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A few weeks ago, I was looking at all the leaves on the ground in my building—all swept into a messy pile.
A thought popped into my head, “The trees show us how beautifully they let dead things go.”
The phrase “let it go” is logical, and we all comprehend what it means, but there’s no real understanding of exactly how we are meant to do it.
As an analytical person, I need practical steps and perhaps a glossy brochure to help me understand and accomplish things (it’s the virgo in me).
I prefer finding ways to compare those lofty ideas with things I can really wrap my head around.
In my mind, I connect the act of letting go to that time I was finally able to release both hands from the bar on the roller coaster that was about to plunge us to the depths of hell. And yes, “letting go” is what happens when I frantically drop a hot chamomile tea into my lap and bound out of my seat at the speed of light—“letting go” of everything in my wake. (That’s some serious letting go if you’ve never experienced it.)
But the kind of letting go that involves a conscious choice versus a physical action can be extremely challenging and more than a little terrifying. It can also be painful as hell if it’s not something we’re ready to do—especially if our heart and mind are in a tug of war.
Letting go in this sense is releasing all doubt, worry, and fear about a situation, person, or outcome.
It’s releasing anything that disrupts our happiness and no longer serves us on our journey. And as simple as these words are, know that this can be bloody painful and no easy feat.
Letting go is a choice to decide that we will no longer ruminate on things that are out of our control and focus instead on what we can control.
Letting go creates space for fresh new beginnings: stripping us of all that we carry from yesterday. It enables new doors to open with the potential of new adventures, new passions, and new love.
Letting go is about accepting what is happening right now, in this very moment, and not worrying about what tomorrow will bring.
It involves so much more than just saying we have let go. At times, it’s a messy, raw, and devastating internal process. But as difficult and heart-wrenching as that process can be, it must happen to truly feel better and get on with life in a healthy way.
Throughout the past few years, I’ve been having lots of conversations with people and reading an assortment of spiritual books on exactly how to let go. I’ve cut energy cords, I’ve meditated, I’ve burnt sh*t, and I’ve smudged my place a myriad of times.
The following five steps are helping me better understand how to do this thing and could possibly help you too:
(As a gentle reminder, it’s important that we honor where we are on our individual journeys of letting go. This is a process that may be more challenging for some than others. Know that wherever you are right now is okay.)
1. Balancing our thoughts. The human mind is the most complex tool we own and can either be our biggest ally or worst enemy. Having the power to let things go starts there. Making an intentional choice to no longer let past issues and people who hurt us control our mind is what can break the cycle of unhealthy rumination on these thoughts, ideas, and feelings.
When I let my mind go down the dark and despairing road of rehearsing painful experiences, I begin to create a story about myself that typically follows the lines of “I’m not enough,” “Maybe I’m unlovable,” and “No one cares about me.”
The more I think about it, the more my mind creates space to allow feelings of hurt, anger, and frustration to fester and completely ruin my mood. It can be a vicious cycle.
Although I’m still working on this, it’s important to constantly be an observer of our thoughts without attaching ourselves to what it is we’re thinking. It’s bloody hard, but with practice, it does help.
Our thoughts don’t define our value or worth. We are not the summation of our past experiences. Just because something doesn’t work out doesn’t mean we are now labeled as a failure or we’re incapable of receiving what we desire in life.
The more we can simply watch our thoughts come and go, without attaching our identity to them, the easier we can let go.
2. Expressing our emotions. Being able to express our emotions in a healthy way is another step to processing things before deciding to let them go. As a writer, this is also a must because it serves as a form of catharsis and creative release. I like to spend time journaling out my thoughts and emotions.
While obsessing over the details of what happened in the past is never the healthy route to take (we all do it), it’s important to analyze why we’re feeling a certain way and how we can show up differently the next time.
There are so many breakthroughs to uncover through self-reflection. I have discovered that seeking out counseling and hypnotherapy is one of the best ways to receive objective advice and support throughout my journey of healing and learning to let go.
When we continue holding on to grief, anxiety, pain, and resentment from the past without fully working through each situation, all of these experiences, patterns, and narratives accumulate inside the heart, making it even more difficult to let things go.
Toxic positivity, avoidance, and denial are dangerous and will only cause us more pain in the long run. When this is the case, it’s so important to seek out therapy to help us work through and heal from the inside out.
3. Acceptance. We all want to know why something ended the way it did or how someone could hurt us so badly without having any concern about how it negatively impacted us.
We believe that we deserve the right to these answers. We want some level of understanding. The painful hard truth is, we don’t always get that “closure” we think we ought to have.
Not everyone will explain why they did something or even apologize when they are at fault. And I know firsthand that this reality stings a lot. Like someone pouring salt in an open wound, it bruises and hurts every part of us and will eat us alive if we let it.
Not getting solid answers and having to move on with life without closure is horrible, but it’s something many of us have to do at one point or another.
Fully accepting the situation as it is without constantly wishing it would be different is really the only way to getting on the road to being okay. And this isn’t only about accepting situations. We have to start accepting people for who they are as well and believing them when they show us their true character (because they aren’t lying).
When someone shows us a red flag, we, too, often turn into that bull and run toward them. Sometimes, we really do need to accept the sad reality of who some people are. It’s not our job to fix or change them. It’s our job to see the behaviour they show us and accept whether we will tolerate that.
4. Forgiveness. To truly let go and move on, sometimes we have to forgive people who aren’t even sorry. Sometimes we have to accept an apology we’ll never receive. It’s a bitter pill to swallow and one I have struggled with at times. It takes so much strength, courage, humility, and grace. While it may seem unfair and backward, sometimes that’s how the dice will roll.
There’s nothing worse than holding onto resentment and bitterness about someone or something for years, while they happily move on with life. And the reality is, doing this only hurts us. It destroys us and steals all our joy. We also need to learn to forgive ourselves.
5. The present moment. The present is all we have. No matter how much we may want to, we can’t go back and fix the past, and what happens in the future isn’t here yet. We must make an effort every day to remember that and allow ourselves to open up and enjoy what is unfolding right in front of us: all parts of the journey, both easy and hard, good and bad.
I now love the saying, “You are exactly where you are supposed to be—not in front, not behind, but right where you are.” But my initial reaction when I first heard it, with tear-stained cheeks and what seemed like an endless amount of pain coursing through my body, was, “Are you f*cking kidding me?” I was in the midst of a crisis, and this was exactly where I was supposed to be! I was incredulous.
At the time, I found that difficult to accept, but now I get it. Life is full of so many teachers and lessons. Sometimes we will be the teacher, and other times we will be forced to learn the hardest of lessons.
These past few years have found me in the role of the student on so many occasions: pushing and encouraging me to let go of old narratives and painful pasts. Pushing me to grow and be the person I am meant to be.
I am inspired to work harder at letting go of guilt, shame, insecurities, hurtful people, unrealistic expectations and timelines, comparing myself to others, and obsessively worrying about things far beyond my control.
I owe it to me to be so much kinder to myself.
Every day, I am constantly reminded to embrace the present and all it has to offer: a new opportunity to begin again.
No matter how much I may stumble on this journey of letting go (and I have stumbled more times than I care to remember), the present is always here to remind me that I don’t have to stay stuck on yesterday, or worry about what will happen tomorrow.
Every day we have a choice to keep holding on just a little bit longer, or decide that today is the day we will finally let go. We will finally let go and release ourselves from the shackles and burdens of painful memories of what was and the people who no longer deserve a seat at our table.
Because holding on ultimately causes us far more damage than letting go.