We have all heard variations on the theme of “letting go.” I think at some level we all know it’s a good thing to do. When we hold onto a grudge or an old hurt, it’s fairly obvious we are the ones hurting, not the other person involved. Why then does it seem so hard to let go?
Part of what keeps the past so powerfully with us is our vivid imaginations. We have the ability to bring any thought to life with such intensity we could swear we’re re-experiencing an event or a person. This is part of our creative process. However, when you combine creative imagination with the past, it can have some painful results.
We all have a long list of “past stuff”— from favourite cars we’ve owned to loved ones we’ve lost. While remembering some of these things might bring a smile to our lips or a warm feeling to our hearts, if we stay there too long we begin to get uncomfortable. We begin to feel regret, sadness, irritation or even anger. The past appears to feel very, very real and our mood is lowered.
The truth is, however, the past exists only in our imagination. The more validity and power we give to thoughts about the past, the more we remain stuck in old scripts and old feelings. More important though, is that every moment we spend in the past robs us of the present.
Volumes have been written about “living in the moment.” Most religions make some reference to the wisdom of living in the now. There’s not one of us who has not experienced that feeling. It’s why some of you cherish that first run in fresh powder, or the moment your fly-line kisses the water. What eludes most of us is the possibility of living in that “zone” more of the time.
We all have one great gift in common — the ability to let a thought go. We only need to recognize we’re having thoughts of the past and in that simple act, we’re in the moment. The more often we catch ourselves ruminating, the easier it becomes to step back from that thought and get some perspective. See that it’s just your imagination at work. See that you’re taking that thought much too seriously. We can even begin to laugh at ourselves: “Here I go again, skipping out on the present.” More and more, with that honest admission, we get to appreciate the moment.
It’s no accident that “letting go” and “living in the now” have become the mantra of so many teachers. It’s the place from which old habits fall away, inspiration occurs and we are truly free. Free to live, unencumbered by the ghosts of a past that only has a life if we give it one.