Following the advice of Golden Zen, I was planning to write letters to those who have wronged me as part of the process of “letting it go.” It’s a method that has worked well for me in the past, even if I do set off the smoke alarm when I burn them in the kitchen sink. Then I decided to write a template that other readers could use as a basis for their own letters. But I couldn’t get farther than this:

Dear [insert name or epithet here]:

Why? Because every dispute is particular to the people involved. Any template I composed would be so bland as to be useless.

Instead, I’d like to write about how to get to the point of actually having fewer problems to let go of. I am troubled, when someone says or does things I don’t like, by an inability to respond right then and there. In other words, to “say exactly what my heart prompts me,” as a fortune cookie once advised me.

I end up feeling like a coward, and to be quite blunt, I think it IS cowardly of me not to respond. I think it stems from a desire to be “nice,” but “cowardly” is the more accurate description.

(For many people, anger is deeply troubling. I have often felt guilty about simply being angry, as if the emotion itself were toxic. There’s a lot of self-help these days that says exactly that, that anger is toxic, but I don’t agree. I believe anger, like fear, is a useful emotion of warning.)

What happens next? I go home and stew about it, for days, sometimes weeks or months. If it bothers me enough, I will eventually bring it up again with the “offending party,” who has, by that time, completely forgotten about the incident that’s been vexing me.

And when I open my mouth to let out those first words, I can feel myself flush with the anger I’ve been holding in. My voice often quivers because I’m still so upset and I feel stupid about it.

I am convinced my life would go more smoothly if I would just spit out my anger or disgust or whatever, in as many words as necessary, and then sit back and see what happens. A few nasty fights would ensue, but the air would be cleared, and I wouldn’t have to beat myself up later because I was too chicken to react honestly.

And perhaps, as I became more comfortable with expressing myself right after I’m offended, I would become less vehement in my reactions. A woman once told me that I “go for the jugular.” That was a long time ago, in college to be exact, but I don’t believe I’ve changed as much as I should have. I’m certain that I treat people that way because I hold things in.

I realize the above is not exactly what Golden Zen meant by “letting go.” But I don’t believe letting go has to involve a Buddha-like renunciation of emotion (and I’m not saying that’s what she meant either). The lovely ritual on this blog involves describing what needs to be let go of—all I’m talking about is doing that more immediately.

I’m interested in what readers think. Am I just making excuses to yell at people? Is it gutless not to express yourself in the moment? Is it socially destructive to think every wrong must be addressed? Or even half of them? Should I just get over myself?

Leave A Comment

  1. Lori October 4, 2008 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    I’ve not studied Buddhism in depth, but I have heard that one of the principles is Right Speech. To know that your words will have an impact on others, and so to then be very mindful of what you say.

    And, at the same time, you need to be truthful with yourself and not stuff emotions down.

    Absolutely I don’t think you should renounce emotions — they are part of the human condition. But if I am mindful (which is not often enough!), I see them as ego reactions. They come when I see others as separate from myself. That’s the illusion — the separations. And what I am mad at in another must be something I have in myself in order for me to recognize and be triggered by it.

    It’s all so easy to talk about but so difficult to stay clear moment by moment.

  2. Beth October 5, 2008 at 8:03 am - Reply

    “And what I am mad at in another…” That’s a very good point. It is true that anger separates.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve said something in the moment and then gone over it word by word later. What I’m trying to express with this post is that I’ve never learned to do that in the moment. I think if I practiced speaking up in the moment, I’d get better about separating ego reactions from something that truly needs to be said.

    There’s something very peaceful about the feeling after expressing an emotion–even if the emotion itself is turbulent.

  3. Catherine October 5, 2008 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    I recently read (wish I could remember the source) that sometimes it’s best not to react to emotions immediately. At that moment we’re running so hot that we’re not in complete control. On the other hand, it’s not good to stuff it down and carry it for days/weeks/months. Personally, for all my brazen ways, I dislike conflict. Dislike is not strong enough.

    Recently, husband and I had a night out sans kids with another couple. We were playing Settlers which I had never played before. I listened to the eleven bajillion rules. As we were playing I tried to make a move that wasn’t allowed. Okay, I took my pieces back. And the husband berated me for not taking it seriously and not paying attention. I looked at my husband and said we’re leaving. And I did. I wish I had been able to say, hey back off it’s just a game and I’m sorry. But I couldn’t. The wife told me we had to resolve this conflict. I said I can avoid it forever.

    Maybe I’m not a good one to dole out advice.

  4. Beth October 5, 2008 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    Catherine, thanks for stopping by. Your comment really made me think about the best ways to handle conflict.

    I think everyone is qualified to give advice on this topic, because just about everyone has struggled with it. At least, I imagine there are a few people in the world who don’t struggle with conflict and how to express themselves in a fight. Maybe no such people exist.

    It is amazing how hard it is to say little things like “It’s just a game.” That’s really what I’m talking about–just express the emotion. Take a deep breath first, if possible. Steady my voice. If I’m feeling terrible rage, maybe just make a quick comment and let it go until later, when I’m more rational about it. But get something out there. Doing that on a regular basis would be a step forward for me, I think, because I keep so much to myself.

  5. Harmony October 6, 2008 at 10:25 am - Reply

    Thanks for the wonderful reference. You are right, letting go in the moment is THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY of staying in your own vitality and enjoying your life fully. That may mean expressing things that make you or the other person uncomfortable – but hey…they are going to make you uncomfortable anyway. I guess it’s in the how we go about it. And often, it’s not even about verbally confronting or addressing but an attitude of transparency…or as another reader put it, like being teflon! NO STICK. (good ritual too! thanks)

  6. Beth October 8, 2008 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    Teflon–I like that. If only it were easier to be that way. I’ll have to work on it.