On Release, II

I am contemplating this morning my richly layered relationship with the word, the notion, to “release” — as in releasing limiting beliefs, or fear in the body, or pain.

When I was a teenager, I’d read spiritual books and teachers who’d say something to the effect of you just release stuff that sucks (tho’ they’d say it much more spiritually than that) — same way you’d release a hot coal you were holding in your hand. You’d just let go.

And so I would try, furrow-browed and to not much success, to release torments that would arise within my heart. (I should say, to be fair, I did have some success, i.e. those torments would indeed not stick around forever, though in retrospect that was one of my first lessons in attributing correlation to causation.)

Like any cult mentality, the cult of “release; let it go” had its grip on me and if I weren’t releasing it enough, that was through some fault of my own. The implicit belief was that I *should* have been able to just deal with all this stuff by myself, and to transmute it on a dime if I were just sincere enough.

What a relief, then, to find the practice of therapy.

It wasn’t just therapy, but that was a big one, saying essentially a few things.

  1. You don’t have to do this alone.
  2. What is arising is the result of past conditioning. It’s no particular “fault” of your own. (Or anyone else’s, for that matter, I saw later.)
  3. There is magic in not just releasing, but digesting … assimilating, metabolizing …

Regarding #3, imagine you had food in your guts, undigested. It’s making you feel heavy, ill. Yes, you could puke it back up — we might think of that as catharsis — but there is also an essential nutrient in that food for you, one you ate long ago. Digestion extracts the nutrients.

So to engage in the very simple practice of sitting with uncomfortable sensations on their own terms was revolutionary. That practice changed my life, radically, and still today is an essential mainstay in both how I work with the clients I see, and my own experience of pain when it arises.

But still, powerful as that tool was and is, something seemed not complete …

I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, but during sessions of metabolizing trauma — i.e. being present with pain as it arose — I began to question a sort of implicit assumption I’d had: that there’s a finite amount of this pain stuff, and if I keep doing this work I’ll just keep getting freer and freer. And eventually, one day: jackpot!

Some days that would appear to be so obviously true, like I was a new man with no weight on my shoulders, bright eyed and engaged with all of it — with the brief exchanges with the checkout clerk, with the slightest breeze, with the screeching of the gears of a Mack truck — all with the same infinitely-expanding, luminous heart.

Other days, just like before albeit much less frequently, that sense of “oh God, I’ve lost it all …” would arise and the trauma would seem infinite.

So now — lately and now as I write these words — there’s another curiosity, about that old concept of releasing.

A new awareness comes into light. If it were in words, it might say something like “The pain of the world is never ending. If ‘you’ sit down and try to transmute all your pain [which, I’m coming to realize, is the same as the pain of the world] and you’re waiting for that to fully live your life, you might be waiting a long, long, long time … maybe forever. What is already, fully released, without process, right now?”

Like: right now right now.

What is already accepted, before I accept it or not? What is already free before I attempt to free it?

A kind of release happens, spontaneously, that is not like I thought it would be. It’s not a release as opposed to holding; it’s a release that was already there.

I’d lastly emphasize, if you’ve made it this far, that words are not doing this justice, but I write them anyway.

To keep riffing off yesterday’s quote from Rilke on “loving the questions themselves” … what a wondrous antidote in our current culture’s emphasis on having all the answers, eh? …

A. Einstein sums up meditative inquiry pretty well thusly: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

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