The process of letting go emotionally is harder than dropping something

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At some point in our lives, we have all been told that we must “let go” sometimes. When it comes to letting go in a literal sense the task it quite easy; however, letting go in a conceptual manner has a much heavier connotation. Giving up anything is always an emotionally challenging process, but everyone must let go of certain aspects of their lives to reach peace of mind —or in Buddhist terms, nirvana. This information should come as no surprise. However, I write to you not to reiterate the importance of sometimes letting go, but instead to emphasize the immense focus and effort required to perform such a necessity.

The example I describe can be applied to letting go of just about anything, but for the sake of this article, I will stick to one object. One day, you decide to let go of, give up, completely forget about or in other words, eradicate the use of your iPhone. The first step is to simply physically let go of your phone. To do so, your brain will send nerve signals to the muscles cells in your fingers triggering the actin and myosin filaments to contract your finger muscles so you can release the phone. Easy enough, yet this simple task becomes much more stressful when you decide to let go of your phone over the railing of a cruise ship. This is where the conceptual piece comes into play.

Our brains work in a unique way that allow us to consistently produce mental images of physical objects that are not physically present. So, if one day you decide that your phone is causing you so much anxiety and you need to give it up for good, not only must you eliminate the presence of the physical phone itself, but you must also rid your conscious mind of the reconstructed mental images of the phone that seem inevitable. To physically let go of your phone is not emotionally burdensome because the fingers you used to drop it do not process human emotion. But in the brain, we routinely form mental images of ourselves using our phones to recreate the emotional response we feel when we actually use our phones for pleasure.

To state the obvious, it is far easier for us to let go of physical objects than the mental images we generate of them. Unfortunately, both are equally important if we want to eliminate the emotional burden caused by the object in the first place. One explanation for this is observed when you choose to give up your iPhone after realizing it’s causing you depression and anxiety, but you still constantly watch your friends using their iPhones: the general response is to immediately imagine yourself using your own phone too so you feel emotional comfort. Then, you quickly realize that unlike your friends, you physically gave up your phone so you cannot recreate those pleasurable emotions to the same degree as them, which causes you to become anxious and depressed. Therefore, mentally reconstructing the image of using your phone generates the same emotional response as if you were physically using your phone, but this time indirectly. Although the negative emotions that surface because of these mental images may feel less intense than experiencing the initial negative emotions, they still contribute to the root of the problem, which is addiction.

Just as there is no simple solution to curing addiction, there is no way to simply let go of something, or someone; we can only try our best. However, it starts with recognizing that when it comes to motivation for a harmful behavior, no distinct line exists between being mentally motivated and physically motivated to do the behavior. To eradicate adverse emotions, we first must eliminate our motivation to act out the malicious behavior, and then eliminate our thoughts about acting out the same behavior, which is easier said than done.

When it comes to humans, learning to think about absolutely nothing to become mindful is life’s toughest obstacle, yet it the best way to let go and cure addiction. If you want to live a lucid life, you must let go of your mental thoughts first. No matter how happy, how sad, how unique, or how generic we think we are, none of our thoughts will ever matter because, just as Siddhartha Gautama realized, we all eventually die. My advice is to never focus on what is going on inside your own head, or anyone else’s head for that matter. Instead, let your ears, skin, nose, mouth and eyes perceive nature as it presently and dynamically exists, and do nothing more. Just let all go until all stops.

Anthony Ferranti is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at aferranti@umass.edu.

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