Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Plagued by the Past? How to Let Go.

How to Let Go of the Past

The stars surprised me.  At the beginning of the year, they told me I need to focus  on healing, surrender, and closure all the way till August.

“Be sure to include a big dose of rest and maybe even a creative retreat,” they insisted.  “Look back on the last 12-year life cycle and focus on the loose ends, forgiveness, and letting go,” they said.

I’m used to looking back a year at a time, but 12 years!  Sounds like a good precaution to avoid the top of regrets of the dying.  But holy-moly, at first I couldn’t even remember the last 12 years.

“Nothing happened,” I thought.  Funny that mind of ours, isn’t it?

With this starry nudge, I’m getting into the retrospective groove.  Just in case you want to look back too, this is what I’m up to.

The Last 12 Years

First, I had to remember what actually happened since September, 2003.

I took a blank page and made a mind map, starting with a heart in the center that read, “Last 12 Years.”   I let my mind roll and these bubbles popped up one by one around the map.

  • I connected with my passion for writing, first as a freelance writer and much later as the founder of and blogger at Always Well Within.  This replaced my previous work as a non-profit director and fundraising consultant.  You know, the work you can do well, but it doesn’t give flight to your heart.
  • I participated in a (literally) mind-blowing 3-year, 3-month Buddhist study and practice retreat in the South of France.  On a purely physical level, I survived the excessive wind, rain, and snowy cold on the plateau that hosted our introspective endeavor. “Even the sheep don’t survive up there, ” the locals have been known to say.  It’s beautiful, but the elements clamor madly for each others’ attention except during a few, fast summer months.
  • But just barely, survive that is.  I became so ill that I could hardly eat, shrunk to 84 pounds, and out of the blue became sensitive to every sort of fragrance and toxic chemical hanging around.  The illness started a few years before the retreat, but intensified as can happen when you engage in serious spiritual practice.  I was well cared for, but the karma would not yield until anti-histamines gave me a modicum of relief and a few well needed pounds.
  • Afterward, I came to the Big Island of Hawaii to heal.  I planned for a few months and stayed on; 5 years so far.  In my usual naiveté, I thought healing would occur in a blip.  But a childhood with a few missing parts, unresolved traumatic stress, and living on high-speed as a so called grown-up may take the better part of a lifetime to heal. Still, I’m finding joy in greater relaxation and ease.
  • My eyes opened to a deeper sense of love as I navigated unexpected twists and turns, bumps and dips.  I’ve even improved my communication skills.
  • I’m learning what it means to connect deeply with the land.   I plant, weed, hack, and hoe.  I feel the wonder of life bursting from the soil or enticing from a branch.
  • I’m recognizing myself as a creative person and life guide:  The writer who’s beckoned to be set free since her teen-aged years and the course-builder who wants to help others find insight, comfort, and ease.

Much of the last twelve years felt like a breath-defying roller coaster ride.  I once called the larger part of it a decade of challenge.  Finally, the roller coaster crashed and I got delivered to Hawaii for some slow but sweet repair.

How I’ll Find Closure (And You Can Too)

Over the next 7 months, I’ll be quietly reflecting and moving toward closing this 12-year period of my life.  These are some of the questions I’ll pursue.

  1. Who do I need to thank?
  2. Who do I need to forgive?
  3. What do I need to forget?
  4. Do I need to ask anyone for forgiveness or make retribution?
  5. What lessons have I learned?
  6. Is this what I expected or wanted to happen in the last 12 years?
  7. What do I need to gracefully accept because honestly it’s not going to change?
  8. What patterns and attitudes are no longer useful and thus would best be let go.
  9. Are there projects I need to complete?  Loose ends to tie up?

I’m grateful I have 8 months (7 now) because all those questions look like a lot to accomplish in a 12-year review.  At the same time, I’ve decided this doesn’t have to become an intensive project.

I can take it bit-by-bit and some I will.  But, I can also do some of this healing in one fell swoop.

There are several Buddhist practices that repay karmic debts – why so much happens in the first place – some of which I do every day.  So it’s a question of directing these practices to heal and transform any unresolved aspect from the last twelve years – individually as well as globally.

I can also use the practice of Ho’opnonopono from the Hawaiian tradition, which means “to make right” and thus it also cleanses and clears.  I’ll direct these 4-lines to whatever calls me from the past 12 years:

I’m sorry.
Please forgive me.
Thank you.
I love you.

I won’t spend endless hours brooding over the past.  I’m a champion of living in the present moment.  But, I know mindfulness shouldn’t be used as a way to deny or suppress what’s not right from before.  If you make that mistake, you’ll be haunted again and again.

