by Lawrence Wilson, MD
© July 2012, The Center For Development
The path to health and happiness is often not a path of adding to or gaining something, but of removal or letting go. This is a critical principle of healing that is rarely discussed.
The media, books and even parents often encourage us to obtain more, to attain great heights, to grow and accumulate degrees, things, friends, children, money and so on. All of this has its place. However, its opposite – learning to let go of the past, in particular, and of all attitudes, emotions, things, friends and other “baggage” that are holding one back - is often a hidden key to happiness and healing. It is a must to make room for more wonderful things to come. Let us explore the secret of the very freeing process of letting go.
WHAT DOES LETTING GO REALLY INVOLVE?
Leaving your comfort zone. Learning to let go of old habits, ideas, people who are not serving your best interests, and much more is not an easy task for anyone. The main reason is one must leave one’s comfort zone or familiar situations, habits and thinking patterns. This is stressful, often in the extreme. Therefore, most people simply do not do it. They make excuse after excuse as to why they should not change, rather than embrace change. This is the main block in most people’s way when it comes to letting go of anything in one’s life.
Letting go can be as simple as recycling or giving away old clothing. It can be as radical as leaving a long-standing marriage or friendship and changing one’s entire lifestyle. Whichever it is, it is always going to be somewhat painful. I mention this because the feeling of loss that accompanies any type of letting go is perfectly normal, and should not be confused. If one expects no pain, then when the pain of separation and letting go and abandonment hit, many people turn away rather than move forward boldly. This is the main reason that most people do not make the most of their lives.
Letting go is always somewhat scary. Letting go is also frightening for other reasons. One is that the future is always unknown. The past, miserable as it might have been, is known and thus one can more easily navigate through it, knowing at least what to expect, even if it is not great. The future, however, is completely unknown and this is very unnerving for most people. This is the second important stumbling block that prevents most people from moving forward in their lives.
The third block is that the future is unpredictable. This is related to the second block, but is somewhat different. It means that no matter how well you plan ahead, the future is inherently difficult to prepare for, unlike past attitudes, relationships and habits with which one is more familiar. This, also, stops some people from moving on because they don’t even know what they need to prepare for their futures.
The fourth block is that few people realize that when one truly lets go and forges ahead, one will have few if any reference points to evaluate their next move. This may seem trite, but is extremely important. Because of this fact, a wonderful counselor I once spoke with told me that if an opportunity that arose for me seemed comfortable, then it probably was not truly my future. Whereas, if an opportunity arose that seemed quite nebulous, with few reference points, it was actually more likely to be related to my true future.
This may seem counterintuitive, but the counselor explained that it is an important reason why most people have difficulty really letting go of their past and embracing their future. He called this process “movement”.
Another block to movement or moving on in your life is thinking you will lose some essential part of your identify, personality, friendships, family relations or other parts of yourself that you value. This was a stumbling block for me as well. Know that if you truly embrace your future, this will not occur. In fact, when you move ahead and let go of your past, more, not less of your personality and gifts will manifest. I can only tell you this from experience, and everyone experiences this fear that they will lose their identity, talents, friendships and so on. You may seem to lose some, but if you do then anything you lose was not really you. This may seem harsh, but many of us do not really know are deepest self, our deepest identity, and even who are real friends are. Please consider this statement carefully.
LETTING GO VERSUS FORGIVING
These, in fact, are similar if one forgives properly. However, it is possible to let go of something or someone without forgiving. It is not possible to forgive properly without letting go. Since this subject is somewhat involved, see the separate article entitled Forgiving Others for more details about the differences and what real forgiving involves.
LETTING GO OF LIVING HABITS
Dysfunctional living habits offer temporary relief, but add stress and strain in the long run. They may include staying up later than 9 or 9:30 PM at night, taking on too many obligations, distracting oneself or procrastinating instead of facing challenges and work, or perhaps avoiding exercise. Others include eating too much, skipping meals, drinking too much coffee or alcohol, smoking, eating junk food or sugar, getting upset over trifles or taking stimulants or depressants instead of addressing deeper causes of unhappiness.
