Why Telling Yourself To “Let That Go” Doesn’t Work.
Have you ever felt like you needed to let something go? Maybe it was a friendship, a job, a spouse, a grudge, or a cherished opinion. If you have, you know that telling yourself to let that go doesn’t often work.
And then there are the well-meaning people that say, “You need to just let that go.” Immediately when I hear that, I think I know I need to let that go, and I don’t know how I’m supposed to do that. If it were that easy I would have let go already.
I recently listened to a beautiful four-minute meditation on my favorite meditation app – Insight Timer. It was based on the poem, She Let Go written by Safire Rose, as spoken and composed by Jac Godsman. It was extremely moving and I would recommend that you listen to it. You can listen HERE.
After listening to the poem, I began to reflect on the process of letting go and how we can arrive at that place that brings deeper peace to our lives.
I’ve noticed in my own life that letting go can be quite challenging.
Why is letting go so challenging?
The quote by Pema Chodron from her book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times pretty much sums it up:
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
Human beings are meaning-making machines. We have the ability to reflect and learn from our experiences and then create meaning out of them.
The psychiatrist Victor Frankl in his memoir Man’s Search For Meaning described how he created meaning in his experience of living in four different death camps, including Auschwitz between 1942 and 1945. Frankl believed that as human beings our primary drive isn’t for pleasure, rather it’s the pursuit of meaning.
“In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
What does this have to do with the ability to let things go?
We usually want to let something go that is causing us some degree of suffering.
If it wasn’t bothering us we wouldn’t want to let it go. As Frankl suggested, suffering is transformed when we create meaning out of the experience. When we’ve extracted the meaning from the situation, we then transform the energy of feeling stuck into something that propels us towards deeper meaning and connection in our lives.
Here’s a concrete example from my own life:
Ten years ago I decided to leave a career in Nursing. I LOVED being a Nurse. After I left Nursing, I had a hard time letting it go. Why? Because I really loved it and it gave me a sense of purpose in my life. And yet… at a deeper level, I knew I needed to let it go so that I could move on to something that had yet to be created in my life.
Over time, I was able to let it go but not because I told myself to let it go. I was able to let it go by creating meaning out of my experience as a Nurse. As I began to understand why Nursing had meant so much to me, I was able to channel my energy into a new path.
The same could be said for our relationships. If you’re in a relationship and decide that you need to let it go, and you haven’t learned the lessons that the challenges of the relationship, you will repeat the same pattern in a new relationship.
I share a number of other examples from my own life in, What My Soul Taught Me – 10 Lessons For Living A Meaningful Life.
This also goes for forgiveness.
So many people say they’ve forgiven and yet still hold the feelings of anger and resentment in their hearts. Forgiveness is the ultimate of letting it go. And yet, in order to let go of the anger and resentment we need to create meaning around the experience. For women, that’s often about learning How to Honor Your Boundaries to Prevent Resentment.
Wanting to let stuff go before we’ve extracted the meaning and soul lessons from the experience is what keeps us stuck.
In the process of creating meaning, we grow and evolve. The fruit of that growth is the realization that we have let something go. We let it go when it had taught us what we were meant to learn. And until the experience has taught us what we’re meant to learn, we’re not meant to let it go.
So perhaps as a mantra instead of saying, “let it go” we need to ask, “What does this mean?” and “What am I meant to learn from this experience?”
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