What does it mean to let go? What exactly are we letting go of? And, is it really worth it?
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When we talk about letting go, what it really means is to release ourselves, mind, body and spirit from the internal and external circumstances that are weighing us down, keeping us stagnant and limiting both our potential and happiness. A few examples include (and this is by no means exhaustive):
- relationships (incl. intimate partners, friendships, family, work)
- hurtful experiences from our past
- emotions and beliefs
- a certain way of living life
Letting go of these and other circumstances in our lives can be extremely difficult, and we can end up holding on to things that are no longer working for us for years. This is often due to a) fear of the unknown and/or b) fear of being hurt. Fear of the unknown can be particularly salient for a lot of people, and leads many of us to stick with the pain, sadness and dissatisfaction we know rather than venture into a place we don’t know. If we stick with what we know, at the very least we know what we’re getting and can plan for it.
Other fears can include; fear of being alone, fear of “failure”; fear of being “wrong” and guilt or taking ownership of how other people will feel.
It Is Hard…
So yes, it can be exceptionally hard to “let go”. It can feel like there is a lot at stake. But if we don’t, if we keep holding on to the mental, emotional and physical toxicity in our lives we may find ourselves being overwhelmed by cycles of hurt, disappointment, regret, contempt and fear. And these emotions can wreak serious havoc on our health. What’s more, we are never really able to live our lives as we intend. It’s like being stuck on a ride that never ends and someone else is at the controls. We don’t give ourselves the chance to experience a sense of autonomy and empowerment in our lives because we are run by our burdens and baggage. And by holding on, we miss out on the opportunity to fully live in the present moment. Instead, we are constantly caught up with what has happened to us in the past. That can be a lot to miss out on. And it can all be extremely overwhelming, which can lead to the behaviour of numbing. This can be done with food, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc. Anything to push down the unhappiness that comes with holding on when we know it is time to move forward.
But sometimes, we just so badly want things to work themselves out or to change on their own, and so we sit tight and hope for the best.
The truth is simply this, however. We cannot experience a new beginning without experiencing some type of ending first. Most of us will try to cheat this system because, let’s be honest, endings can be uncomfortable or downright painful. And so we might try to initiate a new beginning before experiencing the ending first, in the hopes of avoiding the discomfort. The problem with this is that it simply isn’t the natural rhythm of transition. What is the natural rhythm, you ask? It essentially goes like this; ending —–> nothingness —–>beginning. So, when we really break things down, it isn’t necessarily the end that people fear most, but the nothingness that follows.
But think about it, a tree does not try to hold on to it’s leaves at the end of summer. A tree must shed it’s leaves in fall and lay dormant in winter before it can blossom and grow in the spring. And by trying to cheat the system, what we often end up doing is repeating old patterns over and over again; same story, different players. By completing the transition as nature intended, we are able to emerge from our ‘nothingness’ (often a time of contemplation and reflection) as a new version of ourselves. And if we look at traditional cultures around the world, there are amazing historical rites of passage that have been observed and documented. So this natural rhythm definitely applies to us as well.
So, We’ve Got to do ‘The Work’
I would imagine your next question is, how do we ‘do the work’, right? Now, I’m not saying you need to go out into the dessert, alone, for a week and re-emerge as a “new you”, but there is definitely power behind delving further into the idea of endings and beginnings, and gaining a fuller sense of this process.
The first step might be for us to begin redefining how we view endings and letting things go in our lives. If instead of viewing this as a source of pain, simply a loss and something to avoid, we viewed it as a necessary process in life and one that allows us to grow, develop and blossom, maybe we would fear and fight it less. Maybe even learn to embrace the experience of shedding that which no longer serves us. Aligning ourselves with that natural rhythm of life.
As well, a major part of ‘the work’ is increasing our own resiliency and inner strength. If we learn and practice to love ourselves and believe in our worth and potential, when faced with an opportunity to let go of something that holds us back, we can say to ourselves (and believe) that, although I may feel loss and may not know exactly what is in store for me, I will be okay. And therefore we can better move through a transition and experience our endings and new beginnings in a more fluid manner.
It’s important when building up this internal strength to spend conscious time acknowledging what you are afraid will happen if you let go. Giving fear a voice, temporarily, cannot hurt you. It simply allows you to tap into your thoughts, see them for what they are (just thoughts) and challenge them as appropriate. Fear often wants to keep in the dark, but by shining a light on our fears and working through them we are much better able to get a place where we can breathe deep, have faith and move forward.
Holding on is believing that there’s only a past; letting go is knowing there is a future – Daphne Rose Kingma
I’d love to hear about how you find the inner strength to move forward, even when it feels really tough to do so.