Letting Go of the Past…
“Letting go of yesterday allows the birth of today”
Absorbing our past and the disturbing past of others in a zen exercise will help you let go of that feeling of distress or so it is said in an article I just finished reading.
As I read this step by step guide on how to let go of the past I was reminded that my career as an advanced practice nurse in maternal and child health coupled with my more recent work as a licensed clinical social worker were both based on absorbing a serious amount of not just my own past but the past of many other people as well. Compassion and empathy are key ingredients in both professions. Many in my professions suffer from “burn out” and “compassion fatigue”at an alarming rate.
At this point in my life, I am a wife, mother and now a grandmother. I have absorbed a lot of past happinesses and sadnesses. Sometimes, I am literally overwhelmed by the past because in reality I now have more of my life in the past than I do in the future. My dear uncle used to say, he was living on “borrowed time”. Laughter would ensue, but I realize now from my current perspective it was not all that funny.
I personally find a solace and a peacefulness in this particular zen exercise when it encourages me to embrace all my past sadnesses and the sadnesses of the world by breathing it all in and then exhaling happiness. Helping others also aids me in the practice of releasing my own painful past memories and turn to the present with gratitude for the here and now.
Just maybe, I was unknowingly doing this “letting go” exercise all along as I went through my work own day dealing with the physical and emotional needs of my patients and clients. As I look back, it is somewhat clear that a professional nurse or clinical social worker has to reset themselves when they move from person to person in the clinical setting. In between therapy sessions, especially, I had to take a “breather” before I sat with the next client.
So the zen exercise put into words is actually something I was practicing all along in my professional life. Now I must continue to practice “letting go” in my personal life especially as I age and own much more of a past history than I did when I was younger.
I believe my work helping others kept some of my past anxieties from interfering in my life as a nurse and social worker.
Now that I am “retired” and not working actively in nursing and social work on a daily basis, it is easier to let the past move into the forefront. It is challenging and downright difficult at times to reset thus allowing myself to capture the present moment.
Self-care was not front and center when I was in the trenches of my career. If after a particular crushing day on the pediatric unit a group of us would share our stories, thoughts and maybe even some laughs at Limericks an Irish bar across the street from the hospital. In fact, one of the hospital “hangouts” was appropriately called, “The Recovery Room”. The name suggesting a link between us and our patients, who were recovering from their physically altering day as we tried to emotionally recover from a day devoted to caring for them.
Maybe now, writing this I finally realize why I long for those days especially when I watch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy and the cast winds up sharing a drink and food after their long, day filled with serious sometimes life saving decisions.
At the end of every day, whether “working” or not it is important to clear my head in a way that is personally effective for me. Perhaps it is a warm shower, a healthy dinner, some yoga and mindfulness, a conversation over dinner with my husband where we focus on listening to each other without judgement. Again, a daily time to recover remains extremely important to my well being.
A zen moment/exercise that is described below works for me during my day when sometimes my past becomes my present in such a way that it takes over my thoughts and interferes with living happily in the present moment.
Here is a synopsis of a “Letting Go” exercise:
1. So just notice what story you have, without judgment of the story or of yourself. It’s natural to have a story, but just see that it’s there. And see that it’s causing you difficulty, frustration or pain.
2. But for most feelings, we see that it is not the end of the world, we can bear it. In fact, it’s just a bit of unpleasantness, not all-consuming or anything to panic about. Stay with it and be gentle, friendly, welcoming. Embrace the feeling like you would a good friend. You’re becoming comfortable with discomfort, and it is the path of bravery.
3. Breathe in your difficulty, and breathe out compassion. It’s a Tibetan Buddhist practice called Tonglen: breathe in whatever difficult feeling you’re feeling, and breathe out the feeling of relief from that difficulty.You breathe in not only your own pain, but the pain of others.
* If you’re feeling frustration, breathe in all the frustration of the world … then breathe out peace.
* If you’re feeling sadness, breathe in all the sadness of the world … then breathe out happiness.
* If you’re feeling regret, breathe in all the regret of the world … then breathe out joy and gratitude.
Do this for a minute or so, imagining all the frustration of those around you coming in with each breath, and then a feeling of peace radiating out to all of those who are frustrated as you breathe out.
You can practice this every day, and it is amazing. Instead of running from your difficult feeling, you’re embracing it, letting yourself absorb it. And you’re doing it for others as well, which gets us out of a self-centered mode and into an other-focused mode.
As you do this, you’re starting to let go of your pain or difficulty.
4. Why is this step important? Because when we’re stuck on something that happened in the past, we’re not paying attention to right now. We’re not appreciating the moment in front of us. We can’t — our minds are filled up with the past. So when we start to let go of the past, we have emptied our cups and allowed them to be filled up with the present.We should then turn to the present and find gratitude for what’s here, instead of worrying about what isn’t. As we do that, we’ve transformed our struggle into a moment of joy.
Do you run from your feelings at times especially the difficult painful ones? I know that without a doubt I certainly do. In fact I am running a marathon at times.
Absorbing difficult feelings is the last thing I personally would have ever wanted to do for fear that I would never be able to let them go.
I believe, we absolutely cannot live in the present when we are absorbed in our past.
Our cups are full with past memories both good and bad. The key is to greet those memories and let those memories flow out of the cup like the waves of the sea, allowing for a natural ebb and flow while not getting knocked down and pulled into the waves in the process.
Source: Letting go of the Past