Progression Requires Letting Go of the Past

To progress in our lives we must let go of the things we have gathered in the past…

One of my favorite word pictures in relation to this idea is one that comes to us from Zen Buddhism. It is an idea that has been used over and over again in various stories, including movies. It is often entitled “Emptying Your Cup”

“A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. “It’s overfull! No more will go in!” the professor blurted. “You are like this cup,” the master replied, “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.”

Do you get it?

If not, think about it this way. How far you go is often determined by how heavy you travel. If you are carting around a lot of useless luggage it takes a lot more time and effort to go where you want then if you simply traveled with what is necessary.

There are many things that hold us back. They can be physical, emotional, mental, and even spiritual. I will call these things “past burdens”. By past burdens I mean to say they are things we have picked up in the past that still burden us today.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are some things that are our burden to carry. Yet many things we carry are not our burden…

For instance, we often have relationships that we hold onto long after they are over. Long after that person may have even stopped talking to us. And dare I say, much longer after an acceptable mourning period for a loved one who has passed away.

These are all realities of life that we must accept and come to terms with. Many people feel they have accepted these things, but they really haven’t come to terms with them.

This happens because acceptance is mostly a passive action while coming to terms with things is an active action.

In other words, what’s done is done, and you must first passively accept the reality of things. Then you must do the work of coming to terms with it. By coming to terms with it, I mean actually dealing with it and moving on. Many people do themselves, and the people around them, a great disservice by never dealing with the past and moving on.

The best definition for coming to terms with something I found has been this – “To confront squarely and come to understand fully and objectively.”

To come to terms with the past one must do these things…

  1. Be Honest – If you lie to yourself to protect your emotions you are doing more harm them good. The truth must be told and you must speak it in your own mind. No amount of truth telling by friends and family will change you until you start speaking the truth for yourself, to yourself. In this situation, blunt and honest are two words that definitely belong together like peanut butter and jelly.
  2. Have Courage – Do not shy away from the work that needs done. There is a natural correlation between how long you have held onto something and how strongly you hold onto it. The longer you have had it the stronger you hold onto it. “It” starts to feel like a part of “yourself”. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
  3. See the Truth – If a farmer wants a fruit tree to produce more fruit (i.e. be more like itself) then he has to prune it. It is the same with you. You must see how cutting off the dead branches will improve your true self. There is no life in the past, only the present. And new life will come in the future. You must take care to preserve what is full of life now and not let the dead branches of the past weigh you down.

It is hard to be objective, understanding, and confrontational when all we want to do is be subjective, close minded, and fearful. Yet that is exactly what is required of us if we want to live life to the fullest extent possible. We must remember that the past doesn’t always have to determine our futures.

Editor’s Note: Wow, this is my longest Progression post to date! I feel that I have even more to write about regarding this topic so I am going to keep going. Technically this is what personal development is all about. Progressing into what is better and not what is worse.

My only hope is that I can continue to cheer you all on in your own individual personal development journeys!

5 thoughts on “Progression Requires Letting Go of the Past”

  1. This makes a lot of sense. I have held onto some thing from my past and it has done nothing but hinder me. I have been working on letting go, or as you say emptying my cup. very inspiring post. thank you.

  2. I am familiar with the Emptying Your Cup story. It is a good mindset to have, but it is only natural to dwell on things from the past. This is probably something I need to work on to make better progression.

  3. This makes a great deal of sense. I’ve held onto some issue from my past and it has done next to nothing but hinder me. I happen to be doing work on letting go, or as you say emptying my cup. very inspiring publish.

  4. You mentioned burdens of the past, you are certainly right on those being the hardest things that you can let go of the past. Being honest with yourself is something you should be doing, if you ask yourself the tough questions, you usually know what it is you need to do to move on and make the progress you are looking for.

    Till then,


  5. I agree with you dealing with the past does not ensure you success in future.To make progress in your life we have to forget the past life to enjoy the future.

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