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The Art of Letting Go

June 7, 2017

 

I like to feel like I'm in control. I think many people do. That being said, it's really fucking annoying when I'm rudely woken up to find that I am not, in fact, the Great and Powerful Oz, in control of everything. Including how it all looks to others.

 

What drives that feeling? Why do we need to feel like we have control over our world? Part of that is our humanity. Control = safety. If you know who everyone is and where they all are, you feel better. If you're the one dictating who they are and where they are, even better. However, since we're still human, other people are going to have a say in who they are and where they're currently standing (physically, emotionally, etc.). And they're also have opinions about how stuff should be, where it should be, and what its general purpose is. And those opinions are probably going to be a bit different from yours. If you're anything like me, that's going to cause you to feel some stress.

If you're the one calling the shots (about anything from work stuff to school stuff to our children and spouses) then what you say goes. Right? Sure, if you're either very lucky at best, or abusive at worst.

 

Not feeling safe unless you have your hand in everything is a valid feeling (like all feelings). However, taking it too far leads to chronic stress. Because, I'm sorry to say, you are not in control of anything outside of yourself. That's a hard pill for most of us to swallow.

 

Our culture promotes this behavior in some interestingly destructive ways. A cosmetic manufacturer will tell you that using their face lotion will stop or reverse the signs of aging. They sell you an illusion that this lotion will somehow enable you to have power over time and the effects of gravity on your skin. It won't. There are ways to take care of your skin (don't smoke, stay out of the sun, don't live in a polluted area) but you can't stop it from aging. Surgery and Botox only delays the inevitable, and few of us have access to those kinds of interventions. We have no control over time and we never will. Being wrapped up emotionally in looking "young" is going to cause you some problems when you are inevitably reminded that you are inside an aging meat suit.

 

Here's another example: If you just do something "right" then other people are going to... What? Finish that sentence. If I contort myself into something resembling what I'm *supposed* to be, then things will go well for me. Except that that's not how it usually goes. Here are a few more examples:

 

1. "If I just make dinner right, he won't yell at me." No one should get mad at you for not making dinner the "right" way. You have absolutely no control over how someone will react to your cooking, even if you went to culinary school and you truly know what you're doing, someone somewhere will say, "this isn't very good" which does NOT mean you're a bad cook; and they most certainly should not get mad at you for their own food tastes.

 

2. "If I just use a different tone of voice, mom won't get mad at me." No matter what tone of voice you use, someone might not react well to it. Especially people who are closest to us like family members. People will react how they react. You could be flying off the handle emotionally speaking and the people you're around might not react at all. You never know. Our culture informs how we're typically supposed to react to certain things, but that is no guarantee.

 

3. "If I just lose some weight, people will be nicer to me." Shift your perspective: people of all shapes and sizes get shit for how they look. Even the ones who are a socially accepted size. Also, it's not your fault that society demonizes overweight people in order to sell all kinds of useless things. It's been around for a long time, and it's probably not going anywhere any time soon. Instead of feeling horrible about it, see for what it actually is: Capitalism turning people into assholes. More and more evidence is coming out that being overweight has little to do with diet and exercise or lack of will. Also, anyone who treats you badly because of your size is showing you exactly who they are. Believe them. No amount of changing your physical shape will change their attitude or the fact that they are an awful person. Family members included.

 

4. "If I just study super hard, then I'll pass this semester and then the next one and the next and I'll graduate with honors and I'll have more job offers than I'll know what to do with." I have watched many people study themselves into a hole trying to live up to academic expectations. High academic standards are all well and good except for when they lead to students literally and figuratively injuring themselves to keep up. There's a better way to go about this. You failing does not necessarily mean you're stupid or that you won't lead a successful life. Getting good grades does not always equal a high -paying job. It's ok to take a break. It's ok to drop classes. It's ok to get a C. Or a D. Or an F. Or an incomplete. It's ok to drop out. It's ok to take time off and do something else. Your mental and emotional stability is more important. If you put all your emotional eggs into the basket of 'passing' and you fail, that is a huge blow. Doing your best does not have to include a mental breakdown. You still have worth if your GPA is less than a 4.0.

 

5. "If I just learn to not need so much sleep, then I can work more and get out of all this debt." Trying to cut corners on core physical needs (food, sleep, shelter) never goes well. Figure out where your boundaries are and don't cross them.

 

6. "If I just earn enough money, then my dad will respect me." Our culture makes it seem like having a lot of money should be the end goal. Sure, money helps. A lot. But if it takes a lot of money to get the respect of certain people, even parents, what does that say about them? If that's your goal for earning money, you're going to have a very stressful time,. because it will never be enough.

