“Letting go gives us freedom and freedom is the only condition for happiness.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
My father died when I was fifteen, so I learned right away that life was too short. At the time, the only meaning I could grasp from his death was that my life needs to mean something.
I vowed to make something great out of myself.
I went to college determined to become a police officer. I had a strange gut feeling going in, something telling me that it was wrong, but I just assumed it was because I had a hearing loss, and I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
I graduated with a degree in Applied Arts and Science. To this day, I’m not sure how I went down that path.
I know it was mostly due to confusion and self-doubt. I still had to be an officer though; I had to do something with my life. I spent more than a year unemployed, hating myself more and more with each failed interview, each rejected resume.
In my spare time, apart from moping, I wrote. Growing up I always had a small dream to be a writer, but I always pushed it aside, for too many reasons to list.
One day, after I failed a physical to enter the police academy by two seconds, I drove home and it hit me.
I didn’t want to be a police officer. I wanted to be a writer.
What was I doing?
I mentally beat myself up. I was so desperate, so attached to the idea that I had to be great, go somewhere no hard of hearing person ever went, that I failed to truly live.
How could I miss all the things around me that I enjoyed, that made me happy and at peace?
I had an amazing husband who always nudged me to write. I had great friends who loved me for who I was, not who I was set out to be. I had a family who supported me no matter what.
I lived in Colorado with beautiful mountains and scenery.
I failed to realize what I really learned from my father’s death: life is too short. Embrace the moments.
How often have we attached ourselves to an idea that if I accomplish this, then I’ll be happy? The thing about dreams and goals is that they have to change with us. We can’t expect things out of life. We have to enjoy the ride, learn from our sufferings, and take each day as it comes.
Letting go of a dream, especially one I’d held since childhood, was a very hard thing for me to do. But once I did, I’d never felt so free. Everything in my life fell into place.
Attachment makes us suffer; it forces us into self-doubt and misery. We are tied down and locked in the prison of our own minds.
Once you let go, you are free. It’s so liberating. It starts to become a little bit easier, day by day, to let go of other things. It’s not easy, though. Old habits tend to pull us back in, but if we learn to recognize this, we can continue to soar.
How can you let go? Here’s what I learned that helped me.
1. Don’t expect things out of life.
This applies to everything. When you’re nice to someone, you expect them to be nice back. When you do someone a favor, you expect something in return. When you have a dream, you expect that it has to happen or you’re a failure.
I expected to be a police officer. I ended up being a writer and working in a bookstore. And I’m so happy with where I ended up. You can’t force life to happen. Letting go helps you to embrace life and the path you are on, not the path you expected to be on. And sometimes you end up where you need to be.
2. Accept things the way they are.
Again, apply this to every aspect of your life. Accept people for who they are and how they behave. Accept who you are. Accept the world for what it is. Once you accept things, you can look deeper and see things for what they really are.
3. Meditate or sit quietly.
Sometimes just sitting still and quietly can help us look deep within ourselves and see what we really want. If I had done this long ago, I would’ve realized that being a police officer wasn’t what I truly wanted.
When you meditate or just sit with your thoughts, you’ll find that the answer you want will come to you. and it’ll always be the one you’ll least expect.
4. Recognize your feelings.
When you find yourself attached to an emotion or idea, recognize the feelings and reasons behind it. What emotion is locking you to your attachment?
For example, my attachment to being an officer was due to an old childhood emotion of wanting to prove to everyone that I can do something most people can’t.
This is one of the hardest. We have to look deep within us and forgive ourselves for everything. We have to see that we’re humans, and no human is perfect. We all make mistakes, and it’s okay to have made mistakes.
Forgive yourself for everything. Once you do, you can let go of the attachments that keep you trapped, whether it’s to anger, a false self, or fear.
It’s only until we let go are we truly free. And it’s only then can we really embrace the present moments and life itself.
Woman with arms up image via Shutterstock