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Learning to Let Go

Rachel Alexander May 29, 2013

The principle of letting go is worth wrestling with. It’s a wonderful concept, and yet, unlike breathing, and other behaviors that serve us and occur naturally, letting go is not intuitive.

How well we do it defines much about how we live. The more of the past we set down, the greater our freedom to grasp the present. But how do we let go?

Let me begin with how we do not let go. We cannot shame or bully ourselves into “just letting it go already.” On the contrary, rather than subjecting ourselves to unkind treatment adding harm on top of the traumatic event we have already suffered, we might turn warmly towards ourselves. We are holding on because, in the words of Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman, “attention must be paid.” Negating, minimizing or ignoring ourselves is the opposite of the validation and empathy we need in order to heal.

Letting go doesn’t mean pretending nothing happened and that there are no resulting consequences. “Somebody shot me and I’m bleeding to death, but I’m letting go of the fact that somebody shot me. I don’t want to be angry or bitter, so I’m just going to bleed out.” That is not letting go. That’s ignoring reality and one’s self.

If the fallout isn’t attended to, letting go is unachievable.

In order to let go, we must first acknowledge that whatever has occurred, whatever the experience we are carrying, has affected and changed us. We must address the reality of where we are in order to move elsewhere. Acknowledge what has happened – the facts and the feelings that you are experiencing. Remove any judgement.

We’re all busy “friending” each other on Facebook – why not take a few moments each day to [be]friend ourselves? It’s probably less aggravating for those of us who are less adept at social media and can be done without logging on!

If the idea that letting go is refocusing on the present, on what is needed in the present to function effectively and to be well, we can refocus and take care of what needs attending to based on what happened and how it affected us. Change our focus but pay attention to how we are and what we need rather than fixating on the past. Paying attention to the results of the past and attending to them is where healing begins. Healing will enable the ultimate letting go.

Why can’t we just drag everything around with us like a car that saysjust married and is jingling around a lot of old cans? Because dragging around that old stuff can inhibit our access to the resources we have in the present, and it can inhibit our attention to ourselves. Shifting our attention into the present, which is what mediation focuses on, can be the beginning of a new way of being, and a healthier and more empowered way of approaching things.