A New Life Cycle

According to the stars, a new 12-year life cycle begins for me in August of 2015.

I don’t have a clear vision for the coming episode.  On the one hand, I feel stung by the truth of impermanence and the uselessness of wasting time on the mundane.  On the other hand, I feel drawn to sharing creatively as a means to help others find ease and realize their true self.  And if I could have a third hand, it would be pulling me to further open my intuitive capacity to see what it might bring.

If you feel you need closure over any part of your past, I invite you to use or adapt my formula and put it to the test.

  • First, map out what happened.
  • Then use these 9 questions (or ones of your own) to raise up and process the unresolved.
  • Finally, use a simple practice like H’ooponopono or simply send love to heal and dissolve the dark places you’ve found.

These are powerful ways to achieve resolution and be free of the past.

Would it help to find closure on some part of your life?  Have you ever reviewed a whole decade or 12 years at a time?

Just wondering… Have you signed up for Wild Arisings, my free monthly note?

I’m grateful for your presence!  If you’re new, please subscribe for email updates below.  If you liked this article, I’d love for you to share it on your favorite social media network.   Thank you! With love, Sandra


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  1. Mimi Sternberg

    There is such sensitivity and love in your blog today. To reflect on my past 12 years is huge.
    It was at the end of 2003 that I retired from my salaried job. 12 years in our life, at my age, means entering old age, with the accompanying body/mind experiences . Looking back and letting go, accepting what change brings. Yes, I think I will take some time and do that, Maybe I will start a journal just for this reflection. On July 11, 2015 I will be 75. This seems an important rite of passage, and I’d like to do it as fully as I did, with my 50th birthday. Hmm! thanks for helping me get started.

    • Thanks for your appreciative words, Mimi. They mean so much to me!

      I’m glad my reflection is spurring yours and I hope it’s fruitful to you. Yes, 75 seems a major rite of passage in my eyes too. I’m so happy to be connected to you. I’ll never forget your sunny disposition when we were neighbors for 3 years!

  2. Sandra,
    Thanks for sharing so much of your story! One word: Powerful.

    • Thank you, Tess! I probably focus on fear too much. As you can see, there’s been a bit of courage in my life too. I know you would appreciate and encourage that.

  3. Hi Sandra,

    I love your tender and gentle way of letting go and healing. 12 Years is a big chunk to reflect on…life was so different, so busy with goal oriented living. It has taken a completely different turn, unexpected one…unbelievable how life too molds us!

    Thanks for a thought provoking post, I must scrounge into those years and decide what needs my attention.

    • Hi Balroop,

      Your point about how life molds us is interesting. I was reflecting too on how much I shape my life and how much my life shapes me! I do believe we’re responsible, but surely there is an intimate interaction between these two.

      Yes, 12 years a big chunk of time. I wish you well with whatever reflections you decide to engage in.

  4. Awesome Sandra. Your words always take me to a place of peace and serenity and I’m grateful to read them. Even though your past twelve years seem to have been a far cry from serene, but beautiful nevertheless. 🙂

    • Elle, It means so much when you say that my words always take you to a place of peace and serenity because that’s truly my heart’s intention. The challenge is finding peace in the chaos, isn’t it!

  5. Lovely post Sandra. In answer to your questions – Yes, I think this could help me find closure on some parts of my life and No, I have never reviewed a decade or twelve years.

    Amazing isn’t it that the first thing we think is that nothing much happened and then when we start to write it down we are bowled over by all that we have done. I especially love your nine questions and have copied them down for reflection. Thanks for sharing your story ♥

    PS. This really resonated with me – “On the one hand, I feel stung by the truth of impermanence and the uselessness of wasting time on the mundane. On the other hand, I feel drawn to sharing creatively as a means to help others find ease and realize their true self.”

    • Thank you so much, Elizabeth. Yes, I was so surprised when I began to write it all down and I’m sure there’s more I left untouched. So much happens in our lives! That pull in two different directions is a big one for me. I’m trying to see how I can bring them together! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Sandra-
    It is rare that I write about a post that has touched me so deeply that I know the essence of it will stay with me for a very long time. Your words fall into the category- you are writing from such a transparent, soulful, vulnerable, self-reflective, and eloquent place. You share your journey with us willingly and at the same time take on the role as a guide. Very tough terrain to navigate but you have done it with skillfulness and elegance. I admire your courage and willingness to dig deep. Plus you’re one heck of a word smith. A beautiful piece of writing- with gratitude and love- Fran

    • I’m so moved by your words, Fran. Thank you! This is the heart essence of what I would like to do for myself and for others. So hearing when it “works” for others really helps. For me, digging deep is an essential part of my life and personal growth. That’s why I especially like the title of your book on the inner level and also on the outer level since I’m connecting with the land more and more. Thanks again for your encouragement. Sending love and gratitude to you as well.

