“Therefore, surely, O monks, whatever feeling, past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all that feeling must be regarded with proper wisdom, according to the Dharma, thus: This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my Self.” – The Buddha (Anatta-lakkhana Sutta)
When there is no self, there is peace. When there is me and mine then there is no peace. Worry, anxiety, what are they? They are all from me and mine. When you let go, then there is cessation of me and mine. There is peace, calm, clarity, dispassion, emptiness. – Ajahn Sumedho
Lose the mind, stop the thought, by ridding yourself of the motivator of thoughts, called feelings. No feelings, and you’re there. You see how simple it is? And when you so decide to let go of your feelings, it’s easy. It’s an accretion that takes tremendous effort to hold on to it. Become effortless right now, and you’re free. Let go of all your effort, every ounce of which is expended on being limited, on being what you are not. It’s simple, you are it, and it’s easy—it takes no effort. Every ounce of effort you expend is on trying to be a limited body. – Lester Levenson (Get Off the Rollercoaster)
As long as the shells covering the soul are intact—be they ever so slight—the soul cannot see God. Thus Boethius says: If you would know truth clearly, cast off joy and fear, expectation and hope and pain.’ Joy is a means, fear is a means, expectation and hope and pain are all means. As long as you regard them and they regard you, you cannot see God. – Meister Eckhart (Sermon Forty Two)
In Buddhism passions are called klesa (klesha); these are unwholesome states of mind such as sorrow, fear, anger, desire, envy, pride and shame. Passions arise from attachments, which are obsessive desires to have some things and avoid other things. Attachments are not only the cause of our birth, but are the cause of whatever trouble we get into.
Stop pushing away your feelings
A young child who feels frustrated can cry and throw a tantrum. As we grow older, however, we grow afraid of disapproval and we start to push our feelings away: “If my mother sees that I’m angry, she may stop loving me.” “If others see that I’m angry, they will make fun of me.” But bad feelings never go away: they just accumulate.
When I release I do the opposite of pushing feelings away: I allow them to come up. I allow myself to feel sad or afraid or ashamed or angry. But this isn’t the same as what we usually do when we are upset, which is to argue with ourselves about the situation. As Lester said, “Thinking is rationalizing, usually our emotions and desires, and has its source in the ego.”
When we release, we do not think about other people—we focus on the feeling. The people and the situation are like the plot of an opera, and the feeling is the music. Observe the ‘I’ who feels angry or afraid or ashamed, etc. Who is this ‘I’ who feels this way? This is the teaching that Bodhidharma is talking about.
Even though thoughts have entered delusion, do not counter them with thoughts of non-delusion. Instead, when a thought arises, rely on the teaching to gaze at the place from which it arises. If the mind discriminates (judges), rely on the teaching to gaze at the place from which discrimination arises. Whether it is greed, anger or delusion that arises, rely on the teaching to gaze at the place from which it arises. To see that there is no place from which they can arise is to cultivate the Way. If there is arising of the mind, then investigate it, and relying on the teaching, resolve it. – Bodhidharma (Method for Quieting the Mind)
The Release Technique
Lester Levenson developed releasing, or the Sedona Method, from his own enlightenment experience. Having undergone four years of Freudian psychoanalysis, he knew that negative feelings buried deep in the subconscious govern our thoughts and behavior and make us ill. At the age of forty-two, having been told he could drop dead at any time, he discovered that he could bring these feelings up into his awareness and let go of them. Furthermore, this involved no effort—only a decision to do it. He discovered that letting go of his feelings not only made him incredibly happy, but it also made him aware of the fear of dying that was at the root of his thoughts and feelings.
A student of Lester, Lawrence Crane, taught what he called the Release Technique until he passed away. He posted free demonstrations of releasing, available at http://www.lesterlevenson.org/about-releasing.php and https://www.releasetechnique.com/audios/. To understand how Lester learned to release you can read the post, Lester Levenson (1909-1994). A shorter version of Lester’s story can be found here: http://www.presentlove.com/lester-levenson/.
