Let It In Before You Let It Go

August 13th, 2013

nothing goes awayNothing 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.”

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  1. Sue says:

    Simply beautiful…  Thank-you

  2. Jenny says:

    Dear Ian,I have just encountered Pima’s book “Start Where You Are” and am dipping into it for a second reading. This message of developing a compassionate heart through difficult encounters with people we struggle to relate to is extremely powerful.  I love your phrase “stand in the fire of discomfort.”   Today I wrote a poem about the power of displacing ourselves to a new location in order to be more fully awake to the way we tend to hold on to memories like shields and armor.   Every time we recall that painful encounter that tore us down to emotional ground zero, we use the memory to stay closed.  Displacing ourselves grants fresh perspective to this pattern and allows for an opening of compassion.

  3. ian says:

    Love it Jenny, thank you. Its like a shift in perspective. Very powerful.

  4. Paulina says:

    Great Article . My experience of running away instead of facing challenges would eventually catch up and build up to become even more stronger  and powerful forces than before . As if saying ” hello – here I am again , look at me ”  Was very frustrating until I started walking through obstacles , and found my stregnth  and courage  .  The starting point , is just that .  Its the follow through that matters . The end result ?  Confidence .

  5. […] 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  […]

  6. Erin Garay says:

    I LOVE that you call out that saying “you’re done” with someone is not letting go.  I have never thought of it from that perspective. It is so true! This is such a helpful article that will push us all to feel, grow and evolve.  I was in the perfect place to receive it this morning. Thank you!!!

  7. Nk says:

    Would explain why I keep running into the same kinds of things that I do. I think I run early to prevent something I’ve experienced before from occuring, then keep finding myself in the same situations. The idea of not letting go so quickly scares me..

  8. Nancy Sample says:

    let it go Elizabeth Anne

  9. Sherry says:

    This was very profound. 

  10. Dana says:

    Thank you, this was a lot of help to read and very inspiring and explains a lot of what I’m going through.  

  11. kathie says:

    ian, i have just recently “found” you and your honestly written words….i don’t know if i’ve ever read with such excitement! 🙂  after almost every sentence i am nodding and smiling “YES! YES!” (smile)i am going to be sharing “you” with my friends and family today!  please know that your written words have really struck a chord with me….not just an “inspiring quote” that i appreciate and move on from, but really truthful words from your heart that encourage me to make real changes in how i move through my day today, and real changes in how i view challenging people and situations.THANKS SO MUCH!  🙂 🙂 😉

  12. ian says:

    thank you Kathie, what a beautiful and encouraging note. You have made my day. Be well

  13. Doug Hoseck says:

    Thanks Ian. You always seem to come with just the reminder I need, when I need it. This one is particularly brilliant & has made me really think about all my “teachers”. Thanks mate:)

  14. Audrey says:

    I, too, was “in the perfect place to receive this” this morning.  Thank you and thank you and thank you.

  15. Joan cook says:

    Thank you very much for bringing this article back at just the right time for me, dear Ian.  “When the student is ready the teacher appears”…over  and over until I get the message.  Often, in my almost 70 years I have pushed away various lessons in fear, righteous anger, even revulsion.  I have finally learned to  look behind the problem for my new truth.  This morning it happened anew.  Isn’t life delightful?

  16. LaShun says:

    This is awesome! Thanks for the inspiration and for sharing!

  17. Ann says:


  18. Nouf says:

    Thank you so much!it was needed today! 🙂

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