In many instances in life we are required to “let go”. When we lose our job or decide to change career ; when a relationship or friendship ends ; when our life circumstances change or we realise our dreams won’t come true.
If you think about it, how many times during a life time, do we have to let go of something? Often in self-development, we are encouraged to let go of the past ; or our expectations towards someone or a situation ; every time we experience change, we have to let go of what was in order to welcome what is.
So “letting go” is a great advice. But if you’re a tad analytical, at some point you will ask yourself the question: “but how do I let go?”
How do you let go of fear? How do you let go of a dream? how do you let go of a relationship? a job? someone who passed away? pain from the past? where’s the instruction manual that gives us those answers?
Perhaps before letting go we need to evaluate if letting go is the right thing to do. Too often people give up when things become difficult, especially in relationships. And giving up and letting go are two different things.
Giving up means you stop fighting. It often comes out of despondency, thinking that things are too difficult. It has a quality of helplessness attached to it.
Letting go on another hand, comes from a conscious decision that it’s time to release our grip. It’s time to move on. It doesn’t come from discouragement, it comes from maturity and wisdom. It’s when you realise that whatever needs to be let go of has run its course.
In order to let go, the first thing we need to do is to recognise that it is a necessary step. And sometimes it’s easier said than done. How many of us cling to what’s comfortable or familiar? An established relationship – even if we’re not happy ; a secure job – even if we’re unsatisfied and bored ; a house, a friendship, old clothings we particularly like, etc etc. It’s our natural propensity to hold on to what we know, what is familiar. Our brain is weary of the unknown and will tend to choose what’s old and familiar – albeit unfulfilling and sometimes toxic – over something new and unknown.
So sometimes we need a bit of work to recognise and accept that it’s time to let go. There might be some resistance to the process and that needs to be met with gentleness and patience. Letting go is not often easy and quick.
The second stage of letting go is to work through accepting the process. In other words, working with the resistance that might have arisen. Grief is often part of that process and when we recognise we need to let go of something we often get a sense of loss. Loss of hope, loss of a person or a situation, loss of a dream. And we need to allow ourselves to mourn.
As for the process of letting go itself, the last stage starts with identifying what exactly we are letting go of on top of the tangible experience. Meaning that if we are letting go of a romantic relationship we need to ask ourselves “what was that relationship offering me?” the answer might be love, comfort, companionship, security etc etc. We need to discover here what are the invisible intangible qualities and aspects of our internal world – our emotions and concepts – that are attached to the object we are aiming to let go of.
For a job or a workplace, the answer could be security, comfort, passion, colleagues and friendships. In parting with people, it’s exploring what was that relationship giving us, such as support, care, feeling understood, etc etc. If you’re working on letting go of your past, you may need to identify what keeps you holding onto it ; is it because it gives you a sense of identity? Is it because there are unresolved issues that need to be address? Is it because there are emotions such as guilt and anger that need to be worked through?
What’s important is to identify specifically what you were getting, often subconsciously. And letting go means simply not looking for those things in that place anymore.
So if you’re letting go of a relationship, once you’ve identified what it was giving you, the process of moving on means consciously stopping to expect to receive those qualities (care, love, support etc) from that specific person. If you’re letting go of a job, ask yourself: what was I getting from that job? financial security? belonging to a community? working on my passion? etc and then consciously practise stopping looking for those qualities in this place.
That will allow you, once you’ve fully let go, to look for those aspects somewhere else, so you don’t feel despondent and it nurtures the hope that you can still feel fulfilled in the near future. Because you’ll know exactly what you’re looking for, which will make the process easier and quicker.
The mind doesn’t often let go easily. To avoid a sense of failure, we need to have something to look forward to. We need to recognise that this experience – relationship, job, house, past – has helped us grow. There are some learnings and some take away that are and will be useful for the future, that have the potential to shape us into a wiser and better person. So the loss can be counter-balanced a bit with a sense of learnings and achievement.
It’s not easy, don’t get me wrong. The process of letting go can be long and tedious. We navigate between the 3 stages – acknowledging, accepting and stop expecting – for a while sometimes. Resistance and denial may come up. But it’s a journey. It requires patience and a lot of kindness towards yourself.