Let things go

by Philip Brewer on 5 February 2008 21 comments
Photo: Philip Brewer

Two of the unhappiest people I ever knew lived in the apartment below mine when I lived for two years in Salt Lake City. They acted as on-site managers--collected rent checks in exchange for a break on their own rent. I didn't have any real visibility into their financial situation; they seemed to be getting by, but at a pretty low standard of living. Like many unhappy people, though, they had a well-worn story of woe. They told it to me the very first time we met.

There's nothing wrong with a story of woe. We all have one. Most of us have more than one. But their story wasn't about their current problems. Their story was that some two decades earlier, they had sold a few acres of land in central Florida, land that later became part of Walt Disney World. They figured they'd probably been cheated, or at best were terrible unlucky.

That experience seemed to have colored their whole life. Every day was a day that they could have been--would have been, if not for bad people and bad luck--rich.

I've known other people like that. They viewed everything through the prism of something gone wrong. In some cases, the bad thing was a real trauma--a crippling accident, growing up without a parent, the loss of a lover or sibling or child--but often, as in the case with my neighbors, it seemed to be less than that. All that had really happened to them was that an opportunity for great good fortune had come close, but had missed them. It was like standing next to the guy who bought the winning lottery ticket. But in their eyes, not being super-lucky was somehow the same as having been very unlucky.

My experience is that you can't really be happy until you can let these things go.

In many cases the people in question may be clinically depressed and need to get proper medical attention, after which issues like these that seem to cloud their lives will just clear up on their own. If that's your situation, by all means, get the care you need. Great strides have been made in treating depression in the past twenty years or so, in the form of modern antidepressants and various kinds of therapy.

Looking in from the outside, though, it seems that a lot of these cases aren't that. They're just people getting stuck on what might have been and finding it hard to accept that things are as they are.

When this isn't a medical issue, I think there's a spiritual component to getting past such things--what you're looking for here is grace, and offering forgiveness to those around you is going to help as much as anything. Personally, I find that Buddhist practice is of help here. The way not to live in the past is to practice mindfulness--put your attention on where you are now. The first step to forgiving others is to feel compassion for them. Rather than feeling bitter over missed opportunities and past ill-use, chose to feel gratitude for the opportunities that weren't missed and the times that people and fate treated you kindly.

Those are the tools that I use when I need to let things go.

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Guest's picture

Some good points made here. It's a widely recognised principle that makes sense but sometimes we just need that reminder.

I find it really annoying when people cling to something that happened in their dim and distant past as if it were responsible for their present circumstances. I think thats why when people overcome a real tragedy and go on to do great things we get really inspired by their example??

Guest's picture
Looby

Good post, when I get a sense of "why me?" I remember my mum's response to that question from when I was younger "why not you?" I've never been able to come up with a good counter argument and that helps me to accept whatever the issue is and move on.
On a different matter your photos are beginning to make me homesick- I used to have a great view of Calton Hill from my living room, this is a very nice shot.

Guest's picture

Gratitude is a wonderful habit to get into. I did, and it's really turned my life around. Yes, negative things still happen, but you still have a choice in that - to dwell on them or not.

Guest's picture
Guest

Beautifully written.
Thank you!

Guest's picture
Kelja

I heard recently someone say, 'God answers all prayers. But the answer isn't always Yes.'

Julie Rains's picture

or actually a couple just like them. They sold property in Atlantic City, NJ before gambling was legalized and the casinos were built. All their family members struck it rich! I met them in my 20's and have not forgotten the focus on loss. I may have a couple of "I shoulda dones" but thinking of them has made me realize that I don't want to be defined by what I don't have or what once was. Nice post.

Guest's picture

Great post. I come across a post like this every so often, something that makes me think about my little world and how easily I can get wrapped up in it.

After reading this post, I took a few minutes away from the keys and reflected on how lucky I am to have my health, family, friends and a lot of positve influences in my life.

Thanks for the insight, it brightened my day (night;)

Reviewed it on SU. You got to get on there Phil, it's a great site.

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Cindy M

As a bible believer (and a "right divider" of scripture, see II Timothy 2:15), I understand finally after many years that we are not guaranteed anything in the way of physical comforts and happiness in our personal lives on this earth. What you definitely CAN have is understanding that you already have "spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ," Ephesians 1:3, a great comfort to me on days when absolutely nothing goes right. Another reminder to me is that I'm to give "thanks ALWAYS for ALL things," Ephesians 5:20 - try that one on for size, but what a good character builder. Christians these days should be far more familiar with the model Christian, the apostle Paul. He says "if any would not work, he should he eat," II Thessalonians 3:10, among other priceless things.

