Dropping grudges, grievances will help us open up. Start by physically letting go

The first step toward opening up is letting go physically.

The first step toward opening up is letting go physically.

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Life has a way of hardening us.

Our hearts break, ideas set, and beliefs become more tightly held with age and life experience. As all this crystallizes, we close off more and more over time.

We often don't recognize this happening, but it’s common, and it takes a toll.

Closing off isn't an attribute of a growth mindset. It doesn't facilitate vulnerability or correlate with being a vibrant, optimistic person. It's the opposite. It stops us from really seeing each other. It gets in the way of understanding and prevents deeper connection. It inhibits genuine thriving all the way around.

Add to that: As we mentally and emotionally become more rigid, our bodies follow suit. That rigidity physically manifests. We grow increasingly tight, tense and inflexible. Our bodies shrink, round and harden.

But it is possible to go the other way. To experience heartache and setbacks and keep our hearts open. To learn more about life and the troubled ways of the world and still have an open mind. To maintain an open body, even as it changes over time. It feels counterintuitive and extremely uncomfortable to maintain openness when life doesn't go the way we think it should, but it's the best choice.

There's a passage in the Tao Te Ching that says, "In pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added. In the practice of the enlightenment, every day something is dropped."

Dropping the grudges, grievances, too tightly held beliefs and hurts that accumulate and we carry is what it takes to stay open. Doing so makes life lighter and brighter — it enlightens — our experience. And it doesn't have to be as hard as it sounds.

A cool thing that I've learned through my meditation practice is that letting go of all that stuff can actually start on the physical level, which makes it so much less daunting!

In other words, we don't necessarily need to dig into all our soft spots and vulnerabilities and force ourselves to release every gripe and pain point. Instead, we can focus on softening and opening our bodies, and allow the releasing process to naturally unfold from there.

Try this right now to get a feel for what I mean.

Take a deep breath and allow your shoulders to softly melt away from your ears. Relax all the muscles in your face. Loosen your jaw and feel how that brings a very subtle opening in your ears. Let your stomach muscles completely relax. Take one more deep breath and feel your whole body release, like you're turning a tension dial all the way down.

Notice how letting go of physical tension creates a visceral sense of openness. Pause for a moment and maybe close your eyes to feel that.

Body scan meditations go into this even further and help refine the skill, which is then particularly useful in challenging moments. That is, whenever negativity hits, it’s useful to consider: Could I soften (release tension in) my body right now?

To reiterate, this doesn't need to include any level of changing our thoughts or feelings. It's purely a physical letting go: relaxing scalp, un-crinkling forehead, softening cheeks, releasing shoulders, letting go in the belly, etc. This paves the way for a deeper opening, in time, when we're ready.

If and when this practice leads to feeling mentally or emotionally ready to go further, we can drop our angst by considering: What could this [challenge/experience] be here to teach me? Or if you like this one better: What would be the most loving next step? No need to force these though. If you don't feel up for them, no problem. In a lot of cases, just relaxing physically while experiencing a pang (of whatever it may be) is challenging enough.

Sometimes for me, it takes all my willpower to release physical tension, say, when I'm in a disagreement with my husband and what I really want to do is double down and drill in my rightness. In times like that, I try to remember that I’d ultimately rather have peace and a loving home than a win against my partner. I may go on and still make my point (or maybe not), but regardless, it comes out much better when I remember to soften in the process.

It takes time to build muscle memory and develop the skill of softening and opening, but it helps that every moment is actually an opportunity to practice counteracting that impulse to close off.

Beyond meditation and physically releasing in the heat of the moment, it's possible to be aware of sensation and angle for openness all the time — to have that awareness and connection constantly going in the background. It can become an attunement with our own energy field that heightens our level of consciousness and keeps us present and open all the time.

But without getting too lofty, the point is that this practice can go far.

So, for now, one step at a time. To get started, I’ve posted a free body scan meditation to give you a better taste for all this on marcisharif.com.
In the end, it all boils down to a point that's summed up by one of my favorite quotes. Michael Singer, author of a great book called "The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself," says "You are only limited by your ability to stay open."

What if we could build our ability to stay open? Could we take our limits off? I'm open to testing that out.

Marci Izard Sharif is an author, yoga teacher, meditation facilitator, and mother. In Feeling Matters, she writes about self-love, sharing self-care tools, stories, and resources that center around knowing and being kind to yourself. For her classes and more, go to marcisharif.com.