“Letting go” is a phrase that can be loaded with emotional baggage. Most if not all the young adults I know want their parents to start letting go of the reins. But once that wish comes true, we begin discovering the truth: that letting go is never as easy as it sounds. Beyond the middle age years of building and obtaining, we find ourselves as older adults in a period of life that demands letting go. Seems as if the losses I’ve had to face in recent times have resulted in me feeling more comfortable with letting go in general. Finally the so-called “wisdom of age” has arrived.
What am I letting go of?
- Sadness over the relatives who have passed away and friends who have moved away. I see now that love doesn’t end, memories don’t fade and true friendships can be maintained at a distance.
- Hoarding. No more old clothes that don’t fit my current lifestyle. Sometimes less is more.
- Fear of not doing enough that leads to being overly serious about changing the world. I can only change myself. Glaciers are melting faster than society changes.
- Resentment at being “invisible”. I’m letting go of cosmetics and embracing my natural self. Any lotions and potions I put on or in my body had better help me feel better or be healthier. Vanity be gone.
- I’m letting go of the desire to be “important.” I feel fine with letting the next generation sit in the big chair and see their ideas in action. The meaning in my life comes now from much subtler and more personal accomplishments.
- I’m letting go of volunteering in advance and waiting more often to be asked for specific input or action. I recognize how much value I bring by simply being present.
- By letting go of so much that I thought was “essentially me”, I feel a growing acceptance of the aging changes I’m seeing in others. I’m letting my relationship with my partner and our lifestyle go from holding on to false expectations and adapting to what cannot stay the same.
Why is it difficult to let go?
Grasping is one of the earliest reflexes. Think of a newborn sweetly grabbing hold of your finger. Think of a toddler curiously grabbing anything and taking it directly to her mouth. These are the beneficial ways the instinct to hold on serves us: we grab first to survive and then to pull ourselves up toward independence. Even when you were ready to relinquish the training wheels to take your first true bicycle ride. Remember shakily demanding, “Don’t let go!” as your parent or older sibling ran alongside holding onto the seat? Use strengthens routine and repeated routine builds habit. Holding on becomes synonymous with stability and safety. As we proceed through life letting go becomes harder to do and harder to accept when forced upon us.
What’s so difficult to let go of?
Just about anything we make a place for in our lives. A residence, person, job, or possession. These are the obvious anchors. It’s tough to separate from what has become familiar and/or reliable. How about other less tangible, usually more unconscious anchors we have trouble letting go of? Which side of the bed we sleep on, how we like our meals prepared, the way we react to the word “no”, our desire to be “liked,” if not loved? It’s tough to let go and move on. Your subconscious wants to hold onto the familiar like a dog that won’t let go of a bone. Letting go means releasing aspects of your past, aspects of yourself, and expectations that represent comfort. But let’s take this full circle.
Why letting go is important.
Without letting go of the old, there’s no room in your closet for a new pair of shoes, no stimulus for renewal in a worn relationship, little or no novelty or growth in your life. How to go about letting go? Reread the first sentence of the last paragraph. It’s hard to let go of “just about anything we make a place for in our lives.”
How to get it done.
Even if we’re acting unconsciously, we are making decisions every day that keep us stuck rather than moving forward. Therefore letting go begins with a decision made in the head. But that’s not enough. Letting go requires activating a heart-motivated commitment to follow through, because taking a leap into new territory is never easy.
Finding it difficult to let go of an old relationship (with a person, job, or even an object) that doesn’t work for you anymore? Find someone with whom you can talk about your pain. Own up to how your fear of change may be sabotaging your process of release. Focus on what you can do differently today that may lead to new outcomes and any bit of pleasure that offers.
Find it difficult to let go of your expectations within a relationship that has changed? Look at the expectations you are holding on to as if you were an objective third party. Are you holding on to the role of “victim”, “righteous one”, or “perfectionist”? Role play a conversation between your higher self and your stuck self. If the relationship is worth keeping even though it’s changing, then turn your attention to the sunny side of the street. Turn a deaf ear to your whining, judgmental, “if only…” monkey mind. Release yourself into the present.
Having trouble exorcising deep-seated emotions like shame, envy, guilt, a wrong you felt has been dealt your way? Buy into the mantra that “all judgments are odious”, those made against ourselves or others, those expressed by others against ourselves. Repeat daily, “What others think of me is none of my business.” Focus on your strengths. Forgive. Accept. Express. Distract. Fill yourself with new energy, activities, people, plans – in spite of lingering pain or doubts.