1-Sentence-Summary: Letting Go of Nothing offers a simple, two-step practice for making peace with any situation and thus finding inner calm and happiness, explaining mindfulness in a way that is relatable, concise, and unpretentious.
Read in: 4 minutes
Favorite quote from the author:
The wise fool Nasreddin is a 13th-century folk hero. Why both wise and a fool? Because while street-smart, sometimes Nasreddin is too clever for his own good.
In Letting Go of Nothing, Peter Russell shows why: One night, while Nasreddin is out looking for his key under a streetlamp, a stranger joins to help him. They both dig in the dirt, until the stranger asks, “Where did you lose it?” “In my house,” Nasreddin says. “Then why are you looking for it out here?” “Because,” Nasreddin goes, “there is more light out here.”
It’s easy to laugh at Nasreddin, but when it comes to our happiness, aren’t we doing the same thing? “We look for it in the world around us because that is the world we know best,” Russell says. We try to change our environment and gather things and achievements, yet none of it truly makes us happy.
Meanwhile, our inner world is like the Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter: mysterious, foggy, sometimes outright dark. Often, we don’t even dare go there. But “the key to feeling better lies within” — and that key is the practice of letting go.
Here are 3 lessons from the book to help you be more present, calmer, and find inner peace:
- We struggle with letting go because we look at it as another to-do on our list.
- There are 2 parts to letting go: letting in and letting be.
- Emotions always come with stories, and we must let go of both to find peace.
Let’s discover what it takes to let go of “no-thing” — the things that aren’t things at all!
Lesson 1: Letting go is hard because we view it as another thing to do instead of stopping the doing altogether.
Last month, a business partner told me I’d only receive half of my affiliate commissions. “Terms are changing.” At first, I felt cheated. Angry. Ready to explode. After I focused on something else for a bit, however, I calmed down. Our partnership still made money, so why ruin a good thing? I told them to send the money, and that was that.
Similarly, Russell was bothered by his partner’s seeming stubbornness for days. Only once he asked, “Is there another way of seeing this?” did a new perspective spontaneously emerge. He found empathy and moved on.
The word “relax” literally means “to be loose again,” Russell explains — and that’s not something we can do by further tightening our muscles, be it physically or mentally! “We can’t ‘do’ letting go, however hard we try. We have to cease the ‘doing’ of holding on.”
When we’re trying to let go of a grievance, an expectation, or an attachment, we can’t think it away. We need to change our inner landscape, then let it fade away on its own. “We are not letting go of things themselves as much as the way we see them,” Russell says.
Remember letting go as “stopping to hold on,” and you’ll have taken the first step to making a hard practice easier.
Lesson 2: The practice of letting go consists of “letting in” and “letting be.”
Maybe you’ve heard this joke: A man goes to the doctor, presses on his thigh, and says it hurts. He presses his arm, his chest, and his nose. “Doctor, everywhere I press, it hurts! What should I do?” And the doctor only says: “I suggest you stop pressing.”
If your shoulder hurts every time you tilt your head, what is your inclination? To stop tilting your head! Avoiding pain is a natural reflex but often the wrong reaction. Instead, whether it’s a shameful memory or a tight back, we must first “let in” the experience, Russell suggests.
With your shoulder, you might tilt your head just a little — enough to tolerate the pain and start observing it. Get curious. What’s really going on? Is it a sharp, stinging feeling? Or a dull and blunt one?
This leads to the second step of letting go: letting be. Once you’re allowing yourself to feel the pain fully, don’t try to change it or wish it away. Accept it. Befriend it. Soon, you’ll notice the experience shifting, despite you not doing anything.
With physical pain, your body might even automatically adjust to accommodate it — thus making it go away altogether. Likewise, we might notice our sadness also comes with joy, or that while being ridiculed in the past sucked, it needn’t have control over us in the present.
What’s that saying? “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” “The pain is the physical sensation,” Russell writes. “The suffering, on the other hand, comes from our aversion to the pain.”
Whatever pain you are facing, first let it in, then let it be — and thus you’ll let it go.
Lesson 3: Every emotion comes with a story, and to deal with it, we must let go of both.
All emotions come with a story, Russell says. “Try to feel angry, sad, jealous, embarrassed, excited, awed, or any other emotion without thinking about the past or future — that is, without telling yourself a story. You can’t. Without the story it doesn’t exist.”
If you were once scammed out of a big sum of money, you now won’t trust easily. When you have the chance to invest into a great opportunity, even if it passes your checks, you still might not proceed.
To move forward, you’ll need to apply the 2-step letting go process to both your feeling of distrust and the story you tell yourself about it:
- Let in the feeling. Observe your lack of trust. Is your body telling you something important? Or does the feeling merely resemble a bad memory?
- Let the feeling be. Sit with your distrust. Do you start doubting it? Does it fade away? Even if it stays as it is, that can be helpful too.
- Let in the story. Is there anything questionable about your “I can’t trust anyone” story? What are you telling yourself that makes everyone seem untrustworthy?
- Let the story be. Sit with your original story. Is there discomfort? Perhaps you want to alter the story. You can! And maybe that new story has room for good investment opportunities after some due diligence.
Wherever there’s an emotion, there’s also a story. Let in both, then let them be, and watch your relationship with the pair transform. Emotions want to “emote” — to move out — and the easiest way to let them do that is to get out of the way.
Letting Go of Nothing Review
Letting Go of Nothing is a short, simple, and unpretentious guide to becoming more present and at peace. Beyond only a handful of exercises, there’s some light theoretical context and lots of examples. If you enjoyed Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, you’ll love this one!
Who would I recommend our Letting Go of Nothing summary to?
The 15-year-old who gets bullied in school because of her weight, the 38-year-old stressed out startup founder, and anyone who frequently holds grudges in their relationships.