“The obstacles of your past can become the gateways that lead to new beginnings.” ~Ralph Blum
We are all familiar with the concept of “releasing the past.”
As one who has experienced lots of events in my life that I've been anxious, at times, to let go of, I'm very familiar with this concept.
We want to be present to fully experience everything in our lives, without being tethered to what has already occurred; we want to be ready, willing, and in the moment so we can take what comes at its face value. (Just in case you’re wondering, for me it’s a work in progress!)
We do not want to evaluate our current and future experiences based on a past that we may, or may not have, enjoyed.
I didn’t start to seriously consider my own desire to let go of the past until I came out of a really bad relationship.
Part of my personal process of healing was some intense internal questioning and exploration of the experience. I started considering what I might actually want from a relationship, and what qualities I’d prefer in a partner.
I realized I was thinking of what I wanted in terms of what I didn’t want.
These “don’t wants” were all things I’d already experienced in the previous relationship. I recognized that I was actually anxious and nervous at the idea of the “don’t wants” occurring again, and that’s when I realized it was time to let go.
This experience, and others, also helped me to realize that the desire to “release the past” is at odds with the common admonishment that we learn from it.
When we are small, we learn by trying over and over (and sometimes over and over and over) again. We did not use a spoon correctly on the first attempt; nor did we walk without falling on our diapered butts many times. This is an absolutely normal part of the learning process.
We were not born with the tendency to judge ourselves for how many times over we try; that came later. At some point, “attempts” became “mistakes,” and the self-judgment kicked in.
This occurs in conjunction with recognizing the cultural belief that responsible people learn from their mistakes. This is a concept we value very highly in our human tribe. There is often great negative judgment placed on people who, it is perceived, make the same “mistakes” over and over.
Most of us want to avoid feeling judged (by ourselves and others) and the unpleasant emotions that come with it, so we readily accept that we must learn from our errors.
One of the ways we try to do this is by maintaining the related images and inner dialogue of the past in our present consciousness. Think of it as the past being front and center, right in our faces.
It’s tough to let go of something that we are also maintaining a hold on so we do not forget it, and therefore repeat it.
How can we move forward, both with releasing the past, and learning from it?
When we consciously desire to let go of an old experience, what we are often actually saying is, “I’m not okay with what happened and I want to pretend it never occurred.” Not a lot of acceptance in that sentence, self or otherwise.
What if we replace it with, “I’m not happy with what happened, but I accept that it did, it’s done, and I trust myself enough to leave it in the past, where it is.”
Re-framing the “I’m not okay…” phrase with a little self-acceptance has a very different sound and feel.
Similarly, it’s tough to learn from our mistakes when we are busy beating ourselves up over them.
Acceptance of whatever occurred (your own bad behavior or someone else’s) can ease the process.
There is a huge difference between learning from one’s mistakes and constantly berating oneself about said mistakes in an effort not to repeat them.
I think we all want to live in the now—enjoying, noticing, appreciating, learning, and embracing our lives without the miscellaneous paraphernalia of the past coloring our perspectives and creating expectations that don’t support us.
Stepping fully into the present is a wonderful gift to give ourselves. What are some tools you’ve found helpful when letting go of the past?
Photo by truds09