To let go of these habits first requires a commitment to your self. You are worth the effort! Often, a good solution is to substitute better habits. For example, instead of staying up late, record the late television show, drink calming herb tea to help you slow down, decide you will not start projects after dinnertime, and start preparing for bed early.
Extra obligations. To avoid accepting too many obligations, set aside time periods on your calendar each day that are just for you - for meals, exercise, a long walk by yourself, a bath, perhaps, or another favorite recreation or activity. Refuse to give up these time slots for anyone or anything. You will feel selfish or maybe you will miss parties or other gatherings, but it is all good training.
In particular, set aside time for rest, to breathe deeply, to relax and to have peaceful, sit-down meals. This also means setting aside enough time to shop for food and to prepare meals with love. Eating is not something to squeeze in between appointments. Especially avoid eating in your car, or while conducting business at an office. Establishing these simple habits will influence all your other habits in many cases. Good habits foster other good habits, in other words. The rewards in your health will more than compensate for the time taken to focus on these simple good habits.
If you tend to overdo on alcohol, coffee, sugar, junk food or medications, there are many ways to shift your habits. Getting enough rest and sleep, eating better and exercising regularly in a gentle and mild way will assist in reducing cravings. Don't keep tempting foods, beverages or drugs in your environment. Ask for cooperation from those around you. Keep better quality foods on hand at all times for when temptation arises. Experiment with alternatives. Sometimes support groups and professional help are also excellent.
When you endeavor to change any habit, do so in the spirit of celebration, not from need. The spirit of celebration means that you have already overcome it in your mind. You just need a little help to work out the details. This is a far cry from feeling you are a wretched victim of some habit and that someone or some therapy is needed to "fix" you.
Another trick for letting go of unwanted habits is to regularly treat yourself to healthful activities and therapies that balance and enhance mind and body. These can include Rolfing, energy work, foot reflexology treatments, chiropractic adjustments and perhaps a class of very gentle yoga, tai chi or another. Just be very careful with yoga and tai chi, as many are injured in these classes. It must be extremely gentle and the teacher MUST walk around during the entire class and make sure you are doing each pose or position correctly at all times. Otherwise, I do not recommend these activities. Much better to join a hiking club or gardening club.
Other general suggestions to help you let go of the past are to seek balance and harmony in every aspect of your life. If someone or something is continually kicking you out of balance, look at it carefully. Try continuously to separate the important from the unimportant, the essential from the non-essential. This is an ancient teaching that is very important today. Is hanging out with your friends really essential? The answer is usually no. Is eating correctly and sleeping plenty each night essential? The answer is a definite yes if you want to be healthy.
Also helpful is to live in a clean, safe and quiet location, surrounded by some natural beauty. Much less important is to have a lot things, a big house, or other “trappings” of society.
Remember always that the body follows the mind. Therefore, try to police your mind as much as you can. Note what you focus on, what you think about, and what you tend to ignore. For example, if you focus too much on physical symptoms and conditions, you will often perpetuate them without realizing why this occurs. If, instead, you focus on God, on being grateful for whatever you have, no matter how little it is, on helping others rather than on receiving help from others, you will heal much faster.
Also, of course, focus on what you can let go of that is in your way. This can be anything from a food or habit to a thinking pattern or attitude or a person. Contrary to many books, for example, families need not “stick together” when the children are grown up, or even before in a few cases. Be careful not to be trapped in popular belief systems that are harmful for you. However, this does not mean throwing out all societal norms, which is another trap for many young people today. I highly recommend the Ten Commandments, for example. They work exceedingly well in most cases. Avoid the rampant temptation today to disregard them as just some old teaching that is not relevant in the modern world. They are totally relevant!
Physical symptoms. Often physical symptoms are best seen as conversations your body is having with you. This is a much more wholesome and in fact more true understanding of many symptoms, rather than thinking in terms of “diseases” that are out to get you. What are your symptoms telling you? Ask often and you will get answers, particularly if you leave yourself quiet time to contemplate and meditate daily. Taking a walk daily is a wonderful way to empty your mind, let go of the day’s cares and allow your future to come to you.
