Living without our past would feel strange and disorienting—but it might also have its benefits in the present moment of our lives.
For instance, a while ago I came across the show “Dark Matter.” This television show is centered around a group of people who wake up aboard a spaceship that is under attack with their memories completely erased.
It was interesting to see how this memory loss was not only a challenge but also a liberation. Not remembering their past allowed them to make different choices and to become a different type of person than they once were.
In real life, we cannot simply erase our memories.
And even if we could, the effects might be less than convincing. Case in point: in the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” two people who used to be a couple decide to have their memories of each other erased. They end up just repeating their past.
Is there a better approach to letting go of aspects of the past that are no longer helpful to us, so that we can experience more freedom in the present moment?
This could include:
1. Letting go of old things.
One obvious way in which we bind ourselves to our past are things. For instance, most of a bookshelf is generally occupied with items accumulated over many years, not just books bought the other day. Some of these books relate to topics that used to interest us at some point, but are no longer relevant to us.
Many of us hold on to some other items which relate to past interests. Even though we may not have played the guitar or skied in years (or decades), we might keep a guitar or ski pants, on the off chance that we want to use them again at some point in the future.
Letting go of these things can be liberating. One fun way to do this is the 30-Day Minimalism Game, which is a process of gradually reducing our possessions. I just finished leading a group of people through this game. Many of the participants noticed more freedom and internal space as they progressed.
2. Letting go of old projects.
Just like things, projects from the past can weigh us down. For instance, I recently concluded a writing project that had been with me for nearly a decade. Finally seeing my work in print freed up a lot of energy for new projects.
Generally, finishing an old project is a good way to let go of it for good. Depending on the project though, putting the time and energy into completing it may not be worth it. In these cases, the best solution may be to bury that old project for good by discarding everything related to it.
3. Letting go of people.
Attachments to old relationships or people from our past can be similarly limiting. It is often hard to start a new chapter of our lives before we have consciously said goodbye to the old one.
The process of letting go of a person from the past is generally much less straightforward than letting go of a thing or project. It can help to get rid of items associated with that person. There are certain emotional techniques that may prove useful in this process. However, there’s not necessarily a definitive point in time when one can say that the attachment is completely gone.
Ultimately, the process of letting go of a person ends when we have reached something that I call “positive detachment.” You can read more about it here.
4. Letting go of the one thing that keeps all this together.
Letting go of the past becomes particularly rewarding once we realize that we truly only need to let go of one single attachment.
From a purely practical point of view, we may be attaching to things, projects, and people. On a more fundamental level, all this relates to one single attachment: our attachment to who we once were.
If we truly let go of our past identity, what use is there in keeping ski pants or guitars when our current self demonstrates no interest in skiing or guitar playing?
What use would there be in continuing to focus energy on people from the past if our present-day self would instead choose to be in contact with others who are more aligned with the person we are now?
Any attachment to the past is really about who we were at some point and about the desire to retain that past identity.
Clinging on to an old idea of ourselves helps us have a solid sense of self. While this can bring comfort and stability into our lives, there is also a cost associated with this.
Ultimately, it’s impossible to find true happiness in the past. The good news is that we can find happiness in the present moment—now, and now, and now.
And it all starts when we let go of someone we’ve outgrown: our past self.
If you are unsure whether to let go of a romantic relationship, please also check out my free relationship clarity meditation here.
Author: Bere Blissenbach
Editor: Caitlin Oriel