I remember, many years ago, having a conversation with my Mum. A friend of hers had upset her and she was really stuck in the feelings of hurt and upset.
When we had the conversation four weeks had passed but she was still feeling the emotions of hurt and upset very intensely. As we talked through what had happened, it became obvious that the only way forward was to ‘let it go’. Her friend was the way she was, the time had passed,and there was no action that could be taken to rectify what had happened. It came down to making peace with what had happened, and deciding to move on if she no longer wanted to suffer.
When I shared my observations with my Mum, she became particularly frustrated. “How do I just let it go?” she asked me. That is a great question. It wasn’t a question for me though, it was a question for her. This is a question that every individual needs to answer within themselves when faced with a similar situation. Letting go is a personal journey.
What may work for me, may not necessarily work for you.
Over the course of the last few months I have been observing, not only in myself but in others too, times when it would be best to let go. Things that we might need to consider letting go of can include:
- Work that does not make us happy
- Friendships that are draining
- Relationships that are damaging or toxic
- Habits that keep us miserable
- Memories that keep us in pain and suffering
Why do we keep these things in the forefront of our lives and our minds and continue to suffer through them?
In my humble opinion, there are four main reasons we hold on so tightly to these things that cause suffering:
1. In the moment, we believe there is more power in being right than being happy. As Eckhart Tolle , one of the great spiritual teachers of our time says “Sometimes letting things go is a far greater act of power, than defending or hanging on”. We feel justified, entitled and RIGHT so therefore why should we be the one to say sorry/leave the relationship/quit the job/stop visiting the memory? The challenge is, you are also the one who is 100% in control of the pain you feel. No one is ‘making’ you do anything.You are choosing to suffer. You can also choose not to suffer.
2. We are frightened of change. At least we know and understand the thing that we dislike so much. What happens if we let go of this job/person/friendship/habit and the next one to come along is WORSE!! The thing is, life is all about continuous change. Often the suffering that we experience is feedback saying that it’s time to evolve emotionally or physically change our lives in some way. As we cling with sheer force to the thing, not only do we create suffering, we miss all the amazing and magnificent possibilities that sit just over the line of the horizon.
3. We have limited strategies on how to ‘let things go’; otherwise we would. If we don’t know that we don’t know, then how can we do something different? It comes down to being willing to source new information, find new teachers and get a different perspective. There are so many great strategies that help us process events in our life. We need to find the courage to take new actions, believe in ourselves and prioritise our happiness enough that we are willing to let things go, or metaphorically ‘put them down’. A few ways we can do this, and that spring to mind for me include meditation, journaling, a physical practise that connects you to yourself such as yoga, martial arts or running, spending more time in nature, writing a letter to the person, event or emotion and expressing truthfully all that you feel (If you write a letter or email- don’t send it, it’s for you alone!).
4. We meet our need for certainty and familiarity by staying with the thing, whether it be an emotion, a memory, a job or a person. One of my favourite teachers, Tony Robbins developed the concept of the Six Core Human Needs. The Human Needs play out in every single one of us every day. They are like breathing. We don’t wake up and say “Right, today I am going to breath”, we just do it. Meeting these needs is exactly the same. We wake up each day and endeavour to meet them. The thing is, we can either meet them resourcefully or unresourcefully. By hanging on to things that don’t serve us, we are meeting our needs in an unresourceful way;meaning that even though our need is being met, the by-product is not good. If we can find another way to meet our need for certainty and familiarity that doesn’t cause us suffering, then it would be crazy to not let go off the old thing and create something new.
Letting go can be incredibly difficult, especially if we are unpractised at how to do it. A way to work out whether or not you are skilled at letting go is to honestly assess how much joy and happiness you feel each day. If you experience a lot of happiness, things don’t bother you and you can appreciate that others are just doing the best they can then I would suggest that you have already got a developed skill set of letting go.
On the other hand, if you find that you are frustrated, disappointed, unhappy or miserable more often than not, then I would suggest that there are things in your life that it is time to let go off.