Have you ever been fly-fishing? For me, fly-fishing is the most meditative type of fishing. Standing hip-deep in a stream, feeling the current move against you, feeling the sun on your face and the breeze tickling your hair against your cheek, working the rod, back and forth, back and forth, breathing, and letting the fly dance as you stand within the flowing stream—it’s all very tranquil and comforting for me. It’s not about catching a fish and more about being in a quiet place; your mind is at peace, a Zen space, in nature, and fully present to the moment. It’s a time to reflect on what we hold onto versus what we choose to let go. It’s about the philosophy of catch and release as a way of living your life.

Fly-fishing isn’t about a party; it isn’t a group activity; it’s the act of being intentional and conscious to the moment. The act of being present to the moment and letting go of everything else.

Catch and Release for Humans

The idea of a mental and emotional “catch and release” came to me as I was fly-fishing in Alaska. It’s an idea of how we notice something—a situation or experience. We notice the emotions bubbling to the surface, notice the ebb and flow of the current of energy those emotions move through the body, breathe into those emotions, and then just let them go. It is the notice + name + let go. I was having this very conversation with a client yesterday. We talk in platitudes about “Letting Go” or maybe “Let go and Let God.” These are great ideas, yet on a practical level, how do we accomplish this?

It’s difficult to be curious and scared, or anxious, or angry, at the same time. Curiosity opens our minds, while negative emotions and negative self-talk close us down. 

A few ideas come to mind. The first question you need to ask yourself is, “What am I holding onto that I want to let go of?” This is the first step.

Here’s the Deal

You don’t have to “let go” of everything. Some things you catch hold and cherish. Still, there are some things that holding onto ends up either hurting you or keeps you stuck. I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Let go or be dragged,” it’s fitting to much of what we hold onto. So, determining what you need to let go of is the first step.

Common “Let it Go” topics:

  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Fear
  • Negative Self Talk
  • Ruminating about the past
  • Blame
  • Perfection
  • Comparisons
  • Unrealistic Expectations
  • Being Liked by EVERYONE
  • Having EVERYONE agree with you
  • Being right

You may have others, please feel free to talk about those in the chat box below. Needless to say, we all can probably relate to one or more of this list. Remember, the power in letting go is that it allows you to be in the flow, to move forward, and to enjoy your time.


You may have noticed that certain situations or events can trigger intense emotions in you of joy or anger. The more intensely you respond to the situation, the more likely you are to get caught or hooked by it. When you get hooked by the emotion, either grabbing hold of it because it feels good, or tightening up around it because it is upsetting, hurtful, or overwhelming, either way, you’re hooked.

I imagine this is a very familiar idea in regards to negative emotions or situations. You perceive a threat, so you tighten up, your jaw clenches, your shoulders bunch, and your stomach might hurt. What you may not have noticed is that you can also be hooked by your attachment to good times. In high school, you were the golden boy, or the homecoming queen; you were the smartest, or the most popular. Or you’re lost in memories of your first idealized love, remembering the wonderful emotions of joy, hunger, and connection. All that adrenaline is coursing through your body, making you feel on top of the world. 

You’re not Alone

We all can certainly get hooked by terrible experiences; we can also get completely hooked by the positive ones. What is true, for you and me, is that anytime we are hooked by the past, whether it is past pain or joy, we are focused in a backward direction. And while savoring an occasional good memory isn’t a problem, if we get attached to it, in a clinging or grasping manner, it can drag us below the waterline just as much as the negative memories can.

When you are holding tightly to the past, you stop yourself from moving forward; you aren’t paying attention to all the new opportunities that might show up so you can have wonderful new experiences. If you’re sad and regretful about the past, it can drag you under even quicker.

Having clarity around what triggers you can give you insight into where your work will start. I personally have a trigger around feeling manipulated, as soon as I feel that feeling in a situation, I can become instantly defensive. The truth is, for me, that defensiveness leads to anger and I don’t need to follow that path. In recognizing that I am allowed to say, “no” I can let go of defensiveness and stand in my boundary. Saying “no” until such a time as I choose to say yes, or, even letting that go also.

Anyone can ask you for anything, you do not have to agree to the request.

The Dream

I had a client, Bill, who when he was young wanted to be a Pararescue (PJ) in the Air Force. It was his childhood dream. When he played with his toy soldiers, he had them jumping out of planes and helicopters; they were constantly rescuing his sister’s Barbie dolls, other army men, basically anything his imagination could rescue.

