“Let go or be dragged.” – Zen proverb
One thing is constant in life for every human being: Things change. Despite how much we clamp our fists to try to hold on to precious moments and people, time passes and the inevitable happens, whether to a small or large extent. Things change. Isn’t it both awful and beautiful that they do?
We often live in thin spaces where we see the past, present, and future all at once. This can be both helpful and harmful. It’s very difficult to hold these three periods of time in tension, to see them equally, clearly, and without self-blame for what’s gone wrong in our pasts, anxiety about the present and the task of both learning from our pasts and going forward without getting stuck, and even deeper anxiety about the unknown future. We try to be as present as possible, but oftentimes we get stuck somewhere in there – and it’s usually not the present where we get stuck.
For me, it’s the past. My past is both beautiful and painful, and I imagine that yours might be, too. I know I’m not alone in having a deeply complicated relationship with my past. It’s made me the person I am, for better and for worse. These days, I’d like to think it’s for the better, and it’s because I’ve started to let go of things I was never meant for and things that weren’t meant for me – both in the past and in the present.
We all innately know that we must make peace with our pasts in order to thrive in the present and head toward a better future. That involves the terrifying task of making peace with our own role in our pasts rather than write off every bit of the blame to others. There have been times in my past that I’ve held on to people and paths that I knew were deeply toxic to me simply because I was too scared of the unknown. I was a square peg looking to fit in a round hole because the unknown, the ambiguity that brings options and chances for freedom and fresh starts, can be far more frightening than forms of certainty that suffocate.
In order to get through the process of integrating my past, present, and future, I’ve learned the importance of going in among the time periods when my heart calls you to remember, to look at the best of myself, the situations, and others, but not to forget the worst and best of what it taught me and how it could shape my future. I cannot look at this task in black and white and tell myself that I was just foolish, that these moments never fit me, nor I them; everything had its context. Hindsight is 20/20, and I was doing what I knew how to do at the time, with the age-limited resources I had then. I cannot change what’s happened. I can move through it with the wisdom it’s brought me.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus
The moving through it part is harder than I can explain. It’s easy for me to either refuse to wade into the depths of my heart at all to examine how the pains of the past and present color my views of the present and future (robbing me of opportunities if I’m not careful), or to cautiously wade into the depths of my heart, my hardest pains and thoughts, then struggle to leave because it feels like quicksand and I’m sinking.
Be here now. Be here now.
I am not a tree; I can get up and leave the quicksand that surrounds me and threatens to permanently envelop me.
The quicksand may be strong, but I am stronger.
Despite my fears and my tendencies to either not go at all or to go and get stuck, I’m learning how to wade into the depths, stay present, and leave afterward. This has been one of the most important tasks of my adulthood thus far, and I’m learning that it’s a process that will never be done. I’ve begun living with more open hands and mind, practicing self-compassion for my younger self, and growing to accept my past and present, with all their broken pieces and signs of hope. However, it’s a messy process at best. One day, I feel forgiveness of myself and others and inner and outer peace because I’ve learned some of the artful dance of practicing it; the next, I may be stuck in bitterness and pangs of regret and anger. Regardless of where my soul is in a particular moment, I’m learning that this elaborate and deep mix of actions and feelings is okay, normal, and perhaps even to be expected.
“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
• My first love (nor the next three partners who came into my life, nor some of the potential romances that have come my way)
• My first long-standing friend group
• Trying to protect myself from rejection and the deep worry of what others think about me through being “perfect” and attempting the dangerous dance of perfectionism and being a people pleaser
• My earlier career aspirations
• My full control of my body and mind due to living with incurable chronic pain, chronic illnesses, and mental health problems (even though I manage all of them well)
• My dedicated classical piano playing
• My sense of certainty about what my future could look like
What are yours?
“I know I’m always like
Telling everybody, ‘You don’t gotta be a victim
Life ain’t always fair, but hell is living in resentment
Choose redemption, your happy ending’s up to you’So I think it’s time to practice what I preach
Exorcise the demons inside me
Whoa, gotta learn to let it go
The past can’t haunt me if I don’t let it
Live and learn and never forget it
Whoa, gotta learn to let it go” – Kesha, “Learn to Let Go”
“I am learning to love the sound of my feet walking away from things not meant for me.” – Unknown