“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~Anais Nin
Do you remember a time when you wanted to crawl under the bed and stay forever?
Perhaps you’d been dealing with chronic pain and anxiety, had recently experienced divorce or the loss of a loved one, maybe even lost a job or two. I had experienced all of these things in just a few short years, and, judging by the loud knocking as I hid, was about to have my car repossessed, too.
I called my dad and told him I was a bit depressed. “Don’t be,” he counseled.
“Don’t be?” I repeated. “Oh, okay, I’m fine then.”
“Yep, like that.”
This way of dealing with the painful feelings, of ignoring and burying them as we force ourselves ever onward, is often expected of us.
It’s natural—scary things happen to us in life. We fall down unexpectedly, we fight, we fail, we are betrayed, abandoned, overwhelmed by loss. The subconscious starts enfolding us in protective layers when we need them so that we can move forward with life.
But what happens when we don’t let go once the need has passed?
Believe it or not, emotions, especially those that needed to be dealt with long ago, can become toxic little bombs tucked secretly inside our muscles, our organs, running through our blood. According to Caroline Myss, “Our biography becomes our biology.”
These emotional layers can build up as extra weight, angry outbursts that seem to come from nowhere, aches and pains, unhealthy habits, an itchy feeling that something isn’t right, depression, anxiety, perhaps even disease.
At first, my layers were mostly hidden from the world. The evidence of a tumultuous childhood showed up only when I was pushed too far by something little but snapped with the resentment of a hundred years, the times when I backed down easily instead of standing my ground, the nights when I had that extra drink to ease social anxiety. Let’s call this the invisible, sneaky layer of plastic wrap.
Then came the thicker materials: burlap, leather, drywall, the hair shirt, the ironclad ball and chain around the ankle. Leather made me look tougher as I moved to Texas to hide from my parents’ divorce. But moving did not help and neither did the armor.
My steps through life grew heavier, depressed. My body grew heavier, too. I jokingly called it my “layer of pizza” resulting from a car accident at age twenty-three: chronic back pain and herniated discs with no relief in sight. The chocolate was a great listener; the cheesy bread totally got it.
When my dad passed away suddenly, just hours after we’d been laughing on the phone together, my anxiety was so high, my wall built up so tall, that I could not leave the house without medication.
I coped with Netflix marathons, hiding from the world and hoping that life would just gently go away, leave me alone, let me pretend to be a character in someone else’s story.
To the world, I looked unscathed, but the layer of pain remained ever-present. If I had to add another layer, I felt I would never move again.
I heard an urgent whisper, “Let go, let go, let go…”
Desperate, I decided to try “that crazy yoga stuff.” And that’s when I learned how to acknowledge the layers, let the tears melt them away, and send them on their happy way to help those who needed them more.
A layer or two of “pizza,” the medication, the unexplained and unidentifiable sadness, started disappearing. Lighter, I discovered a little more self, a gleam of joy, a dream or two remembered.
I will not lie to you—the rainbows and unicorns come after the hard work. First, you must face the emotion that was so terrible, you instead let the layer of scales and fangs grow in. But when that unicorn comes galloping down the rainbow to gently peel the scales away forever, well, that’s worth it, my friend.
There is no telling how many times we need to go through this process. Once we’ve sorted through and let go of all the “stuff,” life is still happening, constantly changing no matter how tightly we are gripping. We must always re-evaluate: What am I clinging to? What layers are holding me back?
Practices to Shed Layers of Old Feelings
What emotions or habits might be holding you back? Without the pressure of forcing yourself to give anything up immediately, simply allow yourself to imagine what your life could look like if you did let go of negativity. How does your ideal self look and feel while realizing your wildest goals?
For me, journaling was really tough at first. Sometimes I would just make lists to get ideas flowing. Some of my entries started, “Today sucked. I feel bad.” Oooh, award winning. But as the words flowed, the emotions would sneak out, begging to be named: “but yesterday, my boss said…and it reminded me of dad and I miss him…” OH. There it is.
When I first meditated, I set a three-minute timer at my desk at work during my lunch break. Now it has grown into my favorite twenty minutes of the day. The small action of stopping to check in with yourself, even for a moment or two, can be a very powerful key into learning more and letting go.
3. Find a healing practice for yourself.
Whether it’s a local yoga class, massages, regular exercise like running, a Reiki treatment, a day at the spa, or even a virtual course on chakras, intuition, or any type of self-healing, setting aside time for self-care melts the layers by adding a little more love and self-respect, leaving less room for the doubt and worry. Combine a few of those in the same week and see how you feel!
My favorite go-to practice is taking a bath with essential oils, candles, and soothing music when I need to re-charge. If I’m short on time, a simple ten-minute foot soak in the tub, with salts and some lavender, works just as well.
4. Take a break from the media.
I know, it’s unthinkable. What if we miss everything? As if the expectations of others weighed with our own grief weren’t enough to navigate, now social media adds a new layer of hurt, comparison, and confusion. Just when you think you’re over it, you can be “blocked” or stalked or publicly assailed. It’s even more in our face, so to speak.
When I had a hurtful disagreement with a friend, I decided to take a month away from Facebook to heal. It really helped. I also step away when I notice I’m starting to compare my life with the glossy “this is who I want you to see me as” photos of others. And guess what? I still have friends when I return every time, in addition to a fresh perspective and better feelings about myself.
Real friends will still be there. It can even be as simple as a time limit. You can do it.
5. Read uplifting books.
Choose books that lift your spirit and open your mind, especially those that instruct on letting go and being present. This was a game-changer for me; I could feel layers just floating away from the soothing advice of those who’ve been there, too.
When you laugh until you cry, no doubt a layer is disappearing. Releasing emotions doesn’t always have to be hard work. Play can offer the relief we need, too. So can dancing in your living room to Enrique Iglesias or to your guilty pleasure, flail like no one’s watching jam.
So why bother with peeling back the layers?
Our layers have layers, born of layers that were layered over layers. This work is like unwrapping a mummy, and as you go deeper, you learn things you never could have imagined. You may even see some scary stuff you weren’t expecting. Better out than in, though, right?
And guess what’s hiding underneath? The truest, most lovely version of yourself waiting to blossom and shine.
Shedding layers image via Shutterstock