We all have a past—each and every one of us—and it’s likely that it’s a past filled with more than just rainbows and buttercups.
Even those among us who live full and joyous lives and are genuinely happy still have pain and loss in our past. We have all lost something that matters deeply to us: a home, a friend, a family member, a lover, a job, a pet, an opportunity, our health, a dream, an idea of how our life and future should or could be.
Maybe as children we were abused or neglected by people we trusted. Maybe we were hurt in different ways we were were all grown up. Maybe it was us who did the hurting. Maybe we lied. Maybe we were lied to. Maybe we watched a loved one die. Maybe we never got to say goodbye. Maybe we let the love of our life slip through our fingers. Maybe we made horrible choices. Maybe we were victims of circumstances. Maybe we drank too much or gambled too much or worked too much or took too much or gave too much. Maybe we talked when we should have listened or gave up when we should have pressed on. Maybe we let someone down or or had unrealistic expectations or refused to forgive.
Maybe…Maybe…Maybe…the list goes on and on.
As sure as the night is dark, every single one of us have a few skeletons hanging around in a closet somewhere.
The things we don’t talk about. The things we try to forget. The things we could have said. The vows we should have kept. The photos or letters buried under the bed. The secrets, the memories, the triggers. The ghosts that keep us awake at night, refusing to be forgotten.
There are people so damaged by lost love that they never love again. There are people so afraid of being abandoned that they have great difficulty forging bonds of any kind, or are terrified of being alone. There are those who were silenced and find it difficult to speak, people afraid to try new things or share their ideas because they were made to feel stupid, and some of us who have been betrayed find trust nearly impossible.
We read articles and books and watch TV shows and TED talks and listen to podcasts and talk to therapists; we go to meetings, confession or yoga and everyone everywhere tells us the same thing: Let go of the past.
How many times have we heard from a well meaning friend to “just let that go?” How many times have we said it? We can even buy edgy work out tank tops that say “Let that sh*t go.”
There’s a lot of pressure to be fully present, to find peace, to let the past go—but how?
How do we leave the past in the past? How do we move on? How do we let go?
If you ask a thousand people, you’ll get a thousand different bits of advice: pray, meditate, ride a motorcycle, walk in nature, talk about it, ignore it, write a letter, write a poem, take up jogging, hike at sunrise, sing, shout, howl, cut your hair, eat this but not that before bed, move, paint your walls, forget you ever met him, tell her you’re sorry, take this pill, drink this tincture, burn his pictures, erase her phone number, find a new lover, join a group, take up a hobby, ask forgiveness, donate money, change this and process that and do these eight steps or these twelve…
There are countless ways to try to let go, but do they work? If you close the door or take down pictures, does the pain go away? If you never talk to her again does the sadness just disappear? Did those six self-help books on grief stop the heartache on the anniversary of his death?
So how do we do it? How do we let go?
The secret is, we don’t. We don’t let go. We loosen our grip. That is all.
We accept that every experience that we have ever had and everything that we have ever done or that has been done to us and every person we have ever known, every place we have ever been, every decision we’ve ever made and every thought we have ever had is part of who we are, and whether we understand it or not they all serve a purpose.
So we don’t force it. We don’t insist on letting go. We don’t forget the past. We don’t silence the ghosts.
We acknowledge and honor everything that is our past, we forgive ourselves and others, we take a deep breath and we slowly, simply, loosen our grip, finger by finger, thought by thought and what’s meant to slip away will, the rest we embrace.
Author: Kimby Maxson
Editor: Emily Bartran