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Releasing the pain of the past

Newsletter Feature Articles

Releasing the pain of the past

Jenn Shallvey

I  notice how much we can become attached to our past, our story and our personal history. It can define us and overwhelm us. We can be triggered into habitual behaviours and patterns that do not serve us nor others.  To be aware of this attachment is one thing. To do something about it is another.

I started to really consider attachment of late. A mentor of mine challenged me with a task.  In discussing some of my own personal challenges we agreed that I am still caught up with the pain of my past.  I am not a victim yet I do find that I can be drawn into that state on occasion.  So much so that it physically affects my health. So coming to a head this past few months I felt it necessary to let go, clear, release. All great words to say. Intent is powerful but without action not very meaningful. So I took action.  

What I did was destroy, pass on, recycle, let go of anything from my past that did not fill me with joy or feel right for me in my life now.  This is a big task. It is not one to take on half heartedly. No it is one that truly has to come from the full heart of who you are knowing that you are doing so with love for self and all you are letting go. I embraced this task as such. I did not see this as a decluttering exercise though on the surface it looks like that. I didn't redesign my space, though it certainly benefited from the removal of items.  Am I finished. Not quite though 80% done before the end of the year is good progress for me. The remaining 20% requires a bit more understanding on my part before I let go or acknowledge.

The pain of words
The main focus of my clearing started with journals and reflections. I have saved journals from the beginning of my days in college.  So I shredded, shredded and shredded. Sorry folks. Nothing left now for that future post mortem revelation.  I let go of these writings because within the pages were the words of pain. It seems that a lot of my writing happened when I was hurting. I turned to privacy of pen and paper as a way to get the emotions out of me.  In the beginning the notations seemed to be about the ups and downs of college life, romance, self image etc.  As I matured though the depth of the writing grew more challenging.  I realised that I was giving power to these stories by holding on to them. In fact reading them became a task I did not even enter into once I really got going. Why? Because as I dipped into the reflections I noticed I reconnected with the experience and energy. No point. So I stepped back and unconditionally let go.  A few tears, ok maybe more than a few, were released along the way.

The weight of the never completed scrapbook
Then I went to the boxes of papers and other mementos I have tucked away in my office.  College papers, personality profiling reports, address lists, performance management reviews, old pay slips. You name it I had it.  I had this strange hoarder mentality that if I keep all these things they will be useful some day. Useful in what way I asked?  Useful to whom I pondered?  I looked through the folders and files. As I picked up the trail of my past I reminisced of my days as a student, employee, traveler, career ladder climber. The proof was in front of me physically. In the past it gave me a boost of confidence and perhaps a bit of something to hold onto in the face of loss.  If I kept the papers I would not forget who I am, right? But these papers do not define who I am now, just where I went along the way.  I was afraid to let go as this was a link to the past and my journey. I was attached to my story.  As I looked at the labels on the folders and the papers contained I no longer felt attached. I no longer felt the relevance. It did not give me joy to have these around. So off to the shredder as well. More tears and then exhaled sighs of relief and joy. Strange to let go of this part of me

Other people's
Yes I also have papers and items from others.

I have items from my parents and sister.  When I first kept these items they were a physical and tangible link to a person who no longer was with me. I saved things that at the time seemed relevant but after the years no longer do. So I considered what I kept with me and why.  I realised as I did that my memory and connection did not depend on these items.  So I let them go.  Not all. Some still have a power or a sort of positive energy for me. What I have now has meaning for me where I am at now. I imagine in the future this will be less so.

I also went through the work files. What I commit to with my work is to not hold onto files once I complete an engagement. As I take notes in all sorts of ways it can pile up at times - both electronically and physically.  So I looked at what I held for others that I no longer needed. Cleared.

More than a tosser
Now you are reading this thinking I heartlessly just tossed a whole lot of files and things in a bin. No.  Before and during the whole process I acknowledged and appreciated what these items represented in my journey so far. I then consciously held the thought in my head while I cleared items that I was releasing the pain of the past once and finally.

When I finished I felt lighter. I felt clearer. I noticed that I was literally not carrying around any of this baggage anymore. In other words I didn’t have to worry what to do with this stuff because there was no more to worry about.  It was a profound realisation for me how we can hold onto things that no longer serve us.  Now I also realise more now that there is no need to destroy anything to do this task. However for me it felt right to do that.

Welcoming the joy of now
So I move on from this experience with a new focus - what brings me joy and happiness.  This is what I am now recording in my journal and writing and to a certain extent creating in my life and with people in my life. Yes I have done this before but it was out of balance with the painful reflections.  I am in a way rewiring my habits and patterns.

I am starting small. I am seeing the joy in the little things of life - our new kitten, a friendly exchange with a stranger at a shop, a movie with the family, bad and good jokes from my husband. There are deeper moments of joy as well.  These though are more for me and my reflection. The point is I am noticing, recording and rewriting the direction of my focus from a new place of deeper clarity.

Does this mean I avoid pain or don't notice things that are unpleasant? Not at all.  It does show me how much energy I can choose to put into a situation and where I pay attention. I can feel the emotions like anyone else. It is about how I respond.

What I know is that for some who do not share this view it may be taken as selfish. It is though about what lifts me up.  Because if I take care of me I am so much better able to help others. This means also choosing to be with people who reflect this experience as well.

So I am making a stand for joy, for living in this place where pain can visit as a reminder or a lesson but does not stay. No place for a victim. No place for blame.

It is up to me, no one else to claim my joy.