He had lost his way in a miasma of angst, doubt, self-pity, and insecurity.

What do you say to someone who has come to a place where he feels he has worked so hard and been so poorly rewarded for all his efforts? What do you say to someone who feels trapped and overwhelmed by his feelings, who feels so stuck and can see no way out of the dark tunnel in which he feels trapped?

1. Distinguish between feeling and story.

Almost always feeling and story are going on at the same time. They are not the same thing. Almost all feelings arise out of an incomprehensible tangle of forces. The reasons behind a feeling may well be lost in obscurity and are probably not all that important. Tracing the journey by which a feeling has arrived seldom resolves the feeling.

Feelings in themselves come and go. They are inherently transient. It is not the feelings themselves that push us into stuck places.

It is the stories we attach to our feelings that cause those feelings to take a dark and destructive turn. It is the stories that concretize feelings and cause them to become a dead weight in our stomach.

We attach stories to our feelings in an attempt to alleviate the pain we are experiencing. We hope the story will make sense of our experience and thus ease our suffering. But, no matter how good or even how true they may be, stories never stop pain; they grow the pain. The stories we tell ourselves cause the pain to become more deeply entrenched and to expand beyond whatever was their original cause.

2. We do not have to connect our feelings to a story.

Feelings can just be feelings. It is important to feel our feelings. Ironically stories actually hinder us from fully experiencing what we are feeling. Stories put a buffer between us and our feelings. The story removes us from the immediacy of what is going on.

We need to feel our feelings in our bodies; let them be. We need to experience our feelings as physical sensation. Find where in our body feelings are experienced and be present to the physical sensations.  When we attach no narrative to them, our feelings are able to come into proper proportion.

We do not need to build a grand tale of how hard life is, how much we have tried and how poorly we have been rewarded for our efforts. We do not need to tell ourselves that life is not fair and we should be more admired, respected, recognized. Stories are not necessary.

3. It is possible to let go of the story.

Having allowed our feelings to be fully and deeply felt, we can let go of the story we have attached to the feelings.

Letting go needs to happen over and over and over. Our stories are so familiar. They are always so close at hand. Some of the stories we tell ourselves we have been rehearsing in our brain for decades. They are deeply entrenched.

In a strange way we are attached to our stories. There is some degree of comfort in their familiarity. They give us a sense of identity – a false sense of identity – but at least it feels concrete. “I am the person who has been let down by life, hurt by others. I am the person who has not been adequately rewarded.” It feels as if my story tells me who I am.

It may not be possible to stop the stories; but as soon as we recognize that we have become tangled in a tale about life, we can let go of the thought and return to simply acknowledging the reality of what we are feeling. We can be present in our body and feel what we are feeling as a physical sensation.

Letting go is not denial, avoidance, or repression. Feelings are real and important; they need to be felt. In themselves feelings are neither good nor bad. They just are and we need to let them be. It is the stories, not the feelings we need to let go.