3 Steps to Releasing the Past
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering.
Out of fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
One of the principle teachings in Buddhism is that the cause of all suffering is attachment. It is the attachment to anything that is no longer in our highest interest. It could be attachment to people, places and things, but it could also be attachments to thoughts, judgements and our way of being in this world.
We will always be hurting if we continue holding on to something that by nature wants to leave. The Universe has a natural rhythm. Everything is always in an ebb or flow pattern. The tide comes and goes, waves roll in and out, nighttime turns into daytime, seasons change, trees grow leaves and then shed their leaves. Nothing is truly permanent. You never see nature struggling against this. Trees don’t cling on to their leaves in an effort to keep them from falling off. They don’t worry about being less in the absence of the splendor of their foliage. The ocean feels no less ocean during low tide. The moon does not question itself when it disappears into the day. All of nature yields to the pulse of the universe. Constricting and expanding. The rhythm of life.
It is only us humans that keep slamming against this life force until we feel battered and bruised. We struggle against the changing nature of our relationships, the impermanence of physical life, the aging process, and the ever changing nature of our physical surroundings. It is this refusal to let go, the insistence of attachment that causes us suffering. Wether you are holding on to past events and traumas, relationships that no longer work, struggling against your changing body or the wrinkles appearing on your face, the outcome will always be the same…pain and suffering.
By holding on to what no longer serves us, it blocks a new and improved condition from coming in. I want to share with you three ways of releasing the past. Ways to honor what was, releasing it and then opening to the new energy trying to find it’s way into your life.
1. Feel it
When we encounter any difficult loss, all too often we attempt to rationalize and think our way out of pain. Pain demands to be felt. In order to grieve and move on, we have to allow ourselves the opportunity to feel it. The next time a wave of grief rolls across your consciousness, allow it in. Close your eyes, feel it, sense where the pain rests in your body, be present with it. When you make it a habit to feel emotions as they come up, without the attachment of the stories that fuel the pain, you will notice that pain goes through us rather quickly. What keeps us locked in cycles of pain is the attachment of stories or our resistance to fully feeling the pain. My meditation teacher once told me that pure pain comes in waves. It rolls in and it rolls out in matter of seconds. It is our fear of the pain becoming a permanent state and therefore our resistance to feeling it that keeps it locked in place.
2. Express it.
Often times, we want to avoid burdening other people with our pain. Or we feel ashamed of our pain in the first place. So much of our society has been built on keeping up appearances, not showing vulnerabilities and glossing over our life experiences. There is tremendous healing power in sharing your stories. Wether you have a close friend that you can be open with, a family member or support group, speak about your pain. After a difficult breakup I had one friend that I could talk to without any judgement. Wether I was grieving, in denial or raging against what was, she was a safe container for me to let my feelings out. If I asked for feedback and advise, she gave it. Other times she would sit in silence as I cried. One thing she never did, was try to rush me along, try to make me feel better, or judge any of my feelings. We all deserve to be listened to that deeply. Not everyone deserves to hear our pain, but we all deserve to be heard and we all need to work on being that safe container for another. If there is no one deserving of hearing your story right now, write it in a journal. Journals are wonderful tool for letting your “ugly” out. It listens free of judgement. Write what you feel. Eventually you will notice your difficulties transmuting into the wisdom inherent in your pain.
3. Release it
I’m a big believer in doing releasing ceremonies. When you are ready to let go of the attachment, take out a piece of paper and write on it what you are ready to release. Whether it is attachment to an old love, trauma, physical possessions, judgement or other difficult feelings, write them down. Set the intention of letting it go, then release it in a way that fees good to you. There is no right or wrong on how to release it. Some people like the symbolics of flushing it down the toilet, others like creating a little fire ceremony and releasing their pain into the universe through smoke, others like setting their pain free in water through sending a lantern, or little paper boat. Whatever speaks to your soul. The power is in the intention, the ceremony is purely symbolic. Depending on the depth of your attachment, you may have to intentionally release the past many times.
Pain and suffering is released in layers. As you uncover another layer, another level of pain, keep working through the steps mentioned here. Eventually, the pain will lessen, a wisdom and depth takes its place and you will become more fully and authentically you.