Letting go. Unburdening yourself. Making space. Becoming unencumbered. Few would argue with the value of these behaviors, but how do we actually do it?
One initial step is to explore why we resist letting go
Often, we cling to what is familiar even when it is painful and burdensome. There are probably many reasons to explain why we do this, but I believe we hang on to thoughts and emotions that don’t serve us because there is a quality of feeling that we’re “in the right” about something or justified in our perspective. If you find yourself in this situation, I would invite you to ask yourself whether being right is better than being happy, and to loosen your attachment to your “rightness.”
We also grow attached to the stories we tell ourselves, even when those stories keep us from growing and evolving into who we could be. Do you find yourself burdened by past events or circumstances and feel ready to put them behind you? While our experiences unquestionably shape us, I would encourage you to not let your past define your present or future.
I’ve been avoiding the F-word until now, but when we talk about letting things go, I feel it is essential to talk about forgiveness. The problem with this term is that it is often equated with absolving someone of fault or saying that some past transgression is now okay.
While forgiveness can have this quality, the kind of forgiveness that I’m describing is a choice completely independent of resolving the issue or being okay with what happened. Dr. Dean Ornish sums this up quite clearly and succinctly:
“Forgiveness is letting go, not excusing the other person or reconciling with them or condoning their behavior, just letting go of your own suffering.”
Forgiveness is a process
No one expects this to be easy – it takes time to work through the complex emotions surrounding forgiveness. The invitation I’m offering is to move forward in this process of forgiveness by either initiating it, or giving it a nudge in the right direction if things have stalled.
It’s also worth mentioning that sometimes letting go can be immediate and spontaneous. If you are cut off in traffic, you can notice your reaction, be present with it, and then choose to let it go instead of feeding your thoughts and emotions and perpetuating them.
Why it’s worth the effort
If you’re reading this, you are someone interested in self-care, personal development, and being at your best for your families, friends, colleagues, and students. As someone with this inclination, you understand the value of doing whatever is needed to grow, evolve, and be well. Here are some of the benefits of letting go:
It is a way to own (or reclaim) your own power
When you let go of the instances of being wronged or victimized in some way, you are taking back the power from the circumstance or person. You don’t need to resolve the issue to move forward from it. If you did, you would be forever at the mercy of the circumstance or person. You can free yourself by letting go.
It is a way to get unstuck
There are times in our lives when we can stall and lose momentum. Letting go of the emotional baggage in our lives permits us to make space so we can “allow” whatever is needed to come into our lives for the next steps in our journey. We become more open to possibilities when we’re not clinging to the past.
It is a way to appreciate and be fully present
Letting go also allows us to have gratitude for what we have instead of bemoaning what we lack. It is difficult to truly appreciate our circumstances when we’re caught in the land of “what ifs” and “if onlys.”
As I mentioned earlier, it is not easy to just let things go all the time. Be gentle with yourself and know that it is a process that benefits from patience and practice. Without seeming too dire, though, I would like to gently remind you of something you already know: your time in this world is limited. The quality of the time you spend while you are here on Earth will be improved if you can bravely let go of whatever is holding you back and be as fully alive and present as possible.