“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”
I can’t think of anything that’s been written about more when it comes to self-help topics, so, when I gave myself the challenge of writing another tome about the ability to let go (month three of my 2016 resolutions), I was concerned. If humans keep writing about it, it must mean that letting go is a difficult path and one that is neither straight nor narrow.
Why do we have such a hard time letting go? Why do humans cling to thoughts, ideas, actions and people who do not serve our happiness and wellbeing? It starts, my friends, in the beginning…in the way, way back. Before we had cars. Before we domesticated horses. Before we had special shoes for date nights. Before we had shoes.
I’m a student of evolutionary biology, a science that says humans behave in the best interest of the survival of their genetic code. Above all else, we seek to carry on in the face of imminent dangers, perilous foes, and unpredictable habitats. So when we have trouble letting go of that grudge we developed against our former BFF, or of that co-dependent relationship that makes us a shell of a human, it’s because of something so fundamentally biological and deeply wired that it’s monumental to overcome it.
We no longer have to worry about remembering which berries caused us to vomit all of our mammoth steak out or that lions tended to hide in that particular patch of grass, but our brains still cling to moments that have caused us pain, discomfort and ‘attacked’ us. It’s how we avoid that patch of grass. Its how we leave the berries on the bush. Its how we won’t let ourselves move on from the memories of things that have scarred us.
Modernity, of course, doesn’t give us the same enemies. It gives us the tattered shreds of relationships gone wrong; it gives us the slings and arrows of hurtful words, broken promises, and unsaid feelings. And by holding on to those, our brains believe that we’ll be saved from the next snake in the grass.
Conversely, our brains will fixate on the sweet moments of the past to the point of overshadowing the bad that went along with it. We do this because the pleasure of the good is less traumatic to remember than the negativity of the bad. We remember how sweet that guy was…not his narcissistic tendency. We remember how much we loved that job…except the mind-numbing monotony. We remember how awesome high school was…except for the nasty cliques that made our days an emotional train wreck. We cling to the bright, to the beautiful, to the often overblown memories of happiness that we miss…moments that never really happened that way.
On both accounts we are hanging on whether to protect ourselves from pain, or to glean some long-lost, and skewed version of happiness. If we are committed to cleaning our slate and letting go, the route is the same for both and has everything to do with being honest with ourselves. We aren’t roaming savannahs anymore. We have shoes. We have knowledge. We are self-aware. We know why we behave certain ways and thus need to be more introspective about our behaviors.
“You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.”
― C. JoyBell C.
Is that a poison berry? Or is it an archaic response that has thrown up walls around my heart to a person who could benefit from my forgiveness. Does hanging on to the memory of that person, place, or time, serve me today, and in my future? Does it serve to make me better, happier, more complete? Does what I’m clinging to make me a better person? Is it propelling me on my journey or dragging behind me like a chained weight shackled on? Mostly, it’s the later.
The best response is to acknowledge those moments, be truly self-aware in them, and deconstruct them. Peel back the layers and understand why your heart is clenched around them. Did that moment hurt? Are you afraid it will repeat itself? Do you have good cause to fear and is the fear worth staying stuck in the same pattern for the rest of your life?
Convincing yourself to let go of things that you fear could cause further pain might be made easier by consciously saving the lesson but letting go the memory. That break-up hurt, so learn why it went down so spectacularly in a fiery blast. Does it mean you can’t have another relationship? No…but be aware of your patterns, of your part in the failures. Forgive yourself for doing the best you could at the moment and promise your shiny new self-aware self, to do better next time.
Letting go starts with being honest with yourself, forgiving and understanding the damage that hanging on can do. You can’t open your hands to the world if you’re clinging pointlessly to the past. You can’t build new happiness in your life if you believe all of your happy days are behind you. Let that shit go. Drop it like it’s hot. Free up those hands for something better. Free up that heart for the next love. Free up that brain space for something useful; something that can benefit humankind, not just your own survival.
What would happen if we strived, in our new self-aware state, to not let the possibility of predator eyes in the tall grass keep us away from the sweetest berries? What happens when we chose to live without fear of hurt or failure? What happens when we chose to live our best life in this present instead of wallowing in regretful glances over our shoulder at the past? Freedom happens. New and brilliant horizons. Bare and unfettered feet, untethered potential.
So let go. Let go the hate. Let go the pain. Let it down into the Earth (she’s a big and beautiful momma and she will take it for you) Put down your chains, and chose to move ahead a free human.
“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.”
― C. JoyBell C.