Much has been written about letting go, yet we still often struggle to let go completely. We remember something someone said to us years ago – long after they have forgotten saying it! We remember relationships that ended, and hold onto the emotions we had at the time of the breakup as if they were badges of honor, some sort of emotional purple heart medal for all to see. Then there is that employer that treated us unfairly, the clerk at the store that didn’t give us the right change, the lady who cut ahead of us in line, that day when the letter carrier was late to our door, and hosts of other things we carry. Some are consciously carried while others are waiting just below the surface for the right trigger to bring them to the fore.
For years – and by years I mean decades – my mother carried with her the bitterness of her divorce from my father. To be completely honest, she still probably carries it but just doesn’t speak of it around me because of the story I am about to relate. My parents separated and filed for divorce in 1978. My mother frequently said to me, “I don’t know how he looks at himself in the mirror when he shaves after what he did to me.” The last time she said that to me, probably about five years ago, I replied, “After thirty years I think he looks in the mirror without a problem because he has moved on with his life, and you should, too.” Needless to say, my answer was not appreciated.
When we refuse to let go of old hurts and regrets, the effect on our spirit is as if we have taken that person and lifted them onto our shoulders and started carrying them around. From the other party in our breakup, to the woman who cut in front of us in line, the store clerk, the postman, that man who looked at us sideways at the supermarket, and hosts of others we are carrying tons of psychic weight on our shoulders – by our own choice!
Here is the key to being able to let go: recognize the truth that shit happens. Recognize, too, that only the most seriously mentally ill person sets out to hurt us intentionally. Most of what we understand as others causing us pain is only a side effect of them trying to address their own issues – and we all do that skillfully at times and less than skillfully at other times. Quite often, the person who cuts in front of us in line didn’t even notice we were standing there, but we immediately pick her up and place her on our shoulders out of habit. True, she should have been more aware of her environment, but the same could be said of us for not noticing that she didn’t see us! Can we let go of the idea that life is some sort of competition in the hurt feelings department and transform it instead into a cooperation in the coping skills department?
It certainly is true that there are people out there who seem to intentionally hurt others. Politicians may be among the most visible among them. They, too, are subject to acting without awareness and without considering the impact of their actions on real people. That’s very different, however, than intentionally setting out to harm others. Certainly, we all have a responsibility to become more aware and to consider the impact of our actions more carefully – and we can both become more skillful and call others to do so as well through our own example. I can almost guarantee that throwing the weight of the U.S. Congress on your back will be detrimental to your health, however.
Seeing clearly is a spiritual virtue, an asset that is invaluable. With it comes the ability to throw a few dozen people from your back and brighten your perspective immensely!