Recently, my wife and I suffered a disappointment when a project we were working on wasn’t completed as we had expected. Following my long established pattern, I started to make myself wrong and responsible for this letdown, and I started telling myself that what I do is never enough. Fortunately, based on the greater understanding of myself that I have developed, I quickly recognized what was happening. It was as if I were watching a movie in which I was the lead character. As a result, I was able to stop this internal conversation and move on with an appropriate response to address the disappointment.
This incident led to further consideration on my part of the benefits of letting go of outcomes and helped me realize that letting go is an important part of growing up. Below I outline some of the reasons for this conclusion and what can be done to avoid being stuck in the past.
First, I want to acknowledge that it may be impossible for most of us to immediately let go of outcomes, particularly those that disappoint us, but I believe that we all can eventually let go of disappointment, and we can reduce the time that it takes to do so. That is my experience, and I know others who feel the same.
I believe most people who hold on to disappointing outcomes will realize some of the disadvantages and the benefits of letting go. However, here is some of my thinking. There can be a lot of suffering associated with holding on to negative outcomes. We can blame ourselves; we can blame others; we can blame the situation; we can blame _____ (you fill in the blank). Blame is based on the assumption that something is wrong, but I believe that life happens in a way that has no investment in what we want or what we think is just. I invite you to consider a time when you remained in disappointment and blaming and see if you can identify anything positive about investing your energy in this way. For me the chief benefit has been finally realizing that it doesn’t help. On the other hand, when I am able to let go of my disappointment and focus on what makes sense to me in light of what happened, I start to feel better, to feel that my efforts are making a difference in my life.
When our astronauts went to the moon, they had very advanced computer control systems that determined the amount of thrust needed to propel them to the moon. However, they needed at least one mid-course correction to successfully reach their destination. Letting go allows us to make the changes that we need to make along life’s path.
But how can we learn to let go more quickly! The first step is to realize the futility of holding on to the past, and secondly to recognize when we get caught up in it. Combined with a commitment to modify one’s behavior, this will make it possible to let go. Various meditation practices are available that will help one stay in the present, not dwelling in the past or the future. In fact being in the present also involves letting go of the past, of disappointments. Finally, don’t be discouraged when letting go seems difficult. This is part of a growing up process that just keeps going. This is an example of where the process is the solution, not the destination.