We deal with negative feelings by expressing them, suppressing them, or by trying to escape them through distractions or keeping busy. These coping mechanisms do not work. When we express our feelings we usually regret it, and when we try to suppress them or run away from them we only succeed in keeping them firmly in our mind. The only way to permanently get rid of a feeling is to to let it come up and face it. “I hate them!” “I’m going to be unloved and alone!” The feeling will then pass away all by itself.
Question: How does one quickly attain the Way?
Answer: The mind being the nature of the Way, the Way can be attained quickly. When the practitioner knows that delusion has arisen, then, relying on the teaching, he observes it and causes it to vanish. – Bodhidharma (Bodhidharma’s Method for Quieting the Mind)
To make it easy to identify negative feelings, think of them as F-L-A-G-S. These are Fear, Loneliness, Anger, Grief, Shame. Work on just one feeling at a time.
How to Release
To release, you allow the feeling to come up without resisting it, since it is the resistance that holds it in your mind. Remain focused on the ‘I’ who feels angry, sad, afraid or ashamed. If any thoughts arise about the person or the situation, bring your focus back onto the feeling.
Don’t turn away from the pain. Face it. Feel it fully. Feel it—don’t create a script in your mind around it. Give all your attention to the feeling, not to the person, event, or situation that seems to have caused it.
Since it is impossible to get away from the feeling, the only possibility of change is to move into it; otherwise nothing will shift. So give your compete attention to what you feel, and refrain from mentally labeling it. As you go into the feeling, be intensely alert.
At first, it may seem like a dark and terrifying place, and when the urge to turn away from it comes, observe it but don’t act on it. Keep putting your attention on the pain, keep feeling the grief, the fear, the dread the loneliness, whatever it is. (Eckhart Tolle, 1999, p. 135).
While you are releasing, make sure there is no tension in your body. Relax the jaw muscles. Relax the muscles of the chest and abdomen and exhale. Relax any other place where there is tension.
Feelings come up in waves. Even the strongest feelings attached to a particular event go away after a few seconds; however, with deeply buried feelings it will be necessary to bring them up several times until they are all gone. (Watch EMDR video to see how this works)
Releasing painful memories
There is more pain from holding on to the thought of pain than there is in the situation itself. A painful memory, when faced fully and squarely, will resolve. Because of its unpleasantness, one tries to flee from it and escape it; this holds it in mind and thereby holds on to the pain. – Lester Levenson
If a feeling attached to a memory is too traumatic, use EMDR and bilateral tapping to release it. You can do it on yourself or find someone trained in the technique to help you. (See EMDR and bilateral tapping)
The following is the releasing method without EMDR or bilateral tapping (cold-turkey):
• Recall the event; allow the feeling to come up into your awareness.
• Relax any tension in your body and exhale.
• Maintaining your physical relaxation, stay focused on the feeling until it passes away.
• Recall the event again, but only long enough to bring up the feeling.
• Repeat this process until there is no longer any feeling attached to the memory.
Releasing guilt or shame
At our core we are pure and transcendent, and any negativity we engage in is not who we are—the essence of who we are remains unscathed. Actions occur on the level of manifestation, the level of experiences . . . but they cannot affect nor influence the deepest infinite part of ourselves—the part of self which is always present and unified. – Rabbi DovBer Pinson (Chabad.org)
Only God can cause injury or death. You are not God: you do not have that power.
• Recall the event and allow the feeling of guilt or shame to come up into your awareness.
• Relax any tension in your body and exhale.
• Maintaining your relaxation, stay focused on the feeling until it passes away. If it helps you stay focused, repeat a thought such as, “I feel really ashamed.”
• Recall the event again, but only long enough to bring up the feeling.
• Repeat this process until there is no longer shame or guilt attached to the event.
Once justly set in the will of God, a man will not wish that the sin he committed had never happened. To be sure, it was contrary to God, but by it he is committed to greater love, being abased and humbled because he did act contrary to God. You may, however, fully trust God not to have put the sin upon you except to bring out the best that is in you. – Meister Eckhart, The Talks of Instruction
Such a man is so one-willed with God that he wills all that God wills and in the way God wills it. And so, since God in a way wills that I should have sinned, I would not wish that I had not done so. – Meister Eckhart, The Book of Divine Comfort
Releasing negative feelings towards a person
Our anger towards people usually stems from our inability to make them change their behavior. When people don’t give us the approval we want, or when they are doing something that makes us feel insecure, we wish we could control them. This is impossible: you can never control another person; you can only get away from him.
