In this issue ~~
In order to move forward in our lives, we need to leave behind the excess baggage we carry with us. Like a cluttered closet, our old thoughts, feelings and entanglements weigh us down and keep us from using our creativity toward building the lives we want.
Through advances in physics, we've come to know that the currency we use in creating our lives is energy. When we focus our energy, through our thoughts and actions, we manifest the things we want. But often, we invest our allotment of energy in unresolved issues that no longer serve us, leaving us with a minimal budget to finance our new goals.
As someone who's energy-challenged (see www.beingatortoise.com), I've found that it's crucial for me to conserve and reclaim energy wherever I can. One of the strategies I use for doing that is letting go, in many different ways. On a day-to-day level, I've learned that when I make a choice to do something, I need to let go of the other options. If I agonize over whether I made the right choice, I squander the time and energy I could have used to move forward with the choice I made. By letting go, I free myself to focus my entire attention on that choice.
One of the hardest forms of letting go for me is letting go of control. I like to feel I have control of the circumstances of my life, but the truth is, I often don't. At times like that, the best thing I can do is accept what is, let go of trying to control it and see what I can do with the situation in which I find myself, rather than hanging onto what I wished it would be.
I also sometimes need to let go of people. In the course of life, relationships come and go. If it's a natural flow, it's generally easy to move on. But if the parting was fraught with anger, sadness or pain, we may be more reluctant to let it go. We may need to grieve the loss or forgive a hurtful act.
When someone hurts us, we relive the interaction over and over again and fan the flames of anger. We often resist forgiving, because we feel it condones the hurtful action or behavior. But forgiving is something we do for ourselves, not the other. It's how we release ourselves from a situation that no longer works. By forgiving, we reclaim energy that we had been pouring into keeping alive an old issue. We can then let go of that relationship or give it new life.
We need to let go of the past in other ways as well. We may want to cling onto happy memories and past achievements. In my younger (unhappier) days, when something good happened, I would savor the memory and play it over and over in my mind, fearing that another such moment might not come. While it's certainly important to appreciate your past accomplishments and memories, staying stuck in the past saps the energy you could be using to create new ones.
One reason we hang onto the past is because we derive our identities from our history. We know who we are because of what we've done, what we own, who we relate to and how we've behaved. When we experience a major life change – starting or ending a committed relationship, having a child, entering a new career or retiring, moving to a different home or location or taking a big leap in our personal growth – our identity changes. This is an important part of our development, but it can leave us feeling like we don't know who we are. The tendency is to resist, to hold onto the old identity. Instead, we need to let it go and embrace the new one.
As we continue to grow in our lives, we need to continually release the past. We all know someone who has been in therapy or doing self-help workshops for eons, and they never seem to change. While they may gain a deeper understanding of their issues, they fail to let them go, create a new identity and move on. We get comfortable with our issues, often bonding with others who have had similar experiences, and become reluctant to take on a new, unknown self.
Fear of the unknown is probably the biggest obstacle to letting go. It's easier to cling to "the devil you know" than risk moving forward into the unknown and unpredictable. But not moving forward is not an option. When you don't, you stagnate and fall into lethargy and depression. Neuroscientist Gregory Berns, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta, advises that to be happy, you have to challenge yourself to do things you've never done before, to embrace uncertainty. It is through the unfamiliar that we find the exhilaration in life.
While we don't want to leave our energy in the past, we also don't want to focus so much on the future – planning it in infinite detail – that we don't leave ourselves any room for spontaneous, life-enhancing experiences. When we're enthusiastically focused on what we're doing in the moment, we leave the door open for surprises - another way in which Berns claims we find happiness. While it can be scary to feel out of control, when we can let go of our pictures of how things are supposed to happen, the unexpected can take us in new and exciting directions.
Although we're talking here about mental/emotional letting go, you might find it cathartic to also do some physical letting go, symbolic of the inner release. Clean off your desk and set up a nice, neat filing system for your papers. While you're at it, throw away old, outdated files. Clean out the closets and get rid of things you're no longer using. Fix the things that need fixing or dispose of them. Make room for the new, or just enjoy the space created by eliminating the clutter.
Begin to craft a new self-image by living the part. If you're moving into a new career or retiring, for example, start "living the life." Get to know people who are already doing what you want to do. Read books or subscribe to magazines about it. Start seeing yourself in that life. Even start dressing the part and acquiring the accoutrements that go with it.
Remember that letting go doesn't mean forgetting the past or not planning for the future. It's when we invest our attention in the past or the future that we give our energy to it. We can live in the present and still savor our memories and learn from our mistakes, without sending our energy there. We can anticipate our future, but without becoming rigidly attached to how it will turn out.
Learn from your experiences. Stand on the shoulders of your
accomplishments. Plan for and anticipate the future. But let
go and invest your life force in living in the present and taking
steps toward a fulfilling future, based on the person you're
becoming, rather than who you were in the past.
If you're having trouble letting go of something, try this visualization: See yourself standing on the shore of a lake. See a representation of your problem issue in a small boat. A rope is attached to the boat, and you hold the other end. Let go of the rope and see the boat (with your issue) drift off. Wave good-bye as you let it go. As the boat drifts out of your view, turn your back on it and walk away.
"To linger in the past is to do so at the expense of your future."
"Finish each day and be done with it...You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely."
"Much as we may wish to make a new beginning, some part of us resists doing so as though we were making the first step toward disaster."
"It would add much to human happiness, if an art could be taught of forgetting all of which the remembrance is at once useless and afflictive, that the mind might perform its function without encumbrance, and the past might no longer encroach upon the present."
(click on the book graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)
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