I once watched a man about to take his first lesson in water-skiing. He was on his back bobbing up and down in the water, ski’s pointing up. From the speedboat, someone was calling out some last-minute instructions. Then, with a roar, the boat took off.

At first it looked like the man would not make it. But slowly and unsteady he emerged from the water. I could see him smiling. Then, in almost the reverse motion of how the man had risen out of the water, he disappeared back into it. The speedboat raced back around to pick him up. I watched to see his head pop up above the water, but none appeared. Then I saw why. The man was still holding on to the rope. He was being dragged behind the very boat that was trying to rescue him. When at last, the boat stopped, a nearly drowned man’s head appeared above the surfaces. “When you fall you need to let go of the rope,” I heard the man on the boat shout.

I can just imagine what the man went through. He held onto the rope most probably because he didn’t know what else to do during those frightening moments he was being dragged through the water. For him, the thought of letting go wasn’t an option at that moment. Instead, his mind was completely crowded with competing thoughts and feelings of panic and dread. The instinctive and intelligent thought that was telling him to let go couldn’t get through.

The lesson? Let go or be dragged.

A simple and, above all, natural truth. As natural as a tree who knows it need to shed the heavy, sun-ripened fruit that clings to his branches. Why? Because a tree, in fact all living things, needs to drop what is no longer vital.

And just as much, letting go, is required for living a free and happy life. Letting go of everything that drags us through unpleasant relationships and events, letting go of those self-destructive thoughts and feelings that can drown us in guilt, worry and false self-concerns.

But merely wanting to let go of unhappy circumstances or irritating emotional thoughts is not enough. Wants are desires, and desires replace one another like ants waiting in line at a cracked sugar bowl. That is why it is important for us to deeply understand what letting go is all about.

Let’s start with what we do know, or at least, with what we should know about letting go.

Letting go has nothing to do with giving up something, or the external rearrangement of activities, or struggling to be free from something or someone. In fact, letting go has nothing to do with the renouncing of anything outside ourselves. Never has.

We all know what it is like to be sure we finally got rid of something stressful, only to find ourselves in a similar stressful situation moments later. Dropping this person and picking up another doesn’t end the loneliness that drives us into dead-end relationships. This isn’t letting go. We have only managed to put the emptiness on hold.

Changing jobs to get away from someone or something that sets us off doesn’t free us from our conflict. This just delays the inevitable angry feelings that always surface again whenever we feel threatened.

No, letting go is not an outside job, it is strictly speaking an inside job.

Within each of us there is an expansive world of thoughts and feelings whose movements determine how we perceive and experience the world outside of us. While this inner-world of thoughts and feelings may not directly bring us what we see, it does profoundly influence how we see our world of relationships and events. In other words, we are seeing the exterior but experiencing the interior.

So, why then try and change your outer world when it is only a reflection of your inner life? It is therefore foolish to think that by changing your unhappy surroundings will bring an end to your unhappiness. This has never worked, and it never will, because the unpleasant or unhappy condition was not the event but your reaction to it.

It means: you can let go of your resentful feelings toward your job, because it isn’t what you are doing but the way you are thinking. You can let go of trying to change other people, because you are what is bothering you about them.

Most of all, you can let go of the impossible self-punishing task of thinking that you are responsible for the way the world turns.

The only world you are responsible for is your inner-world: the world of your thoughts and feelings, impulses and desires. Your happiness is therefore determined by how regularly you can let go of unhappy and self-destructive thoughts.

Letting go not only holds the keys for ending what is unwanted, but locked within this truth is the accessing of your true power, the power of calm.

But you need to first let go of the rope. That which binds you to your old story, your old pain and shame.

Never forget this important truth: let go or be dragged.