What first comes to mind when you think about letting go?
Maybe, if you're like me, the first thing that pops into your mind is the Disney song "Let it Go." It's so catchy that it has practically overwhelmed all my other associations to that phrase. Well, now a tree also pops into my mind.
Have you noticed a tree around town that holds its brown leaves all winter instead of dropping them? As I look around my wooded lot, I see one type of tree that hasn't lost it's leaves during the winter. I love these trees whose leaves look like old lace amidst the taller tree trunks surrounding them. There's a term for this curious leaf-retention phenomenon. It's called marcescence.
“Basically, that means that things hold onto stuff,"
said Jim Finley, a Pennsylvania Extension Service forester. Young beech trees will retain their leaves throughout winter to protect the plants from the ravages of winter. I never knew this, until one of my consultees, Mary Stuart Neill, sent me a note about this saying she thought I would appreciate it. I had always assumed that beech trees were just smaller than other trees. For me, the most interesting aspect about beech trees is that
only the young ones protect themselves by holding on to their leaves.
As they mature, they let go of the leaves since they are strong enough to no longer need this protection. But this doesn't happen all at once. Apparently, as it matures, it holds on to fewer leaves each year.
Bet you can see where I'm going with this. Unlike the beautiful beech trees, we often hold onto things even though they are no longer useful or helping us ~ such as old scripts like "don't make mistakes," "don't show negative emotions" or "that shouldn't have happened." But similar to the beech tree, maybe part of our growing up is maturing in our ability to let things go.
I was listening to a client recently as she talked about feelings coming up from a previous relationship in which she had felt rejected. She expressed frustration with herself saying
"Why is this still bothering me? I thought I let that go already."
It occurred to me that she was making the assumption that when you let something go it was accomplished, finished, and never to be bothered with again. She seemed to feel guilty that it was coming back up.
We talked about how letting go may not be an all or nothing event. We might have many levels of letting go that happen over time. I think that letting go is actually a process that incorporates, among other things, the following:
acknowledging that your intention is to let go
checking to see if there is any further learning that needs to occur, and if not,
simply turning your mind to another thought.
The turning your mind is part of the action of letting go. Often times we have insight and intention that aren't fulfilled because we don't know how to follow them with action. Think verbs. We don't know how to actually make it happen even when we are convinced that we want to. (For a strategy to help with this process see the Step Away exercise).
After talking through anything else she might need to learn, I guided my client through an Imagery exercise that helped her visualize what she was letting go of and choosing to think about instead.
Do you have old narratives that you'd like to reevaluate? I've written a workbook called "I'm Not Good Enough: How the Stories You Tell Yourself are Ruining Your Life." This workbook offers a step-by-step process for reevaluating and letting go of beliefs that are no longer helpful to you. You can read more about it here and contact me if you'd like to order a copy.
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