Bill, watched every show on PJs—Navy Seals, The Green Berets—it didn’t matter; his focus was completely on being one of these brave men. Then, when he turned eighteen, he went to his local Air Force recruiter and signed right up. No questions, he wanted to be a PJ, and he couldn’t imagine a world in which that wasn’t possible. When you join the military, there are a lot of tests that happen—for your eyesight, physical health, stamina, intelligence, etc.

The Reality

When Bill got his letter, letting him know what he was qualified to do, PJ wasn’t on the list. His health was great, he was in top physical shape, and he had the right mindset. But his eyesight was the problem—depth perception of all things. He would never be any of the elite paratroopers in any branch of the service. His dream was dead.

This was a life-altering experience for him, as you can imagine. He had spent so much of his life with a clear and passionate vision about what he was going to do, and what he would be in the world, only to have it blow away like dust in the wind. This is, of course, where Bill’s story could have gotten stuck. He could have gotten hooked by his disappointment, pulling his hair and gnashing his teeth over the loss. But inside of him, he accessed his indomitable spirit; he licked his wounds, he grieved the loss, and then he got on with the practice of creating a new vision.

The Letting Go to Move Forward

As Bill and I worked together, he opted to go full “catch and release” and forge a new dream. He explored why he had been so drawn to being a PJ. He discovered his essence and gifts centered on caring, helping, being of service, and being generous and courageous. The more he developed his insights into his sense of self, the easier it was for him to shift his long-held ideas about exactly how he was going to manifest his gifts into the world. Being a PJ was not the only road upon which he could boldly embrace his essence; he discovered that he qualified to work in the Medical Unit in the Air Force, so he then used his GI bill to become an EMT, ultimately joining a Fire Department in his hometown.

Whose to Know…

Catch and release shows up in many ways in people lives. Another example of this idea comes in the form of a Buddhist fable about a farmer and his son. It beautifully illustrates the wild pendulum swings that our thoughts about the rightness and wrongness, or the goodness and badness, of things can create. Unexpected benefits can come out of your trials when you learn to let go of your predetermined ideas about how life, things, or whatever ought to be, and you learn to be with what is.

The Farmer and His Son

On a day in early summer, the farmer and his son were working their field when their ox died. The son began to lament, “This is terrible! This is awful!” The farmer replied in a steady voice, “Who’s to know what’s good and who’s to know what’s bad?”

As the farmer and his son worked steadily through the summer, giving special attention to their fields and working them by hand, they grew a bumper crop that would fetch a good price at market, so the son sang out in a joyous voice, “This is wonderful! This is fantastic!” The farmer was calm and replied in a steady voice, “Who’s to know what’s good and who’s to know what’s bad?”

After the farmer and his son sold their bounty at market, they were able to purchase a horse. As they travelled home, the son fell off the horse and broke his leg. He cried out in pain, “This is terrible! This is awful!” As the farmer helped his son, he replied in a steady voice, “Who’s to know what’s good and who’s to know what’s bad?”

A week later, as the son lay in bed with his leg splinted, the Army swept through the region seeking all able-bodied young men. Of course, they couldn’t take the son because his leg was broken. When the army had moved on, the son exclaimed, “This is wonderful. This is fantastic!” The farmer was calm and replied in a steady voice, “Who’s to know what’s good and who’s to know what’s bad?”

What Will You Do?

The story continues, though I think you get the point. We are often tempted to swing wildly back and forth between ecstasy and agony, but what if our gifts show up in both? What if the lessons are in the obstacles and learning to stay steady in the light of the extremes?

Life Lived with Less Drama

If you slow down your responses, noticing when your pendulum is swinging, and allow it to slow and center itself, you may open your mind to the gifts that will then present themselves to you. Maybe the reason something comes along and we find ourselves needing to “let it go” is because it points to the lesson we need to get curious about. Stepping into the Catch and Release Model of Life, gives you choices. You are no longer stuck with a one-way ticket to being pissed off, hurt, resentful or [insert your words here]. You continue to be whole, capable, resourceful and creative, holding in your mind and hands the power to choose your path forward. 

Your Turn...

I would LOVE to hear from YOU!

  • What elements in your life do you want to be more catch and release?

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