• Think of the person and try to identify the feeling—anger, envy, etc.
• Don’t push the feeling away. It’s better to say, “I hate him!” than to lie and tell yourself that you don’t. You need to face the hatred in order to let go of it. It’s okay to imagine you are punching the person in the face. She was asking for it.
• Stay focused on the feeling until it passes away. If a thought about the person arises, bring your focus back to the ‘I’ who who feels angry, envious, etc.
• Bring up the feeling again.
• Repeat the process until you can think of the person without any negative feelings coming up.
Once you have let go of your hatred, you replace it with love. Our love for people is inversely related to our desire to control them: the less we want to control them, the higher the love. The first level is to love them in spite of the way they are. Better than that is to accept them as they are. The highest love is to love them because they are the way they are. Ask yourself,
“Can I love this person in spite of the way he is?”
“Can I accept him as he is?”
“Can I love this person because he is the way he is?”
The reason we should love people because they are the way they are is that we can only transcend the ego through adversity, and there is no adversity without an adversary. If my adversary suddenly started being nice to me, he wouldn’t be doing his job. Hakuin wrote: “The superior man succeeds his enemy,” meaning that the superior student seeks a harsh master. Lin Chi remarked how he missed the grandmotherly blows of his old master.
THE PERFECTION OF PATIENCE
Furthermore, a Bodhisattva stands firm in the perfection of patience. He instigates, exhorts, introduces beings to patience, in the following way: Upon taking the vow of enlightenment he puts on the armour thus: “If all beings were to hit me with sticks, clods, fists, or swords, not even one single thought of anger should arise in me; and also should I introduce all beings to such patience!”
It is as if a clever magician or magician’s apprentice had conjured up a great crowd of people: if they all hit him with sticks, clods, fists, or swords, he would bear towards them not even a single thought of anger; and if he were to introduce these magically created beings to such patience, no being at all would have been introduced to it, however many he had introduced to it. The same is true of the Bodhisattva. And why? For such is the true nature of things that in fact they are illusory. – The Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra
(audio file Larry Crane demonstrating release technique) (link to web page with Crane demonstrating the release technique)
• Bring up the thought and allow the fear to enter your awareness.
• Relax any tension in your body and exhale.
• Maintaining your physical relaxation, stay focused on the fear until it passes away. If it helps you to stay focused, repeat a thought such as, “I’m afraid.”
• Return to the thought, but only long enough to bring up the fear.
• Repeat this process until there is no longer any fear attached to the thought.
All feelings arise out of a craving for approval or control, and these in turn arise out of a craving for security, which comes from our fear of death.
The Three Kinds of Cravings:
• For approval or love
• For control
• For security
Our earliest craving for approval is when we crave the love of a parent. From then on, we constantly seek approval by grasping for attention, affection, recognition, respect, admiration.
Our earliest craving for control is wanting to control our parents and get the love and attention that we want. From then on, our craving for control takes the form of wanting to control others, wanting to be right, and wanting to change the present or the past.
Nothing that happens is an accident: everything that has happened, happened in order to teach you something you needed to learn. As James Allen wrote,
As a progressive and evolving being, man is where he is that he may learn [in order] that he may grow; and as he learns the spiritual lesson which any circumstance contains for him, it passes away and gives place to other circumstances. (“As a Man Thinketh”, 1903)
Our earliest craving for security is when we fear our parents won’t love us. Besides seeking security from approval or control, we may seek it by accumulating wealth, by an obsession with food, by buying insurance, or by worrying about our health.
To release a craving, identify the corresponding aversion, bring the aversion into your awareness, and observe it. For example, if I crave acceptance by a group, I fear rejection. Therefore, I bring up the feeling of rejection. Use the thought of the group only as a trigger to bring up the feeling of rejection. Focus on the ‘I’ that feels rejected, never on the people who rejected you (who are just doing their job).
