Since writing my post on letting go of negative emotions, I’ve been thinking a lot more about letting go. There are a few more things I need to toss in the pile.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about maximizing how much energy I have everyday. Now this isn’t necessarily because I feel like I need more energy, but because I feel like there are a few places that I’m letting energy slip through the cracks. Energy I would much rather redirect elsewhere.
Let’s start with the biggie. I want to let go of the past. Not because I want to deny that it ever happened or its inherent value, but because I hold onto many things that are of no use for me. I’ll start with the part I’m good at letting go of and then go into where I struggle.
1. Letting go of regret.
I’ve been pretty good at learning not to feel regret about the past. What’s done is done and I wouldn’t be who I am today without every single moment leading up to now. And since I love who I am today, then the past was useful to me exactly the way it happened. I occasionally feel regret bubbling up every now and then, but I try to reframe these feelings into lessons learned or potential room for future growth.
2. Letting go of what could have been/what might be.
I’ve been ok at letting go of what could have been. I see this as slightly different from regret, because it’s not necessarily guilt I feel about choices I have made in the past, but anguish over future possibilities that still could theoretically be possible, but aren’t likely to happen or aren’t a practical use of my energy right now. I think this is harder for me to deal with than pure regret, because it’s not a done deal. There’s still some level of uncertainty and openness in the future, which often leads to cyclical, ruminative thinking. It’s easy to get caught in traps of this type of thinking without even realizing it, because it’s just one step too far from productive planning or logical preparation. One especially overpowering mind might even be able to convince itself it’s being practical, when it’s not. In the Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle distinguishes psychological time from clock time. Tolle believes that at its core, time is a construction of the mind, and necessarily means that one is not present. However, he recognizes that time can be very useful in the present moment when we need to reference the past for a lesson learned or plan for the future. This type of direct access he classifies as “clock time”, which is an acceptable use of time. Psychological time on the other hand, is when we step into the past or the future as an escape or get stuck wasting energy and thoughts somewhere in the timeline. How I see it, letting go of what could have been or what might be, is the land just across the line separating clock time from psychological time. It’s sometimes hard to see the difference, so again, awareness is key. As soon as we can recognize that we’ve crossed this boundary, then we are present again; safe in the power of the present moment.
Traditionally, I’ve been prone to get stuck in cyclical thinking, but now I’ve actually learned how to stop these cycles, as soon as I notice what I’m doing. So then, how do I work on building up the skill of awareness? I think the obvious answer is years and years of meditation, but this answer isn’t exactly satisfying. I actually think that up until this point, I have been entirely relying on my meditation practice alone to slowly improve my awareness over time. But I think there’s another more immediate solution: practice staying present. You see, if you can repeatedly bring yourself back to the present over and over again, you don’t have to notice every time you get stuck in a cycle, because you’ll always be working to bring yourself back to the present, no matter what. I don’t know how I missed this strategy before but it seems so straightforward in hindsight. It’s like having a bucket that can get super heavy and bogged down with water. Usually we try to pay attention to the bucket and notice when water is flooding and when it’s getting really full. This strategy works because you really only need to empty the bucket when there’s a lot of water in it. The problem with this strategy is your awareness needs to be in tip top shape. And like we said, this takes years of training, and there’s not a lot you can do in a single moment. Additionally, this means that anytime you siip up and your awareness is in a space of weakness, the bucket can easily overflow. So what other option do we have? Empty the bucket all the time. Empty the bucket all day long everytime you remember to empty the bucket. In this case, we aren’t trying to be aware of when we’re caught in cyclical thinking, although it doesn’t hurt, instead we just try to constantly guide our minds back to the present moment no matter what. Obviously this still requires some type of awareness, to notice when you’re not being present, but since this should be a much more frequent test, we get a lot more practice, making it a much easier goal to focus on. The point is, if you find yourself having trouble noticing when you get sucked down into a rabbit hole of thoughts, then just practice guiding your mind back to the present all the time. Moving into the Now is literally instant relief.
3. Letting go of suffering.
I think this is the one that I’m the worst at. To be fair, I didn’t even realize this was something I needed to be working on until a few months ago. I think this step encompasses letting go of everything in your past that contributes to your “pain story”. All of those wrongs from your past that affected you, and are actually still affecting you today because you haven’t let go of them yet. I think this one is the hardest for me because it connects to the big, scary idea of forgiveness. In the first two steps, I usually know at least on some level, that I’m doing something “wrong” or unproductive that I should try to move away from. But in this case, we often hold onto our stories from the past because we actually were wronged and we actually did go through hardship. This is true of everyone, but the fact of the matter is, holding onto these stories is holding us back. Even if you don’t consciously feel like you’re holding onto these types of memories and stories, I challenge you to dig deeper. I certainly didn’t think I was, but deep down there somewhere I was still holding onto that victim card. On some level, I was saving it so if the day ever came where I needed to, I could play it. But playing the victim card, or even just saving it, is a weakness.
I’ve come to realize that I didn’t want to let go of my card because I didn’t want my experiences to be invalidated. I never really share these stories with anyone else and so I was afraid that in letting them go myself, it would be as if the past never happened, as if I was making it up all along. But I know the truth of my past and just because no one else knows, doesn’t mean it was any less real. I realized I first needed to face my own past. I needed to give myself the acknowledgement I was looking for. I needed to accept everything exactly the way it was. And now that I’ve worked so hard to do all of that, it’s time for me to let go. Because I don’t need that card anymore and letting go of it will only slingshot me ahead, right back to the present moment, giving me the ability to finally release myself completely to what is.