do this because they have been willing to let the old go in order to lay hold of the new blessings.
Sometimes people reluctantly part with things, but continue to hold on to regrets and possessive thoughts. Even our thoughts and feelings must be cleansed of obsessive tendencies if we are going to live richly and fully in God’s good world, without tension or stress or strain.
Freedom is a gift of God. It costs only our willingness to accept it. In order to accept this priceless present we must be willing to let go of people and things, thoughts and feelings. Circulation is one of the universal laws of life, and it implies that in order to receive more, we must be willing to release something. We can’t take in the oxygen we need to stay alive until we first release the old breath. And so it is all the way through our life experiences.
In accepting God’s gift of freedom, we will see that it blesses every department of our lives. The gift includes freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom from anger, freedom from frustration, freedom from failure, freedom from limitation and freedom from anything else that can hold us back from receiving our rich inheritance from our heavenly Father.
In accepting this gift, we also open the way for freedom to grow, freedom to be successful, freedom to be happy, and, most of all, freedom to express God. We can only be free to fulfill our greatest potentiality when we are willing to release all lesser phases of our life and let God take over.
But many times people who have been accustomed to holding on find it difficult to let go. Pehaps they feel responsible for another person and cannot release that one to find his own way. Maybe they are in a time of great change in their lives and find It difficult to cope with the loss of a loved one or a certain position or even a material possession.
Our Bible is filled with instructions and examples for getting rid of the stress of holding on by learning to let go and let God tame into our lives with His right answers and new and grealpr rich blessings.
Relax and release.
For happy, harmonious, spiritual living, we must learn how to relax and release people, things, anxieties and even thoughts of responsibility that impede and block the flow of divine energy through our lives.
The words “relax” and “release” are closely related, and they work together. Both are derived from the Latin word “laxare”, meaning “to loosen”. They also incorporate the word “re”, a prefix derived from the Latin “back” or “again” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1958, p. 627).
Relax means “to make or become looser, or less firm, stiff or tense” (ibid). Release means “to set free’ (ibid). Both imply the idea of letting go. In relaxation we let go of tension in our minds and bodies, and in releasing we let go of people, things, thoughts and anything else we need to set free.
The word “relax” is not found in our Bible, and the word “release” is used only a few times, but the idea of letting go is repeated again and again in the Scriptures.
Under Moses’ law, a year of release was established. Every seven years the Israelites were to forgive all unpaid loans to their fellow Israelites. (This didn’t apply to loans to foreigners.) It was a custom that called for mental and spiritual cleansing as the individuals let go of the thought that others owed them a debt. Since they were taught the custom from an early age, the people were prepared mentally for the year of release, and they complied without question. It was a healthy cleansing.
As pointed out at Jesus’ trial before Pilate, it was the custom for the Roman authorities to release one Jewish prisoner during the time of the Passover. Pontius Pilate would gladly have released Jesus, but the crowd called for Barabbas. The crowd always calls for Barabbas. Metaphysically, Barabbas means “the adverse consciousness (rebellion and hatred) to which man gives himself when he allows himself to oppose Christ” (Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, Barabbas). How often we find it easier to put forth rebellious, antagonistic thoughts, rather than free the God self to express through us. It is time for us to learn to choose to let go of the Barabbas consciousness as we awaken to the greater inner awareness of our own Christ nature.
The best way of release is that advocated by David in one of the Psalms. He sang, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” (Psalms 37:5 RSV). This is the way of total release of all our human tendencies and negation. When we commit our way to God, it means that we have said goodbye to those forceful strivings of the human will in favor of a willing and obedient receptivity to the will and the work of the Father within. When we do this, we have literally released all stress and strain as well.
In the spiritual work of following God’s way, sometimes we even find that we must release the good things that have long since served their purpose in our lives.
A school teacher was devoted to her fourth grade class. The children seemed bright and cooperative, and she loved to tell the other teachers what a wonderful class she had. Then, in the middle of the school year, suddenly she was transferred to the fifth grade. She couldn’t believe that the children could be so different! After the loving, harmonious class of fourth graders, she found the behaviour problems of the fifth graders almost intolerable!