  7. I will pass you blog on to the families I do alcohol and drug abuse interventions for across the country. I will also have the professionals I sober coach read this as part of our sessions. Letting go of the past has made so many dwell in their addiction when they should be starting a new life and facing recovery. Thanks.

    • Thank you! I’m honored. It won’t help to get stuck in the past. We need to know how to skillfully work with it and let go rather than to brood on it. We can’t change the past. We can only take action in the present for a new and better life.

  8. I learned about Ho’opnonopono from Liz Dialto a few months back. I can’t believe the power of the practice and those four little lines when done with an open heart.

    Loved reading about your story here. Thank you for sharing.

    • I’m so happy you know Ho’opnonopono! I love it because it’s so simple yet so powerful. It’s really helped bring more humor, spacious, and love into those tense times that occasionally happen with my spouse, in particular. Because we’re all human after all!

  9. What a beautiful read Sandra. It is lovely to get to know you better. I’d love to hear more about those Buddhist practices that repay karmic debts. Maybe another post someday? Why do you suppose illness intensifies during serious spiritual practice?

    • Thank you, Sharon. It’s said that intensify practice speeds up your karma, which can make it occur more quickly and more intensely but then it won’t necessarily last as long (as many eons :). That’s what Buddhist teachers says.

  10. Until recently I’d not reviewed that much of my life at a time. However, divorcing after 30 years of marriage had me reviewing 3 (!) decades trying to figure out what happened, and how I was a part of it, and why I allowed it for so long. I don’t know that I’ve figured it all out…somethings are not even mine to figure….but I feel like I’m doing as much as I can to try to avoid making the same mistakes over and over. And, finally, I’m learning to let go of the things I can’t figure. Like you, I don’t want to miss living in the present!

    • Hi Joyce,

      I admire your willingness to dig through those 30 years so you can live more clearly and happily in the future. That’s so awesome. At the same time, it’s so wonderful you’re also willing to let go of what you can’t figure out so you can live comfortably right now. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I’m sure it will inspire others.

  11. Sandra, thank you for going through all of your process so thoroughly. I am right in step, finding this certain pattern from childhood rising at the least aggravation.

    I have not been asking these 9 questions, but sitting with the feelings has allowed them to transmute, and many of the aspects addressed in the questions are resolved, simply by being there for myself and owning those feelings.

    Now that I see these questions, I am going to focus on them.

    I am curious about the 12 year cycle. I have worked with 7 year cycles, but not the 12 year.

    You are so courageous to follow what you need.

    • Hi Kathleen,
      I think sitting with a feeling is a powerful way to allow it to transform. I’m inspired by how you’re working with this recalcitrant pattern!

      The 12 year cycle comes from astrology. I don’t understand it fully myself, but apparently Virgos (that’s me) are completing a 12 year cycle this year and moving into a new one in August.

      Thanks for sharing your approach.

  12. Thanks for sharing a deeply pure part of your experience. I have friends who have done the 3 yr retreat in silence, meditation and teachings. I think few really know how profoundly life changing and challenging such a practice is. I am glad you found such a lovely place to settle into and continue to grow in good health. We are lucky you share your insights with us to grow as well.

  13. Thanks for your sweet words, Laura. The experience of a three-year retreat is truly indescribable as you suggest. I appreciate your good wishes.

  14. You got me laughing at “In my usual naiveté, I thought healing would occur in a blip. “. That is me too. I still think “It is a year and I am still not perfectly good. There is still so much to do.”

    I haven’t reviewed 12 years and my first reaction was: nothing happened, which of course isn’t correct. I think it would be a good thing for me to do. Maybe it will help me to gain more clarity and more appreciation and thankfulness for my life.

    • Hi Corinna,

      It’s nice to know that we’re together in our naiveté.! It’s a charming way to be in one sense. 🙂

      I hope you enjoy looking back at a decade or twelve years, whatever you decide. I think it’s a worthwhile process and you’re totally right about it giving more clarity, appreciation, and thankfulness.

  15. Thanks for the great advice. Letting go of the past is not an easy feat but word of encouragement and a support group, there is nothing you can’t handle.

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