Nothing leaves until it’s done with us. So you can’t move on too quickly, or let go too casually, or else IT will keep coming after you. The partner you left, the place you moved on from, the emotion you thought you were done with, the obstacle you were hoping to avoid, they will keep haunting you until you let them school you.
Pema Chodron said it much more eloquently.
Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know… if we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. it just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.
Sometimes we say “I’m done with that/him/it/them. I don’t want to think about it anymore.” That’s not really letting go. That’s being lazy and giving in. It sounds like letting go, but actually it’s the opposite. It’s holding on at a much deeper level than words. It’s burying it deep within you where it will fester, make you sick, give you nightmares, come out in confusing ways and cause you all sorts of suffering.
One of the ego’s most cunning tricks is to say about someone, “I’m done with them. They aren’t worth my time.” By making that person your enemy, you are slotting them into a permanent position of power in your mind. Pema offers a beautiful way to reframe an enemy as a teacher. If I see my ex, or a stubborn emotion, as a teacher, I can tune in, hear what they have to say to me, take responsibility for MY responses, and then genuinely move on.
It’s not that the person is trying to be a teacher. They may only want to be an annoyance to you. It’s not about them at all. In your insistence on making them the enemy, you are making it all about them. It’s no wonder they keep doing it to you when they get all that attention.
Haunting memories are some of the hardest things to let go. It’s worth remembering that a healed memory is not a deleted memory. In Charles Dicken’s book The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, the main character is haunted by painful memories. A ghost turns up and offers to remove all his memories. He jumps at the opportunity. After it’s too late, he realizes that this blank slate presents a new problem. Sure, he has no painful memories. But he is miserable, and spreads his misery to all around him. Along with his memories, he loses the capacity for tenderness, empathy, understanding and caring. He loses the ability to love.
As Pema said, you have to experience FULLY what is going on for you, even if its painful, in order to let it move on. Maybe the hard lesson is opening you up to a much fuller experience of the goodness and beauty around you. By staying in the middle of the challenge, you are learning how to stay present to anything, good or bad, that arises.
Maybe you’ve made a bargain with the ghost of denial, to bury some painful memories under a fence of humor or behind the pretense of letting go. Like the character in the story, you may have discovered that when you numb the dark, you also numb the light. As you take the edge off pain, you also take the edge off joy. But you can create a happy ending just like Dickens’ haunted man. Break off the bargain with denial just as you broke off the relationship. End the pretending just as you ended the job.
What is this stubborn memory teaching me? What is this niggling injury telling me? What has this nagging bitterness got for me, to move me forward?
All IS well when it ends well, and it ends well when you can wish your ex well, wish your memories well and move on with a clear mind and an open heart. Allow it ALL and live a full and integrated life. Your freedom will liberate others, your courage will inspire others and your openness will do just that; keep you open.
Letting go doesn’t usually happen in one blinding flash. It’s a gradual realization. We may say we’ve let go several times before we really do. Maybe we never fully let go of some things. It’s a process of purging that can’t be rushed, forced or denied.
Let it all happen, but don’t passively let it all control you. Reclaim the power of your own perspective to reframe stubborn baggage as a teacher with something valuable to say. Thank it, hear it, and graduate from its class with a perfect attendance record and an A for being willing to stand in the fire of discomfort without shrinking to learn what needs to be learned. Let it in order to let it go. Let it move you, so you can genuinely move on.
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”