On the importance of letting go
When I was five years old, my mom used to take me to the restaurant where she worked as an accountant. We would ride the subway in the morning and I’d see a myriad of people selling all sorts of useless and practical stuff. I’ve always been an avid reader, so I bought a poem from one of them. It’s probably one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made, but simple things rarely seem to hide an iceberg below them. Most people think that history is about the past and we seldom see ourselves as actors on it in the present. However, I believe that every time we make a choice we’re creating or destroying a whole universe, a full line of our lives, through the accumulation of the little improbable things that make up a breaking point moment.
That poem -chosen at random by him- was about a boy that fights with his mom in the morning and leaves the house denying her a goodbye kiss. When he comes back from school, he finds her dead in the kitchen and he realizes how stupid he’s been and how much he loves her. For a kid that understands the eternity and irreversibility of death, it was completely traumatic.
I became aware of the pain of being taken for granted. I grew afraid of not valuing things while I had them. The anxiety of not being able to hug my mom or sing with her on the car again for the rest of my life was unbearable.
For the next six months, I would call my mom repeatedly whenever she became absent more than the regular time. I would become anxious whenever she was late to pick me up from school. I imagined all sorts of horrible things that could happen to her. I would make promises and deals with my grandma’s god in my head hoping he would take care of her. Stupid things like not saying bless you less than three times when someone sneezes or not pointing at people with my elbows gave me a fake sense of control. The same feeling we have when we try to cope with anxiety and pain by assigning meaning to random events and saying they happened for a reason.
Six years later, my grandma died of lung cancer. I saw her dilute into nothing gradually for two months until she stopped breathing. I couldn’t cry that day. I didn’t know what to do with the feeling of impotence in front of a lifeless body. I became aware of the duality of love: the joy of having someone you care about and cares for you, and the pain of the possibility of losing them. Up to now, I’m totally awkward at funerals. I feel like anything I could say is endlessly stupid and unable to heal what those who are left in this universe are experiencing. I lost my faith in God.
Three months later, in my quest for filling the void left by my absence of dogma, I bought a book from a Hare Krishna devotee. It was about Samsara, the cycle of life and death that Buddhists and other eastern philosophies believe in. I got hooked and started reading everything I could about other religions and visiting temples. I was left with more questions than I had answers.
Four years later I fell deeply in love with a girl. All the fear of loss remnant on me poured into her. I projected the pain, frustration, anger, confusion, and all the nacho cheese of feelings I was experiencing into her problems. I would log in to Facebook every five minutes to check if she had answered my messages, I would become very anxious when she hanged out with other guys, I even -so embarrasingly- hacked her phone so I could see her GPS location now and then. I definitely lost my mind, but I wasn’t aware of the deep emotion causing my disparate behavior.
From my parents’ divorce, I became obsessed with the love cycle. How can somebody mean nothing to you one day, the next one be so important to you, and then become a stranger again? How is it that a bag of water, fat, sugar and proteins can elicit so profound reactions on you? What makes a rather indifferent someone, a special someone?
One day I found myself crying alone on a Starbucks. I had pushed away my family, my friends and broken my company. I was Smeagol and his ring. I looked myself at the mirror and became disgusted with my weakness. I had lost myself into my fear, and eventually what we fear is what we get.
After finding out my girlfriend was cheating on me, I broke up with her and went to a self help group. I never thought it would be so hard to let go of what you think you are to become what you want to be. I worked everyday on breaking down my ego. I caught me often lying to myself. I became aware of how much I valued other people’s opinion of me and how much my self esteem depended on it. I didn’t think I was handsome unless somebody smiled at me down the street. I stuffed myself of work to feel needed. I self sabotaged my success because I thought I didn’t deserved it.
I’ve been dating again since then, and I keep working hard everyday to become more aware of the behavior patterns laying latent in my mind. Once in a while I drown myself in a puddle, but self awareness and distant observation of my thoughts and feelings has helped me regain strenght and hold myself before I harm myself or others. I want to share with you three lessons I’ve learned on letting go from the last three years:
- Things are only there when you don’t need them. There’s an elusive nature to things like happiness, love and money. I call it the volition field. The more you obsess with something, the field grows bigger and it pushes what you want away from your reach. When you work for yourself towards goals that fulfill you, the volition field reverses and starts attracting them again.
- Everything is out of your control except your thoughts and actions. Society (whatever that means) sells us feelings of fake control. We are trained to believe that going to college is going to get us a job, that getting more money is going to render us happier, that being aloof is going to make us look cooler, that not loving is going to avoid us getting hurt. However, all of that is just bullshit. We can build walls around us to protect us from others, but nothing is going to protect us from ourselves. Even doing the first is building yourself a trap. You can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It all starts with a thought. Your feelings are made to keep you alive and safe and (no matter what Hollywood says) they’re not a trustworthy compass. Feelings follow thoughts and actions follow feelings, that’s why they are e-motions. In the end, we become our habits. People are the least thing we can control because they have their own worldview, plans and volition. Manipulation is a dirty friend. You can fool some for a while, but not everyone all the time, including yourself. It’s hard to accept, but no matter what you do, you can’t control what other people think of themselves or you. It’s much better to focus on what you think of yourself as objectively as you can.
- Meaning is in your head. You’re trapped inside your mind, therefore the things can seem to mean something they don’t and it’s not easy to know if we’re misinterpreting. We see what we want to see or what confirms what we already believe, sometimes ignoring the rest of the facts. It’s called confirmation bias. Double check before reacting to messages, calls, comments, jokes or anything that can be ambiguous. Build headspace between your feelings, your thoughts, and the exterior world. Your mind is not you. Due to the linguistic nature of our trains of thought, the brain pops out random ideas that sometimes have a confusing emotion below them. Listen to them, but don’t get attached. Sometimes words come off totally different from what we mean. Sometimes feelings are hidden behind them. There’s always a deep emotion behind what people do and it’s not always obvious. We have to learn how to see the hurt baby behind anger, the fearful one behind jealousy or rejection, the sad one behind irony.
I leave this as a bottle in the digital ocean for anyone who may need it. I believe in the power of sheer probability and accumulating thought. Buddhists say that the only way to keep a drop from drying is to throw it into the ocean, so join me into the dark uncertainty of not knowing and let’s light it up with the love and courage of letting go.