Letting Go: What does it really mean?
Let it go. Just fucking let it go. This is what everyone's telling you to do, right? It sounds good, and just saying it feels liberating too.
We all know that holding onto stuff that doesn't serve us anymore is one of the main culprits for when we're feeling depressed, stuck, confused, or even when we're sick. In most cases, we are also aware that we have shit that needs releasing, and try our best to do just that, but what about the stuff that we thought we'd let go of, but is still affecting us? It's very likely that we are all still holding onto things from the past that we aren't even aware of, because it hasn't really been released, or isn't meant to be.
As mentioned, it's all well and good to use the words, "I'm letting this go", or even to include a ritual or ceremony along with it (if that's your thing), but unless you're 100% committed to genuinely letting this stuff go, you may as well not waste your time and energy. Let's explore it a bit further.
Are you ready?
One of the first questions you should ask yourself is, are you actually ready to let it go? There's no point in trying to release something if you're not ready to do so. For example, just telling people you've let go of the pain caused by a past relationship isn't enough if you are still grieving, hurting, or processing what has happened. If you still have emotions to work through, then it's a clear sign that you need to do just that - process them - before you even attempt to let it go. Your loved ones may be encouraging you to let go of the pain, and of course, they're only doing so out of love, but it's not their call to make; it's yours. If you're not ready, you're not ready, and that's okay. Let go only when you feel that you're ready to. Any sooner, and it's only going to cause you more pain, because subconsciously, you're still resisting it. Be patient with yourself.
When you think about what you've supposedly already let go of (or even something that you're yet to release), what kind of physical reactions does your body have? Do you notice tension anywhere? Feel ill? Jittery or nervous? Pay attention to the physical reactions, as well as any emotions that arise when thinking about the issue, because it's a clear sign as to whether or not you still have things to process or work through, or whether you're ready to truly let it go. If all you feel is peace and your thoughts and feelings are neutral (or even positive), then you know that you have in fact, successfully let it go. If not, then you have some more work to do.
Forgetting vs Letting Go
Let's make something clear: forgetting is not letting go. You can't just block out an experience and think that it has gone away forever - it doesn't work like that. It will always, always come back to bite you (usually when you least expect it). If something is so painful that you feel it's easier to just try and forget it, rather than process it, then that's a crystal clear sign that you absolutely haven't let it go.
Let's say you have let something go, and you're feeling pretty good about it. You're expected to just forget about it now, right? Wrong. Every experience we have in our lives shapes us into who we are today. You may have let go of the pain associated with the experience, or released holding onto regret/anger/resentment (and so forth), but the lessons gained from your experience will always be with you, and this is a good thing.
Is it really the best thing for you?
What's driving you to let go? Is it because you genuinely feel it's time to move on from what's hurt or challenged you in the past, or is it because you feel an expectation from others to do so? Would releasing it all truly bring you peace, or do you feel you need something more? These are important questions to ask yourself, because it's not always in your best interest to just release your past without exploring the reasons why.
You may be wondering why on earth I'd be suggesting you would choose to not let go of past pain and challenges. Let me give you an example. I am someone who has experienced my fair share of pain and heartache through loved ones around me suffering from mental illness, and of course, part of me still feels anger, sadness, disappointment, grief, and so forth. While I have tried and tried to let it all go, there's always going to be a part of me that holds onto that pain, and I now not only accept that, but I embrace it. Why, you ask? Because these experiences have been some of my greatest lessons. How else would I have so much compassion, empathy and understanding for people who suffer with mental illness (and their loved ones who are affected)? It's because I still understand just how painful it is, and can truly relate. If I had just let it go, and never felt any of the residual pain, it's unlikely that I would be so passionate about helping others in this situation.
Sometimes, we aren't meant to fully let go, but instead, transform the pain into something more useful for ours and others' highest good. More often than not, you can use your past experiences and what you still feel about them to your advantage, and this is why you continue to hold onto them.
So, what does letting go really mean?
To me, letting go is not about completely obliterating a past experience from my heart or mind - which is what many people seem to think. It's quite the opposite, really. When I think back on things I have had to let go in my life, one of two things have been needed. Acceptance or Change. If I haven't been able to reach a point of acceptance with these experiences, then that meant that something needed to change. Whether that was my mindset, my actions and behaviour, or something bigger, it all boiled down to me, and what I needed to change in order to reach a point where I could look back on the experience and truly accept it it one way or another.
I use the word acceptance to describe my understanding of what letting go really is, is because honestly, it really is the best way I can sum it up in one word. Acceptance that every single experience I've ever had, has brought me lessons and helped me to grow. Acceptance that in some instances, I was just playing a part in someone else's learning and soul growth. Acceptance that I am much wiser, stronger, and more compassionate now because of my experiences. Acceptance that in order for me to help as many people as I can in this lifetime, I needed to go through it all so I could relate. And finally, acceptance that this lifetime is just one of many past and likely, future incarnations, where all of my experiences are melded together to assist me to evolve on a soul level. Through acceptance, I find peace, and to me, that is the epitome of letting go.