The Hardest Part of Life Is Letting Go

The Past 1.png

Amid all this time and space the COVID-19 pandemic has given me, I decided that I want more mental and physical room in which to move around. I want to clean out some of the old stuff and clear a space where creativity can flourish and where a new version of my future can begin to form.

I can’t move forward as I’d like, dragging my heavy, dusty past behind me. It’s time to let it go.

At mid-life, if we’re fortunate enough to live that long, we come upon a fork in the road. It’s there we pause and choose to hold on to our past tightly or choose to release it. I’ve seen folks choose one or the other to varying degrees. From what I’ve seen, the people who are able to let go are happier and freer. To me, happiness and freedom are appealing. I understand this is not the case for everyone.

The trouble with living into our fifties and beyond is that we’ve accumulated a lot of shit along the way. What untidy and disheveled mental attics and crawl spaces we own! We’ve even stored up the physical junk, those bags and boxes, jars and totes, jammed with tokens of our past lives, lives that are gone. There’s nothing much there that anyone will want after we die and yet we hold on.

The Past 2.png

We can choose to keep all of it, caressing each carton, each memory as we revisit our journey thus far. For some, the journey may have been pleasant. Perhaps you recall a grassy roadway and gentle sunshine on your shoulders. My looking-back path is not smooth. It’s covered with roots of regret that trip me up and sharp stones of memories that cut, reopening the wounds of the past.

I guess you can call it a choice, my decision to let go of the past that follows me, slowing my steps and weighing on my heart. But it’s not really a choice anymore; it’s a necessary surgery, this removal of those malignant cells. I have to shed them or they’ll keep growing until they kill me. I’m sure of this because I’ve seen it happen. Some holder-on-ers haven’t physically died yet, but big chunks of them are poisoned and they are determined to share that poison.

I’ve met some folks who, when presented with the option of happiness and freedom, say, “I have the right to remember. I have the right to be angry.” They’re correct, of course. Everybody has the right to feel pain, to self-inflict it over and over again. You have the right to sit outside at a future barbecue, and in a shady corner of the yard, stab yourself repeatedly in the thigh with a large meat fork.

Someone might pull their lawn chair into the shade alongside yours and suggest, “You know, you don’t have to keep torturing yourself. Put that fork down. Come play Frisbee with us, if you can still walk, that is.”

The Past 3.png

You don’t stab her with your precious meat fork. That’s a special pain reserved for you. But you knew this do-gooder would try to convince you to have a pleasant time and you’re ready for her. You’ve been sharpening your words for weeks before this get together in anticipation of this moment. You verbally jab at the one inviting you to join in the fun. You’ve perfected a particularly humiliating memory to prick her with. And you’ll remind her and everyone else at the party about her shame, about her pain. Why should you suffer alone when there’s so much sorrow and anger to go around?

In the end, we can’t make the decision to release the past for anyone but ourselves. It’s true that you really can’t help anyone but yourself. Part of self-care is learning to avoid those who want to inflict their pain on you, to fill your head with their baggage. You might have to let them go, as well.

In this time of physical distancing and an uncertain future (isn’t the future always uncertain, though?), I’ve had more space in which to work on letting go of both my mental and material clutter. It is hard work and I know I won’t do it perfectly. But I am grateful for the opportunity. I’ve got the time to tackle this job.

I’ll try to focus more on what’s happening in the present moment and review the past less. It’s over. It’s gone. It’s dead. But I’m still alive and able to breathe the sweet fresh air of this new day. I can’t take away anyone else’s pain, but I can release my own and who knows what kind of a difference that might make to me and to the world. Let’s see.

Take care and thanks for reading. Be well and be safe. ~ Lori

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It’s My Own Damn Fault

HealEmotionalPainThe sweet taste of blame

Following a relationship-dissolution in my mid-twenties, I decided to participate in a few counselling sessions to help me deal with my grief and shame. The kind counsellor wanted to start by talking about my childhood. Together, we remembered things I’d forgotten or hadn’t considered to be that momentous. Until those sessions my childhood was just what it was. I never thought that my upbringing was anything but normal. Of course, I understand now that no one has a typical childhood. Everyone’s is different.

Listen to me read this post:

At the time, though, it was very sweet to look back on how my parents had “wronged” me and hurt me. I’m not sure the counsellor intended this, but I left each session thinking, “This situation and pain isn’t my fault! If it weren’t for my parents, I wouldn’t be in this mess right now!” My declaration was partly true in that if it weren’t for my parents, I wouldn’t be anywhere right now.

152115 (2)
My mom, Sylvia, on her wedding day at nineteen.

