I have a problem with hanging onto things too long.
One summer when I was a teenager, I went with a friend and his family to Kalamalka Lake in British Columbia. On the lake, there is a spot with a high cliff face and an overhanging tree swing. My friend is a natural thrill-seeker and he couldn’t wait to show me the swing.
The thing scared the crap out of me. But rather than saying “no,” I lined up behind my friend. After he successfully launched into the water, it was my turn. So I grabbed onto the rope and did what I knew to do: I held on.
Gravity did the rest, the rope swing went out over the lake and then it carried me back, crashing into the tree. I quickly decided to give it a second try, both because of embarrassment and determination. This time, I let go at the right time and plunged into the black water.
Forgetting how to let go
That day on the lake, it was as if I forgot how to let go. Stress can do that to you. You feel pressure, so you grab and hold. We learn this habit early on. Children have their stuffies, their blankies, and their favorite toys. We hold onto whatever makes us feel a little comfort. Sometimes we hold onto stuffie, a rope, or other times we hold onto the past.
The past can be memories, trauma, emotions, areas of pain, disappointments and it can be a combination of these. The past is ever-present with us. The funny thing is that the past is not a thing, like my rope. You can’t touch the past, so how can you let go of it?
The past is nothing more than a collection of yesterdays, the moments that made up all of our life until now. We can no more return to it than we can predict the weather. The past is like wind blown across our faces – close at one moment and then it disappears in the next.
The past is gone, but we make a mistake when we ignore its influence and its power. The past is a paradox – something fleeting, something untouchable, something gone can also wield a tremendous amount of power over us. At this very moment, you and I are both leaving and grasping: leaving the past and connecting with the present.
Healing involves both letting go and picking up
Letting go and grasping are part of the same action. If you or I struggle to let to, we will also have a hard time picking something up. Makes sense, if your hands are full you can’t really pick something else up unless you begin to fill your pockets. Then eventually you find yourself so full of baggage and past moments that things will not work too well.
Most memories fade, but we often have sticky memories. Trauma, hurt, pain, disappointment can be hard to let go. In a way, we hold onto these moments because they are precious. Where you are broken, you leak. You leak small bits of your soul, just like you leak drops of crimson when you scrape your knee. So you do what comes naturally, you hang on because it makes sense. The only difficulty is that you will eventually come crashing back into the tree.
At least that’s what happened to me.
It is a paradox: we no longer need the past and we will always need it. The past provides us with memory, with learning and wisdom, and it can fuel our character and new growth. The past can also be an anchor and it can hold you back. The best use of the past is to learn that yesterday’s heights can be today’s starting point.
How can you learn to let go of the past?
1.Embrace it, don’t hate your past. Your past got you to where you are today. It has given you both vulnerabilities and strengths. It has given you gifts, and one of the greatest is that you still have life left in you. The past is with you to remind you that yesterday’s heights can be today’s starting point.
- Trying to force it back down or force it away will just make the negative memories stronger.
- When you are ready, you can breathe and listen to your past. Letting go is never a violent act. It is slow and requires trust. Trust yourself. Trust the rope. Trust the water.
- If you have difficulty sitting with your past and listening to whatever it may say to you, this is where getting a counsellor will help.
2.Love other people. The greatest way to feel love, to become more open, is to love others. There is no other way. Only as you learn to love others will you learn to love yourself.
3.Enjoy your life. Life will go by quickly whether you hold onto the rope or whether you let go. It’s more fun when you live with open hands. My wife has to remind me to enjoy my life, because I still hang onto things a little too long. You can only hang onto one thing at a time: enjoy the life that you have because it contains gifts meant for you. Each moment contains gifts like the sunrise, laughter with a coworker, appreciating nature, small successes, giving or receiving compassion, enjoying music, taking a walk, or doing what you enjoy.
- When you accept that you deserve joy, not merely suffering through, this can change you. You deserve more than your pain, your past, or your hurt. You deserve now.
- It will take trust to enjoy your life. I would never have known the joy of falling into a lake without letting go. Sure I was scared, but I did it. And I smiled.
4.Close your eyes and dream. See yourself as the person you want to be, living the life you want. I’ll say it again, “The best use of the past is to learn that yesterday’s heights can be today’s starting point.” New things begin in your mind as you dream. The life you live each day is a living out of your identity. And that begins in your dreams, in your imagination.
You act, and feel, not according to what things are really like, but according to the image your mind holds of what they are like. Maxwell Maltz, Psychocybernetics, p. 34
5.Know that healing will leave scars. Scars are gifts. They are like seals. They seal out infection, germs, and disease. Scars protect us from pain. Scars are gentle reminders that we are being protected.
The danger in writing about healing is that it is easy to assume there is one way to heal. Truth is, you need something and the next person may need something else. You may take what feels like a lifetime to heal while the next person may heal differently. Be gentle with yourself, each person has different needs.
You and I grow as we are willing to loosen your grasp.
Your past is not your enemy. Fighting to suppress your past, that is the enemy. You are more than your past and greater than any mistakes you may have made.
If you enjoyed this article, you will also enjoy To Heal, You Must Become the Art and Fear and Recovery: What You Can Do When Fear Has You Fenced In.
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Keep it Real
Previously published on smswaby
Photo by Martin Thomas