‘Let it go’. If only it was as easy as pulling down a lever.

(No, I’m not talking about that song. Although, I’m pretty sure I’ll be coming back to it before this post is out…)

Bad habit? Bad relationship? Bad thought? Let it go. Painful memory? Hurtful story? Negative belief? Let it go.

It’s great advice. In relationships in particular, letting go of those who abuse us (be it subtle or overt) is one of the pillars of self-love. We teach others how to treat us; if someone is unable to respect my boundaries and I, letting go of them from my life by walking away is paramount for my own self-care. 

But what is it, exactly? How or what is this mythical ‘letting go’? That’s the problem I always had. It’s like telling someone who’s an insomniac to ‘just fall asleep’ and, as any fellow insomniac knows, willing oneself to sleep just leaves you staring at the ceiling.

I didn’t start to understand until I heard it described like this: letting go means accepting that the past can’t be changed.

For me, so much of holding on is related to loneliness and rumination; that endless and unproductive loop of ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’, the one which can spring up at any time (especially when you’re staring at that damn ceiling). In trying to work out what went wrong and find the gold in something that otherwise feels pretty damn shit, we replay events and conversations in our head. So far, so good.

The danger comes from endless replays, a shift from ‘something went wrong’ to ‘I am wrong’, until hello downward mental spiral.

Given that neural pathways build the more they’re employed, it’s easy to imagine how a mental groove becomes a rut. So how do we let something go? It depends on what it is, natch. But here are a couple of ideas:

  • Letting go of the past

I believe we’re story-seeking creatures, and part of what’s often hooked me about the past is the magical hope that I can change the story, even now. I can change an ending, give something an ending, understand it or find/create meaning.

Letting go in this case means accepting that I cannot change the past, only my relationship to it. It reminds me of a story from Wayne Dyer;

“Erikka’s husband of twenty-five years informed her that he no longer loved her, was seeking a divorce, and he was going to marry his thirty-year-old secretary. This came as a complete shock to Erikka, and she said the next year was like being immersed in Dante’s Inferno. She went into therapy, began taking anti-depressants, couldn’t eat or sleep, lost 25 pounds, and was generally dysfunctional.

.. She hugged me sobbing and pleading with me to please say something to her that would restore a sense of harmony and peace to her life. I asked her to write down something that Carlos Castaneda’s teacher, the Nagual Don Juan, had told him about what it takes to reach the highest levels of impeccability;

“One day,” he said, “I just finally realised that I no longer needed a personal history, and just like drinking I gave it up, and that, and only that, has made all the difference.”

I encouraged her to realise that all those years with her ex-husband, her rage at his deception, all of it was in this amorphous, formless world of her thoughts that constituted a personal history. In reality, she only had now, this present moment, and that is precisely where God is and only can be. Now.”

  • Letting go of a person

Oh boy. This, for me, is a toughie. While letting go of my personal history is helped by a rubbish long-term memory, letting go of those I have loved and lost is where I make up for it.

I have no idea what I was doing ten years ago but, if we’d met and you said you like a particular musician or item on a menu, every time I encounter it I’ll associate it with you (please don’t take advantage of this weird little quirk, ‘kay?).

When someone enters my heart, they stay in my heart. That’s just the way I choose to be and I’m cool with it, so this makes complete sense:

“It’s the relationship that you are letting go of .. not the love you have for the other person.”

Whether I have chosen to leave someone’s life, they have chosen to leave mine, or The God-damn Universe has made the sodding choice FOR us, feeling the above deeply at my core is a blessing and a comfort. I loved some people before I even saw them; it makes sense, to me, that I love them, still, now, always.

  • Letting go of an outcome

It’s that line between being detached and non-attached. Detached means ‘I don’t care’, non-attached means ‘Oh HELL I care, but I’m not going to define myself by it, and I have the inner resources to cope if something different shows up’.

(Note: pretending to be detached and not caring doesn’t work; you also don’t get the fun of being enthusiastic, of being committed to the process, or of being authentically vulnerable and connected to others if it all goes tits-up.)

Letting go of an outcome comes down to trust; trust in oneself, trust in the Universe, trust that things will be OK even if The Ego doesn’t get what it’s currently building its entire self-image on. Uncertainty challenges all of us; if I divine the feelings I hope the outcome will provide me, many more paths to ‘success’ become possible.

  • And if you’re finding something impossible to let go of…

If, as Haruki Murakami put it, “No matter how much suffering you went through, you never wanted to let go of those memories” there’s a little message, right there, that there’s something deeper to uncover. What we resist persists.

In the past I’ve not let something go because the pain became my only company in my loneliness. It became familiar, known, all I felt I had ever truly known. It was a call to action, even though I didn’t know it at the time. I do now.

Letting go creates a space for something new to take its place, which in itself can be a scary prospect (especially with relationships). Freshly tilled earth allows new things to germinate, be they new ideas, new connections or a new relationship with ourselves. And as we all know (wait, we DO all know this one, right?), the relationships we have with others reflect the relationship we have with ourselves.

In letting go of that which no longer serves us we have the space and energy to embrace our own light and shadows, live more wholeheartedly, and release our fears about how other people see us.

Wait, I think there’s already a song about that…

Photo credit: David Goehring

5 thoughts on “Let it go?

  1. In Japan, /that song/ has been named 「ありのままで」 (ari-no-mama-de), which is interesting as 「ありのままで」 translates back into English more accurately as “As it is” or “As you are” – implying more of an acceptance than a release of something. Is it the same thing, or not?
    I found an article (http://bylines.news.yahoo.co.jp/onomasahiro/20140527-00035720/) that discusses this translation difference. I’m yet to finish reading it, but if you’re interested, when I do I’ll let you know what it said.

    1. Fascinating, and do let me know! I would argue that it’s in the accepting of something – of reality, the past which cannot be changed, etc – that the release takes place.

      If I accept what is, I release my grip on what I want it to be. And it is the attachment (according to Buddhist teachings) which leads to suffering (IIRC; I’m not a practising Buddhist..!)

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