The proverb Is caora mhór an t-uan i bhfad – A lamb becomes a sheep if you carry it long enough reminds us that some burdens we may think are light at first can become a much bigger problem.
This proverb is a call to drop it and move on. If you don’t drop it, it grows, it gets heavier, and it gets in the way. A lamb weighs just as heavy as a sheep a mile down the road, but a lamb becomes a big burdensome sheep 100 miles down the road. The wisdom here is just because you can handle it now doesn’t mean you can maintain the weight indefinitely.
Holding on to the past is a conscious decision, you go there. Yes, YOU go there. Dwelling on past events and delving into rumination is the door to reliving it over and over. We may feel that if we let it go, we are undervaluing the significance of the event, but that’s just like breaking your arm again every year on the anniversary of the time you fell off your bike. It should make no sense to revisit pain, to carry burdens forward but we go there to make sense of it all or to define ourselves by it – and that’s a problem.
Even though it crops up in several psychotherapies, I don’t particularly like the term flawed or faulty thinking, to some people it may imply a notion that we are wrong (and so blameworthy) or are perceiving wrongly through ignorance or stubborn intent (and so self-inflicting), well we are not perceiving the original wounding event as anything other than a wounding event but revisiting it repeatedly, that’s a mistake we should admit to. The truth is there are no answers there, only more questions, only more re-enactments of the misery. It doesn’t justify or clarify why you are depressed; it keeps you depressed. That is one to rethink.
Ok sometimes a memory or moment suddenly comes to you out of the blue, via a cue or trigger event but is it a flash in the pan or do you make a meal of it. Be honest. Seeing it for what it is, is the way to end it. It took me a long time to own up to how much I was investing in my depression and so it took me a long time to loosen its grip. I don’t say this to invoke or provoke guilt or self-recrimination – that’s just more going there. I say this to get clear of it. Acknowledging that you are carrying a sheep, is the realisation and incentive to put it down where it belongs.
Letting go is also a conscious decision, it is not to meekly forget or passively forgive, but you can also forgive and forget it that moves you forward, nor is it to condone what happened or take the blame for it, it is to stop collaborating with that painful experience. Why regularly relive it. Why be stuck in the past. Why be immobilized by painful feelings or held hostage to hurtful memories. Why carry all that pain? Why self-harm?
Letting it go is not going there. Letting it go is letting yourself move on. Letting go is freeing yourself from all the injuries of the past to live a great life now and into the future.
Exercise. Letting go.
You will need to make the decision to let go. To declutter your life of the hurting past. That’s not hiding it in a drawer for later, that’s clearing it out altogether. Then you will need to act upon it. Sometimes it is a simple switch that gets flicked in your head, heart or soul – to not hold on to this pain. To make the choice to let it sink back into the past and be over. Other times it is managed approached of catching the thoughts as they arise, noticing them for what they are – an unhelpful echo – and withdraw your attention or pinged interest. Mindful exercises including regular breath meditations will increase this capacity to notice but not follow up. To come back to your grounded self or go partake in a different experience.
Here is a simple visualisation to reinforce the power of letting go. Picture yourself in a park or on a large lawn. you are holding a clutch of strings attached to some large, brightly coloured, helium balloons hovering overhead. You have a tight grip but you can feel the pull of the balloons wanting to rise and escape your clutches. Some of your friends and loved ones are there. They look glum. You notice that each balloon has a word printed on it, pain, sorrow, regret, anguish, etc. all those things holding you back. All those things you are holding onto right now.
See the vividness of the balloons, yellow, red, blue, orange, see the emblazoned words, feel the pull of the strings, those balloons really want to obey physics and rise, break free of you and travel on, up, up and away from you. Why not let them. Just open your hand. Watch them rise, up, up and away from you. Higher, higher, out of sight. Gone.
Notice now your friends and love ones, smiling and cheering, releasing their balloons. Happiness abounds. The sky filled with colour. Those balloons rising and disappearing beyond sight. Your world filled with smiling faces. Letting go is not a defeat, it is a celebration.