A few weeks ago I snapped this photo outside of my sister’s house, and shared it on social media.
I captioned it with this quote: “the trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let dead things go.”
The phrase “let it go” used to really irritate me because I didn’t know what it meant or exactly how to do it. And there are times when I still struggle with it a lot.
As an analytical person, I need visual aids and practical steps to help me understand and accomplish things. It’s the virgo in me. I prefer finding ways to compare those lofty ideas with things I can really wrap my head around. In my mind, I connect the act of letting go to that time I was finally able to release both hands from my handlebars while riding my bike. And yes, “letting go” is what happens when I frantically drop a hot pan on the stove after realizing one of the oven mitts has a hole in it. That’s some serious let go if you’ve never experienced it.
But the kind of letting go that involves a conscious choice versus a physical action, can be extremely challenging and scary. It can also be painful as hell if it’s not something you’re ready to do: especially if your heart and mind are singing two different songs. Letting go in this sense is releasing all doubt, worry, and fear about a situation, person or outcome. It’s releasing anything that disrupts your happiness and no longer serves you on your journey.
Letting go is a choice to decide that you will no longer ruminate on things that are out of your control, and focus on what you can control, instead.
Letting go creates space for fresh beginnings: stripping you of what happened yesterday, and enabling the doors of brand new opportunities to open today.
Letting go is about accepting what is happening right now and not worrying about what will come up tomorrow.
It involves much more than just saying you have let go. It’s an internal process that must happen for you to truly feel better and get on with life in a healthy way.
Throughout this year, I’ve been having lots of conversations with people and reading an assortment of spiritual books on exactly how to let go. I’ve come up with these five steps that helps me better understand how to do this thing and could possibly help you too:
As a gentle reminder, it’s important that we honor where we are on our individual journeys of letting go. This is a process that may be more challenging for some than others. Know that wherever you are right now, is okay.
1) Mind control–The human mind is the most complex tool we own and can either be our biggest ally or worst enemy. Having the power to let things go starts there. Making an intentional choice to no longer let past issues and people who hurt us control the mind is what can break the cycle of unhealthy rumination on these thoughts, ideas and feelings.
For me, what ends up happening when I let my mind go down the dark road of rehearsing painful experiences is I began to create a story about myself that typically follows the lines of “I’m not good enough”, “I’m unlovable” and “no one cares about me”. The more I think about it, the more my mind creates space to allow feelings of hurt, anger and frustration to fester and completely ruin my mood.
Although I’m still working on this, it’s important to constantly be in observance of your thoughts without attaching yourself to what it is you’re thinking. The reality is your thoughts don’t define your value. You are not the summation of your past experiences. Just because something doesn’t work out, doesn’t mean you are now labeled as a failure or you’re incapable of receiving what you desire in life.
The more we can simply watch our thoughts come and go without attaching our identity to them, the easier letting go becomes.
Thoughts are nothing more than thoughts. What we decide to do with them is what can either make or break us.
2) Getting it all out–Having the ability to express your emotions in a healthy way is another step to processing things before deciding to let them go. As a writer, this is also a must for me because it serves as a form of catharsis and creative release. I like to spend time journaling out my thoughts and emotions. While obsessing over the details of what happened in the past is never the healthy route to take (we all do it), it’s important to analyze why you’re feeling a certain way, and how you can show up differently the next time. There are so many breakthroughs to uncover through self reflection. Other ways to express yourself include talking to a trusted friend, family member or therapist. I have discovered that seeking out counseling is one of the best ways to receive objective advice and support throughout my journey of healing and learning to let go.
Sometimes, friends and family sit so close to a particular situation that they’re unable to provide unbiased support the way in which you need it. And, sometimes they don’t always offer the best advice. Sometimes it’s not always that easy to let something go. Especially if there are old narratives that are lodged somewhere in your subconscious mind from previous experiences. When we continue holding on to grief, anxiety, pain, and resentment from the past without fully working through each situation, all of these experiences, patterns, and narratives accumulate inside the heart, making it even more difficult to let things go. When this is the case, it’s so important to seek out therapy to help you work through and heal from the inside out.
3) Acceptance–We all want to know why something ended the way it did or how someone could end up hurting us so badly without having any concern about how it negatively impacted us. We believe that we deserve the right to these answers. We want some level of understanding. The painful truth is, we don’t always get that “closure” we think we ought to have. Not everyone will explain why they did something or even apologize when they are at fault. And I know firsthand that this reality stings a lot. Like someone pouring salt in an open wound. Not getting solid answers and having to move on with life without closure is no fun, but it’s something many of us have to do at one point or another.
Fully accepting the situation as it is without constantly wishing it would be different is really the only way to getting on the road to being okay. And this isn’t only about accepting situations. We have to start accepting people for who they are as well and believing them when they show us their true character. Because they aren’t lying.
4) Forgiveness–To truly let go and move on, sometimes you have to forgive people who aren’t even sorry. Sometimes you have to accept an apology you’ll never receive. That takes so much strength and courage and humility. While it may seem unfair and backwards, sometimes, that’s how the chips will fall. There’s nothing worse than holding onto resentment about someone or something for years, while they happily move on with life. And the reality is, doing this only hurts you. The most important thing is that we also have to learn to forgive ourselves. This can be done by writing a letter to yourself, replacing self-loathing with compassion, and deciding to make better choices next time.
5) Stay present–The present is all we have. We can’t go back and fix the past, and what happens in the future isn’t here yet. We must make an effort everyday to remember that and allow ourselves to open up and enjoy what is unfolding right in front of us: all parts of the journey both easy and hard, good and bad.
A friend of mine once said to me “you are right where you are supposed to be”, in the midst of a very rough season. My initial reaction back to that was filled with frustration and confusion. I didn’t want to accept the fact that he was probably right. Because life is full of so many teachers and lessons. Sometimes you will be the teacher, and other times you will be forced to learn a hard lesson. This year has found me in the role of the student on so many occasions: pushing and encouraging me to let go of old narratives and painful pasts.
This year has inspired me to work harder at letting go of self-loathing, insecurities, hurtful people, unrealistic expectations and timelines, comparing myself to others, and obsessively worrying about things far beyond my control.
I owe it to myself to be more kind to me.
Everyday, I am consistently reminded to embrace the present and all it has to offer: a new opportunity to begin again. No matter how much I may stumble on this journey of letting go, the present is always here to remind me that I don’t have to stay stuck on yesterday, or worry about what will happen tomorrow.
I trust that this opportunity is open for you to receive it too.
Everyday we have a choice to keep holding on just a little bit longer, or conclude that today is the day we will finally let go.
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