Guest's picture
Guest

Thank you! Yes, be grateful for opportunites you have had and times when people treated you kindly.

Guest's picture
John1919

I understand what you're saying about letting go, choosing to see the positive in people and all that fun stuff, but what I have a problem with is tricking my mind into doing all that.
I would like to move on from a couple situations that annoy me, but even if I make some progress towards that, my mind begins to remind me of why I was annoyed in the first place and all progress is lost.
While it sounds good in theory to just pretend like nothing happened and be blissfully happy about everything, but when does your mind finally start believing this so it can in fact, let things go for real?

Philip Brewer's picture

I don't really have any training as a counselor, and if there's something that's bothering you persistently it might be worth talking to someone who does.

Having said that, though, what seems to work for me is two things (which both boil down to mindfulness):

  1. Pay attention to what you're doing.  If your attention is on what you're doing now, you're not thinking about whatever it was that used to annoy you.
  2. When you do think of whatever it was that used to annoy you, go ahead and think about.  That is, instead of wishing that you could stop thinking about it (which never works), just stop whatever else you're doing and think about it.  Go on thinking about it until you get bored with that, then turn your attention back to whatever you were doing.

Don't try pretending that it never happened.  That's a pointless exercise.  Instead, just put your attention on the present.  Surely what's happening now is more important than stuff that happened in the past.

It's not a matter of pretending and it's not a matter of forgetting.  It's a matter of doing whatever you need to do, and making a habit of putting your attention there, rather than in the past.

Good luck!

Guest's picture
Someone

I just cannot figure out what to do - it's like I'm like at the see-saw of life, sometimes everything's up, or can quickly fall down again.

I found previously at the start our date with a person that this person was cheating on the married partner. I accepted & put it aside what the person did because it was before our time together.

Then exactly 1mth ago I caught the person cheating behind my back. Now I feel betrayed & cheated by the person I love, and feeling very cautious everyday when around with. I thought the cheating behind my back was a one off instance, until during our talk I found out it was the 3rd time.

Now I'm slowly finding out that there were more cheating behind the previous partner's back.

I had my suspicions once during our time together, and we had a big argument but I was made to be weak for suspecting such things. I also had no proof then.

I finally confronted him during the most recent argument with proof. I had the proof in had for a while before producing it. The person tried to comfort me, and calm me down. The person resisted admitted the wrongdoing. I only watched & observed. Till the moment I displayed the evidence, that's only when the person crumbled.

We had a deep talk & this person had a remorseful time admitting the wrongdoings and was filled with guilt to what was done to me and the previous partner. It was also admitted that there were other nasty things bottled up that cannot be shared. I do not know if these were during my time or with the previous partner.

I keep recalling the days & moments when the all events of the cheating happenned - I cannot understand how did this person find it in the heart to lie into my face during and after our arguments.

But when my mind's triggered by something, I have the need to clarify things instead of letting it eat me inside. The truth hurts both of us but my window of opportuniy to discuss more with my partner has closed. My partner seems to be going around either in denial now or trying the best to not bring up the argument anymore because the nasty things that was done - the deep talk we had learning the truth was really, really hurtful for my partner.

I'm scared - is this a recurring pattern? Is the person a constant liar? I'm trying to reopen my heart & build the confidence again but my partner shuts me down.

On good times, I can almost feel light & having let it go and look forward to the present & future together. When I'm reminded of it by something, I fall down. And this cycle has been going on for exactly one month today.

I do not know what to do & I want to get off the bloody see-saw.

Guest's picture
Guest

Thanks for sharing that. I know it can't have been easy. Reading other people's stories and seeing that there are people in the same boat as me is a help. I have exactly the same problem with letting go - days go by where I feel I'm moving forward and then it all crashes. I'm incredibly sick of it and want to be out the other side! Maybe we have to learn that we will never fully understand the actions of other people. I guess we don't always understand why we ourselves act/react a certain way. My confusion about my situation is one of the main reasons I think I'm having difficulty moving on. I'm just flummoxed as to how it all happened! I feel as if I could understand it/rationalise it/if I had answers, then I could move on. I don't know that that would necessarily be the case. Anyway I wish you the best of luck. xo

Guest's picture
Someone

I'm want to stop feeling bitter and I want to have confidence & trust in my partner again after the lies & betray & cheating.