After studying about the harmonizing, prospering power of release, she realized that while teaching the fifth graders, she was continuing to hold on to the earlier class with regret and remembering. So she decided she would employ the principle of release by letting go of her beloved fourth graders. As she reported later, after she let go, the new students became “just as good as the old ones”. But it didn’t happen until she let go.
How much unnecessary stress and strain we can cause ourselves simply by holding on! When we realize the importance of release, we can exercise our God-given right to take control of our thoughts and just let go.
Many times people hold on to things, even after they have been passed on to others. I knew a woman who caused herself much stress by resenting the fact that the car she had sold to a friend had suffered minor damage in an accident. (Certainly, it was much harder on the friend than it was on her, but she had never really thought of the automobile as belonging to someone else.)
Many times parents hold on to grown children who have families of their own and cause tension and unhappiness for all concerned. Men or women go through the difficult experience of a divorce and then continue to hold on to the other partner in their thoughts and feelings, and perhaps actions, refusing to let go and take up their new experience in living. Jealous lovers hold on to the beloved with fear, anxiety and imagined injury. How can we release in these situations that are based on strong human tendencies?
We can go back to the words of David and decide that we will go God’s way, and going God’s way includes letting go of the human way of thinking and holding on. When we commit our way to the Lord, we are willing to look to Him first and let everything else fade into the background as we concentrate on building our lives under divine direction. We can release it!
Relaxation may also be difficult for many. Sometimes people claim that they simply can’t relax. But they can. Anyone can relax when he or she is willing to let go and trust God. There are many methods of relaxation in vogue today, and all are good.
Some methods employ physical exercises for relaxation. They may be based on breathing, stretching or simply moving certain muscles in a way that is designed to bring them back to a relaxed position.
Mental methods including retiring to peaceful, happy images in the mind. Some even advocate watching fish move easily through the water of an aquarium and letting the mind move lazily with them.
In Unity we teach relaxation as the first step of prayer, and we see it as a method of exercising spiritual dominion over the nerves and muscles of the body. This method calls for quietly (but with all the authority that God gave us in the beginning) taking control as we speak words of relaxation to each part of the body. This should be done without tension or strain, but with a definite expectation that the body will obey the command of the spiritual authority within us. We are not here to meekly obey the whims and demands of our physical bodies, but rather to use them to fulfill the spiritual pattern for our lives. In order to do this, we must teach them to relax, to “loosen back” to complete attunement with God.
Forgive and forget.
David said, “Fret not yourself because of the wicked, be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.” (Psalm 37:1 RSV)
He also instructed, “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret notyourself; it tends only to evil.” (Psalms 37:8 RSV)
He was so right! When we allow ourselves to be disturbed by the wrongdoing of others, we hurt ourselves most of all. We can’t afford what the practice of unforgiveness will do to us. So we must learn, for our own sake, to forgive. Not only must we forgive the wrongs, or imagined wrongs, of the past, but we must even come to the place where we have totally forgotten them, if we would be free of the stressful effects of holding on to memories of injustice and unhappiness. There is too much potential joy and harmony for us to waste one moment of our time on anger and resentment. But, because of our old human habits, forgiveness may come hard.
David advised us to work in prayer to overcome the human tendency to hold on to hurts and resentment. He said, “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over him who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” (Psalm 37:7 RSV) In other words, when we stop our fretting and just still our thoughts in the awareness of the God Presence, we will find that it is easy to forget the wrongs in the fullness of our joy in Spirit.
A young woman came in for counselling one day. After listening to her story, we suggested that she work with the method outlines in Charles Fillmore’s “A Sure Remedy” (Unity pamphlet) and spend a half-hour a day mentally and spiritually forgiving all the people she felt had wronged her.
As she conscientiously set aside the time each day and tried to erase all negative feelings and thoughts about the wrongs of the past, things happened rapidly. First, she received a lovely note from her mother-in-law, asking forgiveness for something which had been resolved in her forgiveness time. Then her father, who lived across the country, made an unprecedented telephone call to her to ask her forgiveness for things he had done in the past. He talked for half an hour, and she hung up with a feeling of affection for her father that she had never had before.