Back then I really enjoyed being given permission to criticize the upbringing my parents provided. I hadn’t really gone there before and I liked the ride. It was exhilarating until the blame slowly formed into a hot ball of anger that sat burning in my stomach. Then I knew I’d ingested too much delicious blame.

The rule of 35

Occasionally I hear people talk about how they were mistreated as kids by their parents. I have no doubt that their stories are true and their pain is real. I also believe this kind of thinking sprinkles salt into wounds that should be allowed to heal.

Is there a cure for some of these old hurts? The good old hard work of forgiveness is the best remedy, but it’s not quick and needs to be done repeatedly. One injection of forgiveness is often not enough. We have to keep getting booster shots to keep our hearts open.

Mom Dad Me 1969
Mom, Dad, and me in 1969. Don’t I look delightful?

A remedy I developed for myself is the rule of 35. Here’s how it works: If we’re 35 years old or more, we have to stop blaming our parents. We’ve had time to do the necessary repair work and we’ve had time to move on. Any dumb decisions we make at or after 35 are completely and wholly down to us.

Mom and Me
Mom and I at the hospital. Mom was twenty-one.

And if you’re a parent (disclaimer: I’m not) and your kids are over 35, you can’t take responsibility for their failures or their successes. It’s been too long since you raised them and too many other factors have steered their life’s course. Your past actions and influence are pretty watered-down by now. You did your best. You’ve grown and your children have grown, too. We can remember them, but the people in those old family photos don’t exist anymore.

Uncertain and impossibly young

Speaking of old family photos, I recently saw some photos of my parents as newlyweds. That handsome couple looked impossibly young and very uncertain. Indeed, they were young in those black-and-white pictures, nineteen and twenty-one.

The past is an open cage out of which we can walk anytime. ~ Ajahn Brahm

Seeing my parents so young and so obviously trying to please their own parents, I realized they didn’t have all the answers. Heck, they didn’t know anything. I know this because at nineteen, I didn’t know anything. How can I blame these kids for doing what they thought was best or, at worst, doing the only thing they knew how to do?

Richard and dog photo
My dad and his dog.

My parents brought to their marriage and child-rearing their own pasts and their own pain. It’s up to me, though, as an adult to not continue the legacy. The fault-finding ends here.

 It’s my own damn fault

 I love Jimmy Buffett’s 1977 hit ”Margaritaville” in which the narrator finally takes responsibility for all the decisions he’s made that have ended him up where he is now. There’s optimism in this happy-sounding but ultimately sad song.

The lyrics outline a healthy progression from apathy to self-acceptance in three steps.

Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame:

  1. But I know it’s nobody’s fault.
  2. Now I think, hell, it could be my fault.
  3. Now I know it’s my own damn fault.

Sure, the song’s main character is still at the bottom of a well, but it seems the cover is off and he can see the light of day. I think he might just climb out yet with responsibility and acceptance forming the rope ladder.

Lost Shaker

Yes, it feels terrible to admit to ourselves that we’ve made poor decisions and behaved badly. No one enjoys it but if you’re alive, you’ve probably made a choice or two you’d like to go back and change.

I heard a Buddhist teacher on YouTube say something like this: The past is an open cage out of which we can walk anytime. I don’t know about you, but depending on the day, I need to walk out of that cage several times between sunup and sundown.

Our freedom lies in shouldering responsibility, picking it up and saying, “Yes, this is mine. It doesn’t belong to anyone else.” The chains fall off when we accept, not dodge, the fact of our mistakes.

Our personal history only holds as much importance as we imbue it with. If we think our past hurts control our lives, then we’re stuck. If we can instead think, “Yes, that’s a part of me but it’s a small part and it doesn’t matter that much anymore,” the cage door of the past swings open and we’re free to walk out.

 

It’s My Own Damn Fault

HealEmotionalPainThe sweet taste of blame

Following a relationship-dissolution in my mid-twenties, I decided to participate in a few counselling sessions to help me deal with my grief and shame. The kind counsellor wanted to start by talking about my childhood. Together, we remembered things I’d forgotten or hadn’t considered to be that momentous. Until those sessions my childhood was just what it was. I never thought that my upbringing was anything but normal. Of course, I understand now that no one has a typical childhood. Everyone’s is different.

Listen to me read this post:

At the time, though, it was very sweet to look back on how my parents had “wronged” me and hurt me. I’m not sure the counsellor intended this, but I left each session thinking, “This situation and pain isn’t my fault! If it weren’t for my parents, I wouldn’t be in this mess right now!” My declaration was partly true in that if it weren’t for my parents, I wouldn’t be anywhere right now.

