Thursday, August 15, 2013

How to KNOW when you've let go

I was chatting with a friend last night when the topic of letting go came up. Recently I've had to do a lot in that department, so it was fresh in my mind. Apparently it was in hers as well. What followed was an in-depth discussion of what letting go looks like, how quickly it can be undone, and how to guard against slipping back into old patterns of behavior.

I guess I can take a minute to talk about why letting go is important. It almost sounds like a moot point, but some people still don't understand this concept, and some even actively oppose the idea as being "cold" or "unfeeling." 

However, letting go is the only way to cure ourselves from a set of self-defeating behaviors that keep us in the delusion that we have any control over someone else's behavior, from the zealous girlfriend's "I'll change him," to the distraught parent who blames himself or herself for the bad choices that his or her child may make as an adult. 

This set of behaviors conveys the message to the person we are trying to change, that we don't trust that person and we think we know what is best for him or her. "If they'd only listen!" we wail ... all to no avail. In fact, often such efforts to control or manipulate the ones we love actually drives them to behave in the very ways in which we DON'T want them to behave! In the meantime, others see our machinations and snicker up their sleeves at us - or worse yet, pity us. 

Here's the thing. There are certain things that are under our control. These are usually things that pertain to our own life - choices we make about ourselves that impact what our quality of life is. On the other hand, there are things over which we have no control. These are usually either circumstances that just happen, or decisions made by other people. The dividing line, the cross-over point, is found in learning where one person stops and the other begins. 

As simple as that sounds, it is not easy for people who (like me) all their lives have been taught that true fulfillment would be found in doing nice things for other people, looking after them, caring for them. I'm not saying that we aren't to care about people. What I'm saying is that there comes a point at which it becomes unhealthy, when we start bearing the consequences of someone else's actions for that person. The danger is that the person we are trying so hard to protect will come to depend on that safety net, and never learn to be self-sufficient or to take responsibility for his or her actions. People learn (or so they say) from their own mistakes. If I prevent someone from reaping the consequences of his or her actions, or I hinder that individual from learning his or her lesson from a mistake made, I rob that person of an opportunity to grow. 

Becoming aware that there is a problem is the first step in starting to remedy it. I remember catching myself "meddling" in my children's affairs - and stopping almost in mid-sentence to backtrack and extricate myself from getting involved. It was not easy. But knowing what the problem was helped me to take steps to correct it. It took a long time, but eventually I could catch myself earlier and earlier when I started to get too "in their face" about something I wanted to control. 

And so, I learned to let go - mostly by trial and error. A LOT of error. 

So ... back to our conversation.

"How do you know when you've let go?" my friend asked me.

Even as I typed, the simplicity of my answer astounded me. "You know you've let go of something when it can 'walk through your mind' without you getting upset, when you can honestly wish the best for that person or that situation without it needing your input." 
Thanks to dan at for his photo,
"Blue Butterfly"

As the conversation progressed, it became clear to both of us that while some people pay lip service to the idea of letting go, very few really grasp what that means, what it entails, how beneficial it is for both parties, and how easy it is to let the tendency to want to control slowly take over our lives again. 

Taking the reins again creeps up on you without you realizing it. Before long you catch yourself making little hints, or grumbling to yourself under your breath, or fantasizing about the way you wish things could be. It can't be separated from acceptance - accepting what IS is so powerful.

I've been living this lifestyle for enough time that to me it seems so simple (notice I DIDN'T say easy) ... and yet it is difficult to learn that once you accept, once you let go, you have to keep on accepting and letting go, and recognize when you grab the reins again (even if only in your mind.) If you don't, you'll crush the very delicate and rewarding relationships you have developed, ones based on equality and not power, ones that neither lord it over others nor are subservient to others.

Old habits are so deeply ingrained that it takes a lot of diligence (especially at first) to realize that "it's happening again." It is possible to train yourself to recognize it - but the human mind has ways of playing tricks, deceiving you into falling back into the same slimy pit over and over again. 

The bottom line, the chief indicator of success, is how you feel about a person or situation. If you are in turmoil, if you are not at peace or not accepting what the situation is or what the actions, beliefs and/or opinions of the other person are (notice I didn't say AGREEING WITH, just accepting), then you can be pretty sure that you've not let go fully ... at least not yet.

When you've let go, resentment is gone. Peace reigns. You can rejoice in the other person's accomplishments even if you don't agree with how he or she got there, and even if you had no hand or part to play in what he or she decided. You have more energy to devote to things that need attention in your own life. You aren't so draggy. It's like someone lifted a fifty-pound pack off your back and turned on a light in a very dark and uneven place. 

Yes, that really is possible. It really is.

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