The forgiveness treatment was so powerful that her father also called her brother to ask for his forgiveness. The brother, holding on to old resentments, cut him off and didn’t hear his apology. So he missed out on his freedom in the situation.
Forgiveness may bless those we forgive, but it will certainly bless us. Many times we may be holding on to memories of old situations long since forgotten by the others involved.
Sometimes mechanical means help us in our forgiveness process. Many people find it helpful to write out their frustrations on paper and then destroy the paper as a symbol of their release. Others have found it beneficial to make a “forgiveness list”. Then, using Charles Fillmore’s method, they pray their way through the list each day until they have a sense of peace about each individual.
After forgiveness the next step is a total obliteration of the memory. The wrong must not only be forgiven. It must be forgotten if we are to avoid all stress from it.
Here we have one of the basic laws of mind to help us. Unpleasant memories will simply fade away unless they are continually recalled to mind. So when we stop feeding the thoughts, we will find that they simply disappear.
We don’t have to make a conscious effort to forget. Doing so may cause tension and concern that actually imprints the incident more vividly in our imagination. All we have to do is to become so interested in our present God-directed, fulfilling life that we don’t think about the wrongs of the past anymore. Time has a way of releasing memories unless we continue to give them life.
Be willing to learn a new way.
We all have periods in our lives when an old era is ending, and we must adapt to a new way of living, either in our home and family or on the job, or perhaps in both areas. At such times we will save ourselves much stressful anxiety and frustration by not only being willing to release the old, but also being receptive to new ideas, new ways, new people and new conditions.
Deutero-Isaiah, the prophet who brought inspiration and guidance to the Jewish people during a time of great upheaval and discouragement (the period of the exile in Babylonia), wrote:
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isa. 43:19 RSV)
His purpose was not only to encourage the people, but also to urge them to adopt a different attitude, being more receptive to new ideas and new ways, and particularly inviting them to have an optimistic view of the future. This was the only way they could cope with the condition of exile and still prepare for the projected return to their own land.
Many times we may feel that we are in a far country when we are faced with totally unexpected changes in our lives. We may find the new ways frustrating and confusing. But we can learn to cope, and when we do, we will discover that, in the long run, change can be for good, when we are working with God to bring forth the blessing and to follow His “way in the wilderness” (Isaiah 43:19 RSV).
Great stress may result from the change that comes when a loved one passes, particularly when the feeling of loss is accompanied by a change in outer living conditions as well. Divorce not only carries trauma for the individual, but calls for an adjustment in daily living. Loss of a job may also be traumatic, but a new job may be equally stressful, particularly if it means moving to a new location or even a new line of work.
In each case God will lead us through the wilderness experience, provided we are willing to learn to cope with the new way of life and to adjust to new ways of thinking and living, working and playing. There always is a blessing in every situation, but we find it only when we are willing to stop living with regrets about the past and start learning to make the most of our new opportunities. There are opportunities in even the most trying wilderness experience, and when we learn to make the divine adjustment in our lives, we may be pleasantly surprised to find that God has something even better for us.
When first faced by radical change, we may not be able to know what to do about it. We may feel that there is no way out of the wilderness. But when we are willing to still those unruly thoughts and turn to the Christ within us, we will discover that God had a plan for our lives all the time, a plan of ever unfolding good, and He was only waiting for us to be willing to let go of the old and be receptive to the new blessing that always awaits us.
Not only that, but receptivity to the new ways makes it easier for us to erase the pain of the loss of the old. We cannot hold back and go forward at the same time. We cannot live mentally with the blessings of the past and also claim the blessings of today. The new way is here to lead us to our greater good, but only we can travel that way for ourselves. We do this by relaxing and releasing and opening ourselves to a life made new daily by our receptivity to God’s new guidance, new ways and new blessings for us.
© 1985, Winifred Wilkinson Hausmann
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.