YOUR FUTURE WILL FIND YOU IF YOU LET GO OF YOUR PAST
This is a great spiritual lesson. I meet many people who are deeply concerned with “finding themselves”. This often means finding a career, a relationship, love, power, money or something like this. I have found that the key is make room for your future by letting go of your entire past.
I emphasize entire past because for me this is what it takes. In other words, question everything and everyone in your life. Let them all go mentally and emotionally. This does not mean you must get a divorce or leave school, however. It means to be free in your mind. Then you will figure out in an objective way if the job, the school, the friends and so on are really for you. But you must first let them all go emotionally in order to see where the future may lie. That is the key.
LETTING GO OF EMOTIONS AND BELIEFS
Examples of beliefs that may need to be let go include many fears, all resentments, guilt, at times, remorse, excessive seriousness, and most judgments expressed as ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’, ‘musts’ and ‘have tos’.
These familiar bedfellows have a way of hanging around, changing form in deceptive manners, and then blocking you from your future. Often one is not even aware of their presence in the deep recesses of the mind. This is where really honest friends and even strangers can be extremely helpful, at times. Try to listen to those who are bold enough to speak up to you, saying things that may not feel good to you or to them, but which sometimes need to be said. Too often, we shun those who speak the truth to us and only embrace those who think just like us.
Affirmations to help one let go of the past. A few carefully chosen and simple affirmations may also be helpful to dredge up deeply held resentments and negative attitudes. Such affirmations are not intended to be used for brainwashing. The purpose of such an affirmation is not to change anything, but just to bring up all thoughts that are unlike the affirmation.
For example, the affirmation, "I choose fearlessness" will accelerate or bring up all thoughts of fear within you if you say it often. Try it for a week or two and you will see this if you do it faithfully and with conviction.
Know that in spite of your best efforts to let them go, old belief patterns will often continue to come up for a while, especially if one is in the habit of indulging them. Just denying them usually won't make them go away. Instead, letting go means to notice them, but don't allow them to make a home in your mind. Notice them, bless them and see them as a relic of a dead past. Turn them over to a higher power. Take a walk, take a nap or otherwise shift your focus and let them go. You do have a choice which emotions and thoughts you will entertain in your mind. It takes a lot of practice, but the old thoughts will begin to lose their hold on you.
For negative thoughts. Try entertaining really positive thoughts instead, such as that only love is real and I am the expression of love in this world of form. Just try these ideas on for size. At first they may seem outrageous. With practice, they become more comfortable. Eventually you will wonder why you believed otherwise for so many years.
If friends or family continually remind you of the old fears and angers, it is fine to tell them thanks, but you are not interested any more. It is alright to say you have decided to be that which you would spread to others. You figured out that anger and fear heal nothing, and only hurt the one who harbors them. In letting go of judgments about others, it may help to realize that we don't often see the big picture, and we don't really know what is best for others. We don't even know when and how we were created.
Doubt the negatives in your life and in your mind. If you cannot embrace a positive thought to replace a negative thought of emotion, at least doubt the negative. This is a helpful technique that helped me turn around a lot of negative thinking and feeling. Each time I found myself thinking negatively, I would doubt myself purposely. I would think and say, “But perhaps I’m wrong about that”. This is a way to intentionally confuse the negative part of yourself, which in turn weakens it severely. Before, you were likely doubting the positive aspects of your life or yourself. Start to doubt the negative aspects as well.
Stay in the present time. As you explore letting go, it often helps to remember that "I am in the right place at the right time". This statement can help counteract one way that your mind keeps you in old beliefs and attitudes. It does this by reminding you of something in your past that is familiar and reinforces your old beliefs and thoughts. Realize that your past was perfect, but it is time to move on, let it go completely so that your future can come to you.
Do not compare yourself with others. Comparing always leads to unhappiness. You will learn that there will always be someone more beautiful, smarter, more successful, “happier”, etc. Later, as you embrace your future completely, you will realize that comparing yourself with others, for the most part, is totally futile. You are not that person, and your life should look quite different from that of others. If it is a carbon copy of your neighbors, you are most likely not living your own life, but simply “keeping up with Jones family”, to use a common phrase.
