A great deal of our suffering stems from how we choose to deal with our experiences. We can dwell on them (oh, whoa is me), we can label them (this was good, this was bad), we can pass judgment on those involved (he was a bastard, I was an idiot) and we can hold on to the guilt, shame, grief, bitterness, anger and hatred. Or we can choose to let go.
Maoshing Ni, doctor of Chinese medicine, bestselling author and an authority in anti-aging, says that one of the secrets to longevity is letting go.
If we want to live a long, happy life then, we need to learn to let go.
I’ve had my fair share of unpleasant experiences, and I have to admit, I held on to a great deal of the aforementioned emotional pain from these experiences (particularly anger) for many years. One is notable. It involved the Principal of our elementary school. It was track & field day and I was in Grade 6. I was anticipating winning most of my events, because my chief competitor was away on vacation. We had just run the 100 yard dash and the teacher who was judging the race declared me third. A student who was watching the race said another kid was third and they actually started arguing about it. So I said, “If you’re going to argue about it, why don’t you just call it a tie.” To which the Principal responded with, “If you’re going to have that attitude, you can sit out the rest of the day.” I was devastated and humiliated, and I hated that guy for a long time.
When you stay stuck in negative feelings about the past, you stay stuck in victimhood and you dis-empower yourself. So ask yourself, do you want dis-empowerment (do you want to be controlled by the past) or do you want empowerment (freedom from the past). Nelson Mandela provides a great inspirational example of the latter.
Mandela spent 27 years in prison fighting for the rights of Blacks in South Africa. He could have easily become embittered, full of hatred. Instead, he chose to embrace forgiveness and reconciliation, and eventually won his release from prison and became the President of the country. No matter how bad you’ve had it, there is always someone who’s had it worse; somebody who can show us a better way.
How then do you let go? First, look at all of your experiences as just that … experiences. They’re part of the beautiful flow of life. Don’t label or judge them. Just accept them. Three months before my experience with the Principal, I scored the winning goal in the fourth period of overtime to help my team win the Muskoka-Parry Sound peewee hockey championship. This too was just an experience. One pleasant one. One unpleasant one. Kind of the way life works!
Second, remember this, your experiences don’t define you. Being admonished by the Principal didn’t make me a loser or a victim. Only my attitude did that. Similarly, scoring that winning goal didn’t make me special. No experience defines you. They’re just experiences.
Third, reconcile. Apologize where you need to, and forgive those who mistreated you. Remember, we’re all doing the best we can with what we learned. When you apologize and forgive, you let go.
Fourth, develop a keen sense of humour. Laughter is far healthier than anger.
As a result of my childhood experiences, I grew up with an enormous amount of anger that led to a lot of self destructive behaviour throughout my life and health issues dating back to university, culminating in developing Parkinson’s Disease seven years ago. On the flip side, it also led me to embark on a fascinating healing journey that included the discovery of the power of letting go.
Life is full of ups and downs. It is a constant flow of pleasant and unpleasant experiences. This is the reality. We can go with flow or we can be buffeted and bounced around by it. It’s our choice.
By the way, if you like my story about the Principal, I’ve got lots more of them. Some are real beauties, sure to make you laugh and cry. Frankly though, I’d rather live in the present moment and let those memories stay where they belong … in the past!
Have an awesomely ‘let-go’ day!