The following is an example of releasing a desire to change an unpleasant situation—or the craving for control:
• Think of the situation, and allow the feeling of anger or anxiety to enter your awareness. It is all right to say, “I hate them!” Punch the meanest one in the face if you like.
• Relax any tension in the body and exhale.
• Remaining relaxed, focus on the feeling until it passes away. If it helps you to stay focused, repeat a thought such as, “I hate them!”
• Recall the situation again, but only long enough to bring up the feeling. Stay focused on how ‘I’ feels.
• Repeat this process until there is no longer any anger or anxiety associated with the situation.
Love Your Enemies (from a safe distance)
Just because you love your enemies doesn’t mean they will love you. They will never love you. They have a job to do, and that job is to move you on to your next lesson. You are going to leave that job, school, church or relationship, so leave it as a winner, having learned whatever you had to learn. Walk away and don’t look back.
Keep your attention focused on you. If you would do only this for weeks or months, you would get full Self-realization. – Lester Levenson
End of Letting Go of the Ego
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The only growth there is, is letting go of the ego. So to use this concept of happiness versus misery, every time we are unhappy, if we just assume that this has its source in the ego, we may then look for the source of the misery.
Now, looking at it is not so easy, because we must learn how to look at it. When we are unhappy, we should look within for a frustrated desire—this is the source of all misery. We had a desire, and it’s selfish. We wanted something, we couldn’t get it, and therefore we’re unhappy. So, every time we are unhappy, we should sit with it, look at it, see its source in the ego. And when you see the source of it, when you see that desire that’s being frustrated, you’ll automatically let go of it, and by doing so, you’re letting go of a bit of ego. Continue this and you’ll get full realization; you’ll eliminate the ego. – Lester Levenson (“Your Path to Happiness,” June 7, 1966, https://youtu.be/Q3m7I8C6zZQ)
Whatever thoughts you try to push away will stick to you
At that time there was a heavenly being, a goddess, in Vimalakirti’s room who, seeing these great men and hearing them expound the Dharma, proceeded to make herself visible and, taking heavenly flowers, scattered them over the bodhisattvas and principal disciples. When the flowers touched the bodhisattvas, they all fell to the floor at once, but when they touched the principal disciples, they stuck to them and did not fall off. The disciples all tried to shake off the flowers through their supernatural powers, but they could not do so.
At that time the goddess said to Shariputra, “Why try to brush off the flowers?”
“Such flowers are not in accordance with the Teaching,” he replied. “That’s why I try to brush them off.”
The goddess said, “Don’t say these flowers are not in accordance with the Dharma. Why? Because the flowers make no such distinctions. You in your thinking have made up these distinctions, that’s all. If one who has left the household life to follow the Buddha’s Teaching makes such distinctions, that is not in accordance with the Teaching. One must be without distinctions to be in accordance with the Teaching Look at the bodhisattvas—the flowers do not stick to them because they have already cut off all thought of distinctions. Just as evil spirits are able to take advantage of a person who is beset by fear, so because you disciples are fearful of the cycle of birth and death, the senses of form, sound, smell, taste, and touch are able to take advantage of you. But once a person has done away with fear, then the five desires that arise from these senses will not be able to get at him. So long as one has not done away with all such entanglements, the flowers will stick to him. But they will not stick to someone who has eliminated them all.” (Watson, The Vimalakirti Sutra)
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Lester Levenson on Pain and Pleasure
Pain is a prod to push us in the right direction. The right direction is to know that we are masters over body and mind. The more we look in the right direction, the more we find that which is right and true, and the less the pain.
There is more pain from holding on to the thought of pain than there is in the situation itself. If you let the world strike you, it will do so less cruelly than your own imagination.
Pain in the body is the sense of heightened awareness at a point. When a part of the body is being damaged, a mental alarm is turned on, called pain. If the mind answers the alarm fully, the pain turns off immediately, and the body mechanics go to work at that point and rapidly repair it.