Instead, try setting a new example. Try to be one who inspires others. Show up as you wish others to be. Be a friend, rather than look for a friend. Be a good partner, business person, student, etc. It is a lot more fun and productive than comparing yourself or trying to make everyone and everything else conform to your desires.
Letting go also applies to the jaded fear-based and ego-based voices that often whisper in our ears, and serve only to confuse and hold us back. Identifying these false voices and learning to ignore them gets easier with practice.
Letting go may involve questioning every belief system you have ever been taught. Ask yourself, does this belief fit the reality that I am loved by the Creator infinitely more than I can imagine?
Do not rebel for rebellion’s sake. Rebelling is not at all the same as letting go of the past. Rebellion is a very popular sport today that often wastes years of people’s lives. They think they are running toward their future, but are really just running away from their past. Letting go does not just propel you in any other direction. It is just a total and repeated emptying of the mind and the emotions so that something else can come in and show you your way.
If you find yourself rebelling, slow down and just allow yourself to question and allow the answers to be revealed.
Ask and you shall receive. These simple words from the New Testament and Old Testament of the Bible are as true today as ever. Many people want to let go, but they do not ask frequently enough. Keep that in mind. For example, many pray for friends, success, money, or health. They should be praying to let go of the past, which is often the reason for their illness and seeming failures.
LETTING GO OF EXCUSES
Excuses disempower you. Really let this thought sink in deeply. Excuses imply that you were a victim of circumstances and therefore you are powerless and not responsible for your actions. They may make you seem more innocent, but really they just disempower you.
The opposite of making excuses is to take full responsibility for your life. That is not a popular way to be today, but it is a valuable concept. The main reason for taking responsibility is that it is so empowering. It implies correctly that if things are a mess, you have the power to change them, whereas if you make excuses, the implication is you are a victim and not as able to change your life. Life's circumstances are our playground, not our master.
Try on the idea of taking full responsibility for everything in your life, even the negatives as you perceive them, such as alcoholic parents, mean partners, troublesome children, horrible diseases or other seeming misfortunes. Taking full responsibility may seem daunting, but it is really not so at all. It is a new way to live that prepares you for a wonderful and fulfilling future full of joy and love. Please listen to this advice as it is perhaps the most important of this article.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LET GO OF ‘STINKING THINKING’?
Your present situation is the result of your past thoughts, attitudes and actions to a greater extent than you might imagine. Really practicing and living the letting go philosophy each day will cause amazing life changes - sometimes very quickly. All kinds of problems can improve, and life becomes much simpler and happier. Why is this so? Because the old thoughts and attitudes created the problems in the first place. This is a most important principle.
Change your thoughts, habits and attitudes and over time your entire life will change. The amazing changes that occur can be hard to believe.
ACCEPTING AND ALLOWING
Accept ALL of the love of the Creator for you into your life. Often this is the hardest thing in the world to do. We are so used to striving and straining to get what we want that the idea of simply allowing and accepting seems difficult.
Allowing and accepting are really part of letting go. You see, holding on to the past is like living on autopliot, even though most people think they are in control and “creating their future”. Most are not. They are simply living out their older beliefs and ideas in new forms.
Once you have set your intention to let go of your entire past, the next logical and related step is to relax and really allow and accept the new beliefs and principles into your life This will happen automatically as you make room for them and search honestly. This website you are viewing may help bring some of those new beliefs, ideas, and practices or lifestyle into your new life.
Grace is your birthright. Expressed in religious terms, grace is yours, and it is not dependent on works. It is undeserved and unearned. It is like the sun that shines on everyone equally, regardless of their past thoughts and behavior.
Allowing and accepting may be unfamiliar words, and even less familiar ways of living. Yet living by grace works, often much better than the old way of struggle and striving.
Another aspect of letting go that is often overlooked is a decision that must accompany letting go. It is to consciously choose to be at peace within. Since this is a bit complex, I want to explain it carefully. First, let us examine this in more detail. It means a deliberate choice to be at peace all of the time, not just when things are going well and life is fun. Also, it means choosing for peace even if it hurts – and it will hurt at times.
