"I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
To let go does not mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own.”
As human beings we tend to cling to the things we believe are necessary for our happiness, are important and meaningful, or that define us.
For most people, our identity or sense of who we are is intimately connected to our relationships, careers, status, and affluence. The belief that something is essential to our being and to who we are is a powerful driver in our lives to continue a course, even when we may be unhappy or ill.
Subtle things like memories can also bind us because they take us out of the present and keep us trapped in the past. We hang on to past unhappy times which bog us down in anger, yearning, resentment, guilt, fear and so on. Some people can’t imagine who they may be without their past pain, and therefore they cling to it. It’s important to recognize that our experiences or the past aren’t who we are. They are a part of us and our life path or history, but they aren’t the whole of who we are.
On the other hand, holding onto positive, fond memories is understandable, but they too can become a burden if we don’t know how to skillfully deal with them. In other words, if past happy memories force us to constantly try to recreate that past at the expense of enjoying or by overlooking our present good, then that fond memory quickly becomes a burden.
Many situations can spur us to let go or make necessary and overdue change in our life. When our unhappiness and dissatisfaction, grief and loss, failing relationships, rigid thinking, stuck or repressed emotions, toxic habits, stressful jobs, and avoidant behaviors like binge television viewing or video gaming, or overeating become problematic, they may motivate us to change our life course.
However, the thought of stepping out into the unknown and out of our comfort zone (toxic though it may be) can be scary. Imagining our lives free from them can make us feel uncertain about ourselves and our future. Consequently we may simply choose the easy route by trying to hold onto both the good and bad things, or we could pretend not to be suffering by deluding and distracting ourselves.
Wisdom and self-compassion advise the opposite.
They urge us to go in the direction of our suffering, and to be mindfully present as we sit and examine it and our lives. We have to clearly see the things that arrest our development, and poison our emotions and thoughts such as toxic relationships, or stressful, unfulfilling jobs, and then we have to find a way out.
The only way to the other side is to go right through the heart of our difficulties and shackles. We need courage to identify, get to know, and break the ropes that bind us. Deep looking at our emotional, mental, spiritual, physical needs, and our pain and limitations develops understanding of where we are and how far we’ve come; it also helps us understand pain. Understanding grows empathy, and awakens compassion in us when we witness another being’s anguish.
The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh taught that if you look deeply into the nature of the things that bind you, you will gain insight that will free you.
Letting go is rebirth. It is an opportunity for joy and happiness. Make time to take stock of the things you’ve not attended to, the unresolved issues that keep surfacing, and the recurring recriminations in your mind about past mistakes or experiences, and then resolve to start anew.
After the initial fear of letting go, you will experience a joy that comes from freedom, courage, determination, a positive mindset, and compassion for yourself and the people in your life.
In next month’s article, we’ll discuss techniques on how to let go and release unbeneficial habits and the past.
May you shake off your shackles and become free.