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  • Writer's pictureShuree Waggoner LMHC

Letting Go: Great Idea. How Do I Do It?

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

Hot shot kid in a too-fast car cut you off this morning; it’s noon and you’re still seething?

Clerk at the grocery store wouldn’t let you in his express line because the guy behind you ratted on your 11th item?

Husband had an affair 15 years ago and even though you’ve been divorced for seven, your stomach still knots up when you think about it?

You moved to a new city for a great career opportunity but long so for your old home and your old friends that you can’t find anything to like about the new place?

Your son stays home to care for the kids while your daughter-in-law works at her law practice and this just doesn’t seem right to you?

You know you should let it all go and you try, but there it is, that same old stuff still getting rent-free space in your head.

Just exactly how does one let go so that the residue of the past is put away, forgotten or transformed into memories that can be called upon at will rather than those that show up like telephone solicitors at dinnertime and demand attention?

Letting go has to do with living in the present moment rather than the past. It happens when the past isn’t projected into the future, but left behind where it belongs. It is about making amends when called for, taking care of that which needs attending to, forgiving rather than re-living.

• Try this: next time a thought about something that happened in the past floats into your mind let it pass through without jumping aboard and going along for the ride. If you focus on it, like a weed that gets watered, it will grow. But if you acknowledge it then disregard it, it will go away.

• However, if the thought that comes along is about something that’s left undone, you may need to take some action before you can let go. Make amends to someone, clear up some misunderstanding, write a letter or make a phone call. Maybe you need to make a list and set some goals. Begin with some small, manageable step of a larger problem or situation. Whatever you must do, begin it. Taking action sometimes precedes letting go.

• Stay in the now and be where you are. Create a supportive environment with what you have. Make a gratitude list of what you like about wherever you are, not just your living arrangements, but other parts of your life, too. Get rid of what doesn’t fit and give yourself space to be.

• Write letters that you may or may not send to people you need to let go of. (Caution: always wait a few days and check with someone you trust if you have any doubts about the appropriateness of the letter.) Write unsent letters to places, events, and situations or to people who have passed away. Write what you feel, say what you need, and say goodbye.

• Let go by putting away pictures, memorabilia, clothes, gifts and anything else that keeps you actively connected with someone who’s no longer with you and whose presence you keep alive when it would be more beneficial to move on.

• Make a ceremony of letting go. Burn old letters or journals. Dig a hole and bury what needs to be buried. Or send it away on a receding tide or on a flowing stream. Write a letter or vow for the occasion, read it aloud. Light candles, sing songs, burn sage. Weep. Include others in your ceremony to witness or assist you.

• Let go of old ideas by getting information about what’s new or different. People, lifestyles and cultures change. Talk to others, get other perspectives. Focus on what’s good with change, find ways it benefits you and others. Holding on to how it used to be keeps you from participating in the present.

• Release thoughts and words that categorize people, that measure or evaluate or that judge or condemn or hold with expectations. Eliminate words like should, ought, can’t, if only, however and impossible.

Gerald Jampolsky, M.D., author of Love is Letting Go of Fear, wrote, “When we cherish or hold onto grievances, we cannot let go. We become imprisoned.” Perhaps the highest level of letting go is to practice forgiveness.


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