152115 (2)
My mom, Sylvia, on her wedding day at nineteen.

Back then I really enjoyed being given permission to criticize the upbringing my parents provided. I hadn’t really gone there before and I liked the ride. It was exhilarating until the blame slowly formed into a hot ball of anger that sat burning in my stomach. Then I knew I’d ingested too much delicious blame.

The rule of 35

Occasionally I hear people talk about how they were mistreated as kids by their parents. I have no doubt that their stories are true and their pain is real. I also believe this kind of thinking sprinkles salt into wounds that should be allowed to heal.

Is there a cure for some of these old hurts? The good old hard work of forgiveness is the best remedy, but it’s not quick and needs to be done repeatedly. One injection of forgiveness is often not enough. We have to keep getting booster shots to keep our hearts open.

Mom Dad Me 1969
Mom, Dad, and me in 1969. Don’t I look delightful?

A remedy I developed for myself is the rule of 35. Here’s how it works: If we’re 35 years old or more, we have to stop blaming our parents. We’ve had time to do the necessary repair work and we’ve had time to move on. Any dumb decisions we make at or after 35 are completely and wholly down to us.

Mom and Me
Mom and I at the hospital. Mom was twenty-one.

And if you’re a parent (disclaimer: I’m not) and your kids are over 35, you can’t take responsibility for their failures or their successes. It’s been too long since you raised them and too many other factors have steered their life’s course. Your past actions and influence are pretty watered-down by now. You did your best. You’ve grown and your children have grown, too. We can remember them, but the people in those old family photos don’t exist anymore.

Uncertain and impossibly young

Speaking of old family photos, I recently saw some photos of my parents as newlyweds. That handsome couple looked impossibly young and very uncertain. Indeed, they were young in those black-and-white pictures, nineteen and twenty-one.

The past is an open cage out of which we can walk anytime. ~ Ajahn Brahm

Seeing my parents so young and so obviously trying to please their own parents, I realized they didn’t have all the answers. Heck, they didn’t know anything. I know this because at nineteen, I didn’t know anything. How can I blame these kids for doing what they thought was best or, at worst, doing the only thing they knew how to do?

Richard and dog photo
My dad and his dog.

My parents brought to their marriage and child-rearing their own pasts and their own pain. It’s up to me, though, as an adult to not continue the legacy. The fault-finding ends here.

 It’s my own damn fault

 I love Jimmy Buffett’s 1977 hit ”Margaritaville” in which the narrator finally takes responsibility for all the decisions he’s made that have ended him up where he is now. There’s optimism in this happy-sounding but ultimately sad song.

The lyrics outline a healthy progression from apathy to self-acceptance in three steps.

Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame:

  1. But I know it’s nobody’s fault.
  2. Now I think, hell, it could be my fault.
  3. Now I know it’s my own damn fault.

Sure, the song’s main character is still at the bottom of a well, but it seems the cover is off and he can see the light of day. I think he might just climb out yet with responsibility and acceptance forming the rope ladder.

Lost Shaker

Yes, it feels terrible to admit to ourselves that we’ve made poor decisions and behaved badly. No one enjoys it but if you’re alive, you’ve probably made a choice or two you’d like to go back and change.

I heard a Buddhist teacher on YouTube say something like this: The past is an open cage out of which we can walk anytime. I don’t know about you, but depending on the day, I need to walk out of that cage several times between sunup and sundown.

Our freedom lies in shouldering responsibility, picking it up and saying, “Yes, this is mine. It doesn’t belong to anyone else.” The chains fall off when we accept, not dodge, the fact of our mistakes.

Our personal history only holds as much importance as we imbue it with. If we think our past hurts control our lives, then we’re stuck. If we can instead think, “Yes, that’s a part of me but it’s a small part and it doesn’t matter that much anymore,” the cage door of the past swings open and we’re free to walk out.

 

Room to Grow

TNH Letting Go Quote

There was barely room for me in the car! I had garbage bags stuffed with bottles and cans in the trunk and rattling away on the passenger side floor and seat. Behind the driver’s seat tilted an old amplifier. A huge comforter, bed skirt, and bags of clothes, shoes, and purses filled up the rest of the backseat.

As I drove down the highway to the thrift shop and bottle depot, my blonde head peered over the steering wheel of a lime green hatchback and I was surrounded by heaps of stuff that I needed to get rid of. It was a lot, and it was just the beginning. My life desperately needs a thorough spring cleaning.