Because of past unpleasant experiences, we have developed a fear of pain, and mentally try to flee from it, to escape it. This is not fully answering the alarm; it causes the pain to linger, and the body repair mechanics to slow down. If one knows this, one can eliminate pain and effect a rapid healing of the body. [Since it isn’t] easy to understand what “feeling the pain” means, try increasing the pain. This mentally places one in the pain and makes one feel it. On really feeling the pain it will immediately disappear and the body will rapidly heal.
Mental pain likewise can be eliminated by recognizing it and facing it. A painful memory, when faced fully and squarely, will resolve. Because of its unpleasantness, one tries to flee from it and escape it. This holds it in mind rather than resolves it, and thereby holds onto the pain.
Levenson, Lester (1998). The Ultimate Truth. Sherman Oaks, California: Lawrence Crane Enterprises, Inc.
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The Buddha’s Discourse on the Characteristics of Things Devoid of Self-Nature
“Feeling, O monks, is not-self; if feeling were self, then feeling would not lead to affliction and one should be able to will regarding feeling: May my feeling be thus, may my feeling not be thus. And indeed, O monks, since feeling is not-self, therefore feeling leads to affliction and one cannot will regarding feeling: May my feeling be thus, may my feeling not be thus.
“What do you think of this, O monks? Is feeling permanent or impermanent?”
“Impermanent, O Lord.”
“Now, that which is impermanent, is it unsatisfactory or satisfactory?”
“Unsatisfactory, O Lord.”
“Now, that which is impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to regard that as: This is mine, this I am, this is my self?”
“Indeed, not, O Lord.”
“Therefore, surely, O monks, whatever feeling, past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all that feeling must be regarded with proper wisdom, according to the Dharma, thus: This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.”
Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Characteristics of Things That Are Not Self. Translated from the Pali by N.K.G. Mendis (2007) (https://accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.059.mend.html)
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Meister Eckhart on confession
Whenever a man wishes to receive the body of our Lord, he may well approach without undue worry. But it is seemly and very profitable to confess first, even if one has no pangs of conscience, for the sake of the fruits of the sacrament of confession. But should a man have some compunction, and if his occupations prevent him from going to confession, let him go to his God, confess himself guilty with true repentance, and be at peace until he has a chance to go to confession. And if during this the thought or pangs of conscience for his sins disappear, he may consider that God has also forgotten them. One should rather confess to God than to man, and it is a duty to take one’s confession to God seriously and accuse oneself strictly. Nor should a man who intends to go to the sacrament lightly abandon this and leave it aside for the sake of some outward penance, for it is a man’s intention in his works that is righteous, godly and good. (Walshe, Volume III, p. 44)
The greater we ourselves feel our sin to be, the more ready God is to forgive that sin and to enter the soul to drive it out; for everyone is most eager to get rid of what hurts him most. So, the more and the greater the sins, the more immeasurably glad and the quicker God is to forgive them, the more so since they are more hateful to Him. And then, when this divine repentance lifts itself up to God, all sins have vanished in God’s abyss more quickly than I can blink an eye, and they are completely destroyed as if they had never been, provided the repentance is complete. (Walshe 2009, “The Talks of Instruction,” p. 501)
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Dwoskin, Hale and Levenson, Lester (2001). Happiness is Free. Sedona, Arizona: Sedona Training Associates.
Lawrence Crane Enterprises (1998). The Abundance Course Release Workbook. Sherman Oaks, California. (Abundance-course-workbook) (link to page with audio of guided release demo)
Levenson, Lester (2003). No Attachments, No Aversions: The Autobiography of a Master. Sherman Oaks, California: Lawrence Crane Enterprises, Inc.
Sedona Training Associates (2005). The Insider’s Guide to the Sedona Method. (download)
Tolle, Eckhart. “How to Stop the Voice in the Head.” https://youtu.be/CfyRMHtwJkk
Tolle, Eckhart (1999). Practicing the Power of Now: Essential Teachings, Meditations and Exercises from The Power of NOW. Novato, California: New World Library.
11 thoughts on “Letting go of the ego”