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Letting Go, Moving On

4 January 2010 No Comment

We’ve lost many of the rituals and rites of passage that marked important transitions. One we’ve thankfully retained is celebrating the change from one year to the next. It can be easy to forget, though, as we party and toast the New Year that to move forward we have to let go of some of what has gone before or we risk getting tied down by the threads of our past.

Life is like a circus trapeze act. Imagine the acrobat, the bar gripped firmly in her hands. Ahead is the bar she needs to grab onto. That bar ahead is the future and the graceful, effortless flight from one bar to the next is the acrobat’s purpose, her reason for being.

One crucial thing has to happen before flying through the air and safely arriving on the next bar.

She has to let go of the bar she currently holds.

So in life.

We have to let go before we can move forward.

Letting Go Is Not Always Easy

I’ve not yet flown on a trapeze but I imagine one thing the acrobat needs to deal with is fear of letting go.

That fear is understandable.

What is in my grasp is familiar and safe and, no matter how attractive the way ahead, I fear a fall. No matter how painful it is where I am, letting go comes with uncertainty. Will the change be better or worse? Will I manage to hold on? Will I cope?

I believe understanding and releasing what holds me back is crucial to live a full and successful life – and there’s no time like the present for doing it.

We hold on to … PEOPLE

Not one of us is entirely alone. Some have huge circles of family, friends and acquaintances, while others have very few people around. Some of those relationships have been with us for many years and some are new. Each one of them serves some purpose in our lives – to give us love, belonging, learning, friendship, partnership or just fun.

Mourning is widely recognised as an important process when someone dies, when a relationship breaks down or when someone moves away. Even though it can be very hard when they leave, we somehow recognise the importance of letting go when the relationship end is outside our control.

But what about those people who are still in our lives and hold us back in some way?

Those who criticise our choices and are always looking for fault (some ‘friends’ or members of the family, perhaps?). Those we’ve known for ever and the only thing holding us together are memories of a distant past (old friends?). Those with whom we are ‘unnaturally’ dependent (grown up children? parents?). Or perhaps just those we don’t enjoy any more and somehow still keep meeting them.

Who is holding you back in some way? Who are you holding onto?

It’s probably time to update the relationship with an honest heart to heart and either change something or leave them – with gratitude for what they brought to you.

We hold on to … MEMORIES

Great things happen to all of us. Terrible things do too.

That’s life.

Often we hold onto the past long after the events have finished. We get nostalgic for our memories of better days and we get triggered into pain or anger by memories of things we’d prefer to forget.

The past is dead – but not buried for as long as we keep it alive in our memory. And as with all things that are dead, memories decompose and fester.

The good memories take on a sweet, rose coloured decay and, while they may be comforting in difficult moments, they are dead and gone. They stop us living our lives here and now. They make it harder to deal with the challenges of today because our energy is sucked into regret for the lost times that have been.

And the bad memories get relived over and over in our minds, bring us down and rot our hearts. They also stop us living our lives here and now. They keep us stuck in anger at the things that, in a just and loving world, should not have occurred. The reality is that they did happen – just we haven’t buried them yet.

What memories are you holding onto? What unburied things do you keep alive in your memory?

Perhaps it’s time to let them go and move on? Release them by talking to someone or maybe writing them down and burning the paper. It may not happen overnight but take a first step.

We hold on to … THINGS

Unless you’re a naked hermit living in a cave and off the land you’ve probably accumulated a few material possessions. Perhaps even a lot of them.

Of course we need some physical things to support our lives, for convenience or because they look good. I’m certainly not advocating removing everything. I am advocating being honest with ourselves about what things hold us back from making the next move in our lives.

Maybe it’s our home and the mortgage attached to it? Investments where we’re often checking the share prices? Furniture that we inherited? Or perhaps small things, such as gifts or paintings by the kids, that represent old memories?

Each thing we possess needs a certain amount of maintenance – repairs, cleaning, painting, servicing, etc..

But there’s also emotional maintenance we invest in these objects. The resignation (or delight?) that we’re stuck in this house for the next 24 years of mortgage payments. The pride as we show off our child’s prize drawing from 18 years ago. The worry that grandma’s antique table will get scratched every time someone visits.

I sometimes imagine everything I own is attached to me by an invisible thread. Some threads are thick and strong, while others are thin and easily broken. Individually, each thread is manageable and doesn’t hold me back in any significant way. Collectively, if I allow it, they tangle me up and tie me down.

What things hold you back?

Now’s a good time to let go of some of the things that weigh you down and hold you back. Sell them, give them away or discard them. Put them into storage if you really can’t face letting them go – but make that first move.

We hold on to … DREAMS

Personally I believe it’s our hopes and dreams that give us fuel to create great things in our world. Our dreams of how things could be, shape our actions to improve our lives and those of the people around us. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect only human beings possess the capacity to dream and to lose that entirely would be a terrible thing.

I also believe if we hold onto dreams when they no longer serve us they get in the way of moving forward. Letting go and mourning unfulfilled dreams is crucial to give space to new, more compelling dreams.

Maybe our life turned out differently compared to the dreams we had when we were younger. A project we dreamed of winning that went to someone else. A person we dreamed of being with who chose another. Any disappointment, regret or anger we feel in relation to our dreams is possibly a sign we haven’t moved on and are still hanging on.

What dreams have passed their shelf life and need to be discarded?

Now’s the time to mourn those dreams and let them go. Find new, better dreams that could flourish in the space you give them to grow.

A book I can recommend is ‘Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes’ by William Bridges. I found this incredibly helpful at several stages of my life where I was struggling to deal with change and letting go of the past.

Good luck! Enjoy the flight from the past to the present.

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