I want to feel carefree again and rid off this heavy heart.

I want to get off the see-saw.

Philip Brewer's picture

If there's something in your life that's causing trouble or pain right now, letting go is not the solution.  Things in your present need to be dealt with, one way or another.

Letting go is for the past--so you can give your proper attention to the present. 

Guest's picture
Guest

Thank you. Thank you.
I am a teacher and a situation was really bothering me. I had done everything right, but was maybe not quite assertive enough. I gave someone the benefit of the doubt, but I think that I shouldn't have. I know that I must let it go, but have had trouble. I "google'd" how to let things go, but nothing I read helped. Until this.
It make me feel a little better. It gives me some peace. Thank you.

Guest's picture
Someone

I did read about your "letting go" response. I've let it sunk in my brains for a very long time. And it has been a long time now since then. I just wanted to let you all know that I'm working hard with the other person still. I understand the other person more now. And I understand myself better too.

When we started going out - I took him into my life & loved him unconditionally. I've found out since that he's done much more wrong than he's admitted to initially. That's when my world started to crumble - after finding out more about him again and again over time. I understand the guilt and embarrassment that he was trying to avoid. But I plead, to let it all out and be open. This way, the person will be able to let go of that emotional baggage. I cannot move forward if my partner is still carrying the emotional baggage. It's not my intention to intrude with the past, but to help the other person let it go because it's dragging us both down if not me getting abused emotionally in the present now with his past fear, guilt and embarrasment.

He is slowly helping me become a stronger person too indirectly. I know how on the exterior the person is loud and strong. But inside the person is so messed up with the past. He admits sometimes he forgets we are no longer in the past and he apologises for his behaviour. It's still an ongoing journey and sometimes I get exhausted trying to help him. But I feel I need to, in order to help "us".

He is often washed away with everyday happenings and forgets what is important behind all the chaos of daily life. Doesn't he realise all these aren't important? One day work will all come to an end, people you laugh with will leave - but a partner you want to spend your life with will be there still. And a partner is not just for the times you don't have anyone else around to laugh with. A partner should be a person you think of most when you're happy - and wish that your partner was with you feeling the same happiness you are.

I am trying so hard to make him realise & remember this.

Is he selfish? Yes, but I don't know what to do but to give more love for as far as my patience and energy can be stretched.

What made him selfish? I believe he wasn't give the right love earlier on and now doesn't know how to give the right kind of love, gratitude and appreciation back.

Am I trying to hard? I still have the energy for love for the person.

Am I being selfish should you see me acting as if I'm trying to "fix" the other person? I think I've tried to use all the courage and strength I have to assist the other person and not force him into changing. I try to give him the right environment to make him confortable - I can see it's a transition in his life. And I've requested him to let me go if there's a shred of doubt in his heart that I don't love him enough to help him through with all this.

Am I sure it's going to work out? I cry when I think it might not, but I'd still like for him to have a happy future and not have to repeat the bad things he's done in the past.

That's the only thing I can say for now.

Guest's picture
Someone

... just like you said one would have to.

I am thankful for the existence of this page you have. Please know you've calmed a heart far away.

Guest's picture
Someone

I've had a revelation this morning! I'm pretty sure I understand his actions now. He felt a loner & not sociable. Hence, put the extra effort in connecting with strangers. He crossed the line. I caught him. It hurt. Now I've learnt the reason.

It consumed a lot of my time, and ups and downs. It was difficult. But I understand now.

This was me. I had to learn the truth. I understand now. I think I can let go very soon. But I must remember to learn from the past, prepare a little for the future and live in the present.

Philip Brewer's picture

If this post helped even a little, I'm glad.

Guest's picture
Someone

It's true I've learnt about him. And today I've let him go.

Never live-in with someone you plan to marry. It's like renting an apartment. You don't tend to it, fuss over it and don't take ownership of it. You break something in the apartment - you tend to throw it away instead of tending to it or fixing it the very best you can.

I think if you dating someone and living with the person, there's a possibility of this happening. You don't like the person and you're not married - so why bother trying so hard to make it work so you can get married? Sigh...

I tried my best, I've committed myself from beginning. I tried everything. I moved country to be with him.

I don't think I've anymore tears to cry even. Now I need to get a place to move into the fastest I possibly can because my heart is left with nothing but a dull ache.