Listen to me read this post:

Letting go can be difficult, but then one day we’re ready to cut ourselves loose from all the junk that’s been dragging us down. We realize, “Hey! These things aren’t helping me anymore. They’re hindering, and I want them gone.” It’s freeing, all this letting go. Releasing useless stuff brings peace of mind and lightness of heart.

That’s where I am this spring. I’m ready to let go of photographs and drums. I’m ready to set free shirts and pants and sandals that I haven’t worn for years. I can’t wait to discard unused appliances, and dishes and cutlery, and VHS tapes. The space in my house is limited and as I prepare to trim down my possessions, I remember that the space in my mind is also limited.

LTomlin Forgiveness quote

As I start to let go of all these material items, of all this concrete clutter, I can’t help but notice all the mental refuse I carry around. My head is full of a lot junk that I could do without.

I carry around negative thoughts and disturbing memories. Looking at these thoughts and memories doesn’t do me any good. Maybe once they had a lesson for me, but that lesson’s long since been learned. It’s spring now, a fresh new season, and it’s time to leave these unneeded items behind.

It’s easy – and tempting – to carry the negative stuff of the past into my today. It’s so easy to fill my pockets with a million bitter rocks and then trudge along listlessly through life. Pretty soon I’m so heavy with anger, resentment, and sorrow that I can’t move anymore. I get stuck.

I don’t want to be stuck. I don’t want to be weighed down. I want to empty my mental pockets and run in the spring sunshine. Like it was time to recycle all those bottles and cans, now it’s time to exchange pain and regret for a free mind and a lighter heart.

HealEmotionalPain

It’s not easy to do. Like cleaning up any big mess it takes time to declutter the heart and mind. It takes time, patience, and work to forgive myself and others. It takes effort to focus on the positive and to remember the happy times. Bit by bit and memory by memory, I’ll sort it out. I’ll keep the good stuff and display it where I can enjoy it, and I’ll work to dispose of what’s been weighing me down and holding me back. This kind of spring cleaning really makes a difference. This kind of spring cleaning gives happiness room to grow.

Never Again

Train Tracks
The Canadian Pacific Railway line that runs by my village.

When it comes right down to it, no matter what anyone does to us, we’re in control of our own feelings and mostly in control of our actions. Recently I was reminded of a time several years ago when I allowed someone to treat me horribly and I, in return, did the same. For a long time, I felt angry with myself about this, but now, I discover, I’m done being angry with anyone over that whole disaster.

At the time, I was newly out of a comfortable relationship and living alone. I was planning to leave my teaching position and move to a different city a lot further south. While I looked forward to that adventure, the prospect of it was also terrifying as big life changes often are. I guess I was looking for a distraction from my fear. I found a distraction, all right. It just goes to show that we should always be cautious about what we seek because we might find it.

It was the kind of relationship I’d never had before and not had since because, usually, I’m not bat-crap crazy. Back then and for a bit, I must’ve been because that’s the only explanation for my behaviour. It was an on-again, off-again kind of fiasco, rife with mind games and hurtful words and searing actions. I felt very small, and my own actions were mean and small. It’s embarrassing to think about now, but I think it’s a state most of us have experienced, so I don’t mind sharing. All of this mess happened years ago in another time and in another place.

Time like a river.
A river in summertime.

Being an optimist and a people-lover, it’s hard for me to face the fact that there are always people in certain circumstances who will use others to benefit themselves. It’s even harder to face the fact that I have sometimes been one of those people.

Saints excluded, I think that to a greater or lesser degree, this element of self-preservation exists within most of us human beings. It’s just the way we’re wired and for evolutionary purposes, it’s probably come in really handy, this selfishness. It allowed us to survive and for our lineage to thrive. Fair enough in the jungle and in the caves, and I’d like to believe we can rise above that base instinct now and aim for something kinder, more beneficial to the entire species.

I admit that I was no innocent bystander in this craziness, no halo-draped angel. Nope, I was fully-engaged and I take responsibility for allowing the destructiveness to continue for as long as it did. I could have walked away any time. Finally, I did.

Best Caboose
A Canadian Pacific caboose on a hot August day.

I had the opportunity to re-engage that person from so long ago. While I wish him health and happiness, I’m smarter now. When I saw it approaching, the wisdom I’ve acquired in the years between now and then told me to leap off the tracks and just let that train speed on by.

Wisdom also told me not to place dynamite on the tracks or to throw eggs at the passing cars. There’s no point. What good are they, those little actions that serve only to shrink and harden my heart? After all, it was a small, hard heart that got me into that situation and it’s a bigger, more open heart that’s keeping me out.