For example, it can mean giving up the sweet feeling of revenge against friends and others who appear to slight you or harm you. It can mean walking away from a situation in which you could choose to fight back. Of course, sometimes fighting is the correct response, but it must be done from a place of peace within. This is the key, and it is not an easy thing to understand. Jesus of Nazareth called this idea “the peace that passeth all understanding”. In other words, it must come from within. It is not about gritting your teeth and walking away, or putting on a happy smile while you fume underneath. One can fight a fair fight without anger and resentment. That is the idea
Now let us discuss more about what choosing for peace within does not mean. It does not mean denying your anger, fear or upset. It means observing your feelings, expressing them when appropriate, and then letting them go.
It also does not mean being a doormat or avoiding confrontation. It means learning how to communicate effectively and acting boldly, at times, but not from anger. Mr. Roy Masters loves to say it is possible to be strong without being wrong, meaning angry.
It does not mean protesting all defense spending - a legitimate function of the federal government.
Nor does it mean to be a pacifist. Sometimes an action of another demands a forceful response. It means to be at peace inside yourself even if you are in a fight. This attitude takes some time to cultivate, but is a wonderful way to live.
A phrase to practice is "I can be at peace with this" (no matter what 'this' is). It is possible to be at peace even in the midst of chaos and war. There are many stories of people who achieve this feat. Of the finest, two that are somewhat familiar are the stories of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in American history. These men were surrounded by chaos, horror, intrigue, and very bad living conditions. Yet they remained calm, and as a result inspired the nation.
Always recall that this kind of peace within, or your lack thereof, always affects those around you. When you choose peace within, others see that they too have this choice. This is a wonderful gift to your children and others around you. However, if you continue to be caught up in outer events and tied to your past traumas, anger and resentments, you will keep those around you somewhat caught up as well. Keep this in mind, as it is a key to family peace and relationship success. Be the model, in other words, rather than waiting for others to let go of their past and treat you as you wish to be treated.
FRIENDS AND RELATIONSHIPS
Relationships will change drastically as you let go of your past. This is inevitable and not to be feared. Women, especially, have trouble in this area and this is unfortunate. As you change, those around you must see you differently. Some will like what they see, but others will not. A lot of courage is required in this area or you will not be willing to let go of the past.
This is a delicate area, I realize, especially in this day of easy divorce and little loyalty among many families and friends. Divorce should always be weighed carefully. Leaving friends or family can be an easy way out and a substitute for examining old, deep patterns of thought and behavior that lead to discord and disharmony. While many friendships are not the best, our instant-gratification, throw-away culture is certainly not the answer, either.
Let go of those who dishonor you. On the other hand, when “friends”, family members or partners dishonor you by dishonoring their contracts and agreements with you, be prepared to take vigorous action. Otherwise you dishonor yourself.
Some people absolutely refuse to take responsibility for themselves and insist that you take responsibility for their happiness. They may be absolutely committed to unhappiness or anger. At these times, the most loving action may be to recall that all who love are joined at the level of the mind, but that physical separation is sometimes needed.
In other cases, another may not dishonor you, but you may realize that your focus or level of living is different from theirs. It is not a judgment, just an observation. Staying with them may mean you must stay at or near their level, which can cause depression and illness in a sensitive person. With great compassion, you may realize you cannot maintain your integrity and keep living as another would wish, although it may seem perfectly fine to outsiders. Each situation is different. As with any important decision, ask for guidance and you will receive it.
One key is to recall that letting go of the past is first and foremost about emotionally and mentally letting go, not physically letting go. It is about stopping your emotional investment in other people and things so that you can see clearly. Then the right course of action will often become apparent to you without emotional overtones.
Letting go of unwanted things, habits, attitudes beliefs and even people is an ongoing process for anyone who wishes to unfold spiritually. Allowing and accepting more of who you really are requires reflection, always involves some pain and suffering, and requires loads of compassion for oneself and everyone around you. As much as possible, relax, enjoy it and celebrate the process as often as you can. Know that letting go, as children are so good at, it the key to your growth and development throughout your life.