We hear the phrase “let it go” a lot these days but when it comes to old, deep seeded beliefs, unresolved situations, or difficult family members, the task could feel daunting. Clients who are still allowing relationships with family members to cause them pain and suffering will often say it feels like they’re “giving up” or “giving in” if they let go. They may assert that “If only they just would (fill in the blank)” then we could have a better relationship, and they may wonder why these people can’t simply do, what they themselves would do in the same situation. Years go by and the family member remains the same, regardless of us wanting them to be different. The same could be said for past situations we wish were different. Although we know rationally that we cannot change the past, this “wanting” to persists.
But what’s really going on here? Why is it so hard to accept “what is”?
In these moments we are relying on things to change in order to be happy, content and at peace. Buddha says that happiness cannot come from outside of ourselves, so when we find ourselves saying things like, “If only…” we are making our happiness dependent on something that is out of our control. And it is this relentless “wanting” that is causing the suffering, more than the situation or person themselves. In other words, it is our relationship to the issue and the inner conflict created by it that is to blame for our unhappiness. We also may find that the reason we have such a hard time letting go is that underneath the “wanting”, lies the real emotion we are trying to avoid, which is often overwhelming sadness, grief, or loneliness. These emotions can be painful, but since we have to “feel it to heal it” they can also become a gateway to growth, change and healing.
When we don’t let go of a situation we clearly have no control over and that is making us miserable, we continue to pour precious energy into it, instead of using it for ourselves in a more productive way.
This unresolved and stagnant energy may also distract us from what’s right in front of us – our lives and the people and situations that DO work and that bring us joy. We may feel divided, like we can’t enjoy things fully because of wanting something we can’t have. When you take some space and look at this rationally, we can all see how silly it is. But when we’re in it, that understanding evaporates. Letting go of what’s not in our control frees us up to live our lives, the one that is being presented to us. But if we don’t address what’s fueling the wanting (aka the feelings we are trying to avoid) it will remain unresolved and continue to cause suffering. If we can feel the feelings underneath, learn from them, and ultimately make peace with and heal those old wounds, we can finally move on unencumbered.
The situation may remain, but our relationship to it has changed and we are no longer held hostage by it. This is known as “healthy detachment”.
It takes time and some courage but peace and freedom will be your reward. And it's well worth the effort.