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“Let it go.”
How often do folks tell us to let go of the past when it becomes too much to handle?
I know I’ve heard this for as long as I can remember. I’ve studied it in Buddhism and practiced it in meditation and yoga. I’ve read it in magazines and heard it from teachers. Have I succeeded? Yes, sometimes. But mostly, no.
I did let go of the past many times. If I want to, I can let it go right now and push it away whenever it sneaks up on me. But if I do that, I know I’d be lying to myself. Who am I kidding? Who are you kidding? Do we really think that we can let go of something that is literally stored in the back of our minds?
I no longer think so. The past always haunts me, regardless of how many times I try to let it go. I’ve been doing this for decades, and if there’s one thing I know for sure it’s this:
We are not wired to detach from the feelings that keep us human.
When we say that we need to let go of the past, it means that we need to renounce our attachment to the outcome. (This is what everybody says at least.) As long as we keep the past alive in our minds, we’re going to suffer. We’re going to drag unwanted expectations into this peaceful, full-of-hope moment. Since we feel compelled to start a new phase and move further away from painful memories, letting go of the past sounds like the right thing to do. And so we let go; we move on; we start fresh.
However, I’ve recently realized that there is a bigger reason that compels us to put the past behind.
Old memories scare us, but do you know what terrifies us? Holding on to painful emotions. Remembering someone or something from the past and feeling all the messy and associated feelings scares the sh*t out of us. That’s why you—and I—want to let go of the past badly.
It’s not that we don’t know how to let go of the past; we simply don’t know how to let our ugly emotions in.
When my past creeps up on me and I sit with all the discomfort that it brings is the moment when I no longer want to let it go. If I’m okay with the pain that my past triggers within me, why do I need to relinquish it? Let it come in and out whenever and however it pleases. There will always be a mental bridge between my past and my present and I don’t intend to break it.
I’m comfortable with my discomfort. I can’t run away from my memories; I can only befriend them. My feelings—good and bad—keep me human. Although they might hurt, I don’t have to change them. I don’t need to replace them, push them away, or deny their presence.
Are you in the process of releasing the past? If you are, ask yourself if it’s the past you really fear.
“If it’s painful, you become willing not just to endure it but also to let it awaken your heart and soften you. You learn to embrace it.” ~ Pema Chödrön