 

7. "If I just act a certain way, people won't find me threatening/vulnerable." Because we live in a screwed up culture, people have ideas about how other people look that might mean they're up to no good. We live in a racist, classist, sexist society. It's been that way for a very long time. Those who do everything "right", still get into trouble. Are still killed. Are still not believed. They still don't get justice. You can do everything in your power to appear a certain way and people will still react how they're going to react. You have absolutely no control over that, no matter how many old white men elected to public office say you do. We are always in constant danger by being who we are, but we can't let that stop us from living our lives. It's not fair, it sucks. But we just keep going.

 

When we try to control things we have no control over, or what we have no business controlling, we only find out that things are going to go how they're going to go. Which is often not according to our plans. No matter how smart we are, how we manipulate or lay things out, other people will not pick up on that and decide to give you what you think you want. We can form intentions all day long, but they are meaningless. What are we actually doing? What actions are you taking? Examine your thoughts and feelings and actions. Are your thoughts and /feelings in line with your actions or not? Do you expect yourself to succeed without actions? Do you expect instant change, or expect the same action to have a different result just because you have a different intent? If so, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Let go of the imposed expectations which drive you towards goals you can’t accomplish.

So, knowing all this, how does one "let go"? My favorite way to go about this is examining why I have a death grip on something in the first place. Too often, our unconscious fears are guiding our behavior and we're clueless as to how that's happening. These dysfunctional patterns were built before we had a chance to learn how to defend ourselves. If you grew up in a dysfunctional home, your ways of coping with that environment probably made sense in that situation. It doesn't make sense in say, the work place. Or at school. Or when you're living on your own, living your own life, and paying your own bills and if feels like everything around you is falling apart.

You don't have to grow up in an abusive household to have learned some not so great coping mechanisms. Our culture is dysfunctional, abusive, and traumatizing. The best parents in the world, who set you up so well, are no match for the onslaught of messages we get just from existing in the outside world. They could not keep you in a bubble (which itself would have been pretty dysfunctional) or protect you from every bad thing around the corner. We cannot save our children from themselves.

 

Ask yourself: why do I give so many shits about this particular thing? Someone said something innocuous, but now you're in a frothing rage. WHY? Instead of knee jerk reacting against this person who didn't intentionally do a damn thing, ask yourself why you're reacting like a toddler throwing a tantrum.

Now, this procedure isn't easy. It's quite hard. It's hard because it forces us to confront things about ourselves that we'd otherwise like to forget. Such as: in some areas, we're immature. Adults don't like feeling like children, in part because it reminds us of when we were actually children, completely dependent on the adults around us for our care. Sometimes they were able to meet those needs, but too often they were not. It's ok to be really angry about that. It's not ok to go off on a work colleague because they reminded you that your mom failed to pay attention to you.

 

Letting stuff go is about realizing that a lot of what we care about we were taught to care about. Who we are at our core actually couldn't give a shit about those things. Take the younger looking skin example: our culture teaches us, via advertising, that we should want to look younger than we are. But, I think, at the core of most of us, could give a shit about how our skin is aging. The stress comes in when that core belief (that there’s nothing wrong with aging) is at odds with the opinions we have been sold (which then dip into the unconscious mind and seem like actual opinions). And when we deny over and over again that we actually don't care how old (or young) we look, that causes us to want to control our environments so we aren't reminded of that.

 

Facing these feelings, working through them, allowing ourselves to feel, means we sacrifice a great deal. We sacrifice fucks to give. Because once we allow ourselves to feel old without the guilt that capitalism would have us feel, we arrive on the other side of it. And the other side of allowing ourselves to feel the feels is realizing that we actually do not care all that much. And that's not really appreciated in our culture. That labels you as "other" or weird. Those who don't conform to the group are sometimes rejected by the group. That's ok. There are other groups of people out there who are all waving that freak flag proudly. Find them. Letting go of stuff by yourself is a lonely existence and unlikely to stick without long- term support from others who also have no more shits to give.

Sometimes, you've got to admit that you’re fucking terrified of everything that moves, and move anyway. Standing still is death. Life is change. Learning to bend in the winds of those changes ensures that we survive to complete whatever mission we came here to do.

 

The moral of the story here is that having fucks to give is stressful. Figuring out what you actually care about vs. what is stressing you out is a long process. I encourage everyone to seek out professional counseling. But it doesn’t always need to be a counselor: sometimes talking to a perfect stranger for 20 minutes about what is bothering you gives you the perspective that is needed to move on from where you currently are. Talking to friends and family members who give a shit about your well being and can handle the hard feels is also good. Talking to people helps us work through our feelings. Expressing yourself to supportive people about what is bothering you and gaining good supportive feedback is a necessary ingredient to letting things go. Hearing other people say yeah, I totally have that issue too. Or, yeah, that sounds super frustrating. Or, yeah, I went through that, this is how I handled it - these interactions can be critical to our mental health. No one can do the whole damn thing by themselves.

I hope this helped. Know you're loved.

 

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