dog running on bridge

Let Go of the Past

Why would you let go of the past? You have for sure nice memories, and lessons learned, which shape your personality. But letting go of the burden of the past would be important to your happiness. At least some of it.

Many people live in the past; they remember their behaviours, the love stories that did not go well, their failures and disappointments.

Such a burden takes away space and energy from the present, which is actually the only time you can live actively.

I read somewhere that happiness consists in enjoying good health and having a bad memory.

You should really learn to let go of the past, forget about the insults you may have received, the bad events and the mistakes, in short, all the bad memories, and learn to focus more on the present.

Of course, it is easier said than done. Sometimes I keep on thinking about that guy that shouted at me on the subway because I wanted to sit next to him! Well, there was a free place, so I took it. But he yelled at me saying that I should ask! I am sorry, why would I ask, the place is free! He replied saying that I touched his right leg with my left one, that’s why I would need to ask! “Would you mind moving your right leg, so that I will put my left one next to yours?” Seriously? No way!

But when I think about it, I get a wave of anger and disappointment. What can I do about it now? Nothing. Is there anything I can change? No, so let it go!

You could consider your past as your backpack, full with stones (more or less heavy) but also with beautiful flowers. During your life path, you can take out from your backpack some heavy stones that have become unbearable and replace them with some nice flowers.

woman wearing backpack standing in front building
Photo by Tim Gouw on

How could you let you go of you past?

  1. The best antidote to guilt, resentment, or anger that takes you back to the past is devoting energy to build the life you want.
  2. Your memories change while time passes by, they may distort, and they do not really reflect what happened. Try asking a person who participated in an event with you to tell you about their memory and then compare it with your memory. You will see that you and that person remember different aspects of the same fact. It may seem that you participated in different events!
  3. Prioritize your well-being. Life is too short to spend arguing and complaining. What happened could be a source of stress and even discomfort. Continuing to feel anger at a past event drains up your energy. It is more important for your physical and mental health to live quietly than being right at all costs.
  4. Finally, stop playing the victim and become an active protagonist of your life.

Have a look at what Buddhism teaches us: β€œJoy and happiness arise from letting go. Sit down and take an inventory of your life. There are things you have been hanging on to that really are not useful and deprive you of your freedom. Find the courage to let them go.”  

What about you? Would you find the courage to let go of your past, at least part of it?

21 thoughts on “Let Go of the Past

  1. We all need reminding of this. When the past rears an ugly incident in my brain, I think hard about the story of the monkey and the banana. Read it somewhere in one of the Buddhist tales. I picture myself that monkey with its hand in the cage when there’s a free banana within reach – just over there.

  2. I love the imagery of the stones and the flowers. Great way to frame it in really concrete things we can think about! Thanks for a great post, Cristiana!

  3. The $64,000 question is why we hang onto the past.

    One of my theories is that we may be relitigating the event. Trying to make it turn out differently. Imagining the things we shoulda coulda woulda said/done to make things turn out differently. No amount of imagining can change the past but we keep trying. This even can offer a bit of perverse pleasure as we triumph over our problems in the story we tell. But the truth is that it didn’t happen that way, no matter how many times we relitigate what happened and every time we think of it it hurts just as much.

    Or we may punish ourselves for our own shortcomings. There is a kind of magical thinking where punishment corrects mistakes and afterward you won’t feel guilty or inadequate or whatever. The memory remains, no matter how many times we kick ourselves, and we turn ourselves into psychological flagellants.

    The deepest example of not letting go of the past is PTSD. Fear lies in a part of the brain known as the amygdala. It is the part we share with reptiles. Something horrible happens and the environment surrounding the event gets stored in permanent memory in the amygdala. Any time something in the environment lines up with what we experienced, the amygdala replays all the feelings of the original trauma. Kind of a conditioned reflex.

    In every case, the only way out is acceptance. You have to neutralize all that emotional baggage. Yes, this thing happened but it doesn’t matter any more. Maybe I screwed up but there is no way to fix it, so move on. Maybe the other guy really was a horrible person but there’s nothing I can do about it, so move on. Maybe I did go thru hell but reliving the event helps no one. I need to unlearn those reflexes because they are crippling my current life.

    You can’t change the past, only how you react to it. But before you can change how you react, you have to admit that how you’re currently reacting is a not how you *should* react. People do want to cling to their dysfunctions.

  4. This is exactly what I needed to read today. I am learning the art of letting go so I can enjoy my life more. Thanks for writing and publishing this post.

  5. Amazing ideas. And who could blame you for having a hard time shaking that subway story. That was something!

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