Last week Kesha's Learn to Let Go video debuted, and I've had it on repeat for days. The song deals with a topic I used to write about a lot, but haven't touched on lately: learning to let go. We all have things in our pasts that we wish weren't part of our stories. There are things we've done; there are things that've been done to us. When we experience things, especially negative things, it's difficult to let them go. It's human nature to hang on to and remember the bad times — an act of self-preservation to avoid the repetition of such experiences — but when we dwell on these experiences, when they take away from the present moment, hanging on to the past stops serving us and starts hurting us. Like Kesha sings in her song,
Been a prisoner of the past
Had a bitterness when I looked back
Was telling everyone it's not that bad
'Til all my shit hit the fan
I, too, have been in the position of being imprisoned by the past. I've told myself stories for years about who I was, who the people around me were, and, as you might know, memory is a funny thing. It's not always as accurate as we'd like it to be, and, accuracy aside, it's not always as useful as it might seem. In fact, often it's our own memories and rumination of the past that hold us prisoner more than than the actual experiences do. We dwell and dwell and, angered by the time and emotional energy we waste, we add even more negative fuel to the fire of our experience.
All of this makes it difficult to make the most of the present moment. When you're experiencing bitterness and anger, you're becoming a victim in the present for something that happened in the past. I talk a big talk about staying in the present, but lately I've found myself allowing resentment to seep into my heart. As the song goes,
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
It's interesting, writing about my personal experiences, trying to help others be more mindful, positive, and self-loving, when these are all things I struggle with myself. I started Positively Present as a way to learn how to help myself and share what I'm learning with others, but it puts me (and anyone else who does what I do) in a unique position. I'm not an expert, a trained psychologist or scholar, but, in sharing my experiences, I'm giving advice. The trouble is, I'm not always taking my own advice, which is why these words hit hard for me:
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
The past might influence who we are, but it doesn't have to define us indefinitely. And, when caught up in ruminating about the past, it can be hard to remember that the future's past is happening right now. The choices we're making now — including the choices about how we think about and react to the past — are soon going to be the past that's influencing us. Which is why it's so essential to pay attention to what's going on in and around you. While I think Kesha might be referring to a certain someone in this part of the song,
Had a boogieman under my bed
Putting crazy thoughts inside my head
Always whispering, "It's all your fault"
He was telling me "No, you're not that strong"
we all have a boogieman not under our beds, but in our heads. We all have a voice that whispers (or shouts...) negative things to us. It's those ideas — that we're completely to blame for the past or that we're not strong enough to overcome it — that often hold us back from moving forward more than the actual experience itself. We don't have to continue living as victims of the past. We might not be able to control what parts of our stories have been written already, but we have the power to create a happy ending. Of course, doing so is rarely easy. It starts, I believe, with actively deciding to move forward, to say to ourselves:
I'm done reliving my bad decisions
I see now maybe there's a reason
Why, I been through hell and back
Honestly, it's what made me who I am
Holding on to wasted time
Gotta learn to let go in life
When you've spent a lot of time dwelling on what's happened, it can be difficult to choose to stop reliving it. Particularly if it's something that's had a major impact on your life, it's challenging to even choose to let it go because it's often become a part of who you think you are. But who you are is completely up to you right now. Yes, the past has impacted and influenced you, but it isn't you. As Kesha wrote here, "Your past only has as much effect on your future as you want it to." It's tempting to brush these words off, to consider them an overly simplistic take on letting go, but there's a deep truth in them.
So much of letting go of the past comes down to actually choosing to do it, which, by itself, is a very simple act. The hard part is getting to the point where you're ready to make that choice. Letting the past go leads to liberation, to the release of a part how you've come to identify yourself. Even if you know it would be best for your mental and emotional health to move forward, actively making choices that help you do that is hard, especially true if the past plays a large role in your self-identity.
Your happy ending's up to you, and you have to decide if you want it. You know, deep down, what you'd be better off without. You know what you should let go of. You know. Knowledge is power, but action is what matters. It's not easy; there's no doubt about that. But in every moment, every thought, you have the chance to choose redemption. You cannot change the past, but you learn to let go, giving yourself a chance for live the life you deserve now. Because, really, it's never too late to have a happy ending.