The Sedona Method – Learning to Let Go of Limiting Emotions

The Sedona Method is perhaps best thought of as a form of New Age psychotherapy designed to free the individual from emotional baggage. Unlike many forms of therapy, however, it is largely self-administered, rather like mindfulness (which it resembles). To some, this method is a helpful tool for releasing accumulated pain, for others nothing but a pseudo-scientific money-spinner.


The Sedona Method was created by an American named Lester Levenson. His story has a slightly melodramatic feel, which may make some suspicious. In 1952, Levenson, a 46-year-old from New Jersey, had a severe heart attack that nearly killed him. His doctors could offer no help, and he was sent home to die. With nothing to do except lie in bed and stare out of the window, Levenson began thinking over the various philosophies and therapies he’d encountered during his life and concluded that none would help him now. Looking for a way out of his emotional and physical pain, he considered those moments in which he had felt most happy and realized that they all involved a loving focus on someone other than himself. He entered deeply into this selfless state and released all negative feelings. In 1990, four years before his death, Levenson claimed never to have visited a doctor again. In 1994, he died of cancer, though, according to some, he was free of pain and fear throughout the illness.

After Levenson’s death, his followers split into separate groups and movements. The largest are run by Larry Crane and Hale Dwoskin. Crane, once an agent to the Hollywood star Joan Collins, set up a “releasing school” in Southern California, promoting a “releasing technique.” Dwoskin continued running things in Phoenix, Arizona, where Levenson had been teaching when he died (along with a devotee and assistant named Virginia Lloyd). Today, the Sedona Method has spawned a movement that includes talks, seminars, workshops, and CD recordings.

Holding On

Proponents of the Sedona Method argue that our natural state is happy and joyful. To put it another way, it isn’t normal to be unhappy (though many assume that it is). We believe it is natural because we are conditioned to hold on to the very things that cause us pain. Why we do such a self-destructive thing is debatable. Some are addicted to drama and hope to attract attention. Others are addicted to pain. Many people cling on to unpleasant memories or emotions in hopes of finding an answer, as if they can never quite reconcile themselves to the fact that it happened and cannot rest until they explain it away.

The answer could also lie in evolutionary psychology. Some believe that we evolved to hold on to bad memories. Only by remembering them could we be sure to avoid them in the future. Thus natural selection may have favored those who clung on to trauma (who remembered the place in which an animal attack occurred, for example, or the individuals who caused them physical pain, the rocky outcrop where a rival tribe ambushed them etc). After all, those who could recall painful or dangerous things would have avoided them in future and thus survived longer.

According to practitioners, however, we spoil our natural, happy state by holding on in this way. And “holding on” is a key phrase. Negativity accumulates, piling up like bad debt and obscuring joy. At this point, it is important to stress that the Sedona Method is not the same as positive thinking. On the contrary, positive thinking is dismissed as little better than pretence. And pretending to feel something you do not rarely works. Positive thinking could also be likened to denial or even repression, neither of which are healthy or to be encouraged.

Letting Go

“Letting go” is really the essence of the Sedona Method. Levenson seems to have believed that letting go of accumulated pain and negativity saved him from further heart trouble. In a sense, the Sedona Method could be likened to unearthing and cleaning buried treasure. Years of grime and dirt have accumulated, obscuring the beautiful shiny gold or silver that lies beneath. By removing this, you expose what was always there.

To begin with, you must acknowledge that you are not your thoughts or feelings. All those things you believe about yourself are just one perspective, and a perspective conditioned by the experiences you have had and the people you happen to have met. Again, the Sedona Method closely resembles mindfulness, which also begins by recognizing that you are not your thoughts, or, rather, that thoughts are just something your mind does.

The Sedona Method further teaches that, though you may have been conditioned to hold on to this negativity, you also have the ability to let it go. And this is the essence of the method: by letting go of negative thoughts, feelings, emotions, beliefs etc you will feel happier and stronger. And you are free to do so – at any moment. Mindfulness practitioners often use the sky metaphor, comparing thoughts and emotions to dark clouds passing across a blue sky. The clouds come and go, but the sky is always there. The Sedona Method emphasizes the brightness of that clear sky. Our natural state is not just like a blue sky but like a blue sky filled with dazzling sunshine!

Practising the Method

If you wish to apply the method to your own life, begin by establishing the right mindset. According to practitioners, you must allow yourself to want freedom more than you want approval, control, or security. Again, many compare this with Buddhism, where grasping and wanting are the heart of the problem. We simultaneously want to hold on to negative things and be free of them. In the Sedona model, we are blown about by four basic wants. First, we want to be in control. Second, we want approval, from family, friends, neighbors etc. Third, we want basic security and safety. And, finally, we want both separation and unity; paradoxically, we want to be left alone and accepted into the group.

When you consider these wants in more depth, they all come down to a basic sense of fear. We want these things because we are afraid. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell also concluded that fear was a fundamental cause of harm. As he put it, with trademark precision, “fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” If you are free of fear, you do not have the same compulsive need to control, escape, or win approval.

So you must make a conscious decision to release yourself and be free. Focus on something that is causing you pain. Let’s say your mother walked out on you as a child and you still carry a sense of shame and rejection. Now ask yourself whether you could let it go. Recognize how much power you have over these feelings: you could allow them to be there, welcome them, or drop them completely. It is up to you. Hold that sense of rejection in your consciousness. Just allow it to be there, observing it as you would observe a photograph from the past. Now say out loud, “can I let this go? Am I willing to let this go?” If the answer is yes, and you truly believe it, ask one final question, “when am I going to let this go? now? tomorrow? next month?”

Make this sense of release a daily and constant practise. Remember, releasing yourself, or letting go, is natural, at least according to the Sedona Method. Feelings (which practitioners sometimes speak of as though they were living, conscious things) merely wish to be felt and then pass away. You choose to hold on to them, and you can choose to let them go.

Again, be careful not to confuse letting go with repression or denial. Imagine, for example, that you suffer from panic attacks and decide to use the Sedona Method to help you cope. Resisting the panic is futile. And pretending to feel happy when you don’t will make things worse. Instead, allow it to be. In fact, drop all resistance and sink into the feeling, allowing the panic to engulf you. But do so in the knowledge that this is just something your body is doing and something you will ultimately be rid of. You welcome it, allow it to be there, and then allow it to go its way. Think of the Taoist image of a flower dropped into a fast-moving stream. There is no resistance, no clinging, and no grasping.

Like most systems of this kind, proof lies in the effect it has. Only once you have tried it for yourself, expecting neither success nor failure, can you honestly judge.

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