The only thing that really matters.
I’m in a philosophical mood, so you’ll have to bear with me.
I am a sucker for inspirational quotes, and one of my favourite ones is a line ascribed to Buddha:
“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”
The more I think about this quote, the more I realise that my personality makes it very hard for me to practice the latter two of these three ‘simple’ Buddhist principles.
I genuinely wish I could be more like a gentle lotus flower, at ease in the muddy water, but sadly, I am by no means gentle, and I certainly struggle with the concept of ‘letting go’. I am more of a fighter who believes that we make our own luck. Simply ‘going with the flow’ and gracefully letting go of things ‘not meant for me’ don’t naturally compute in my brain. My disposition is to choose the things, circumstances, and people I want, and work hard to keep them in my life.
This trait can definitely come in handy at work and in a serious relationship, when putting in some sustained effort is almost a basic condition for success. But I’m starting to realise that sometimes there’s no other way but to stop working hard, and let things unravel on their own accord.
Health is a good example: you may be the healthiest, fittest, best-nourished human on the Planet Earth, and yet, your health can crumble in a split of a second due to an unfortunate combination of genetic and environmental factors. Relationships is yet another example: you may have completely fallen in love with someone, but if they aren’t “your person” reciprocating your feelings, or circumstances/timing make it unfeasible for the two of you to be together, there’s no other way than to let go.
The realisation that I may not have as much control over my circumstances as I would like, makes me jump around like a fish taken out of water. Just put me back in the f***ing water. Why can’t I be left in the water?
But at moments when we’re too far in the shore and too far away from the proverbial water, jumping around and fighting is the least productive course of action. You won’t make it back to the water by yourself, baby girl… you just have to stay calm to save your life energy and wait for the wave to take you back, so you could breathe again.
What the heck am I on about — you may ask? Quite frankly, I don’t quite know.
I guess I’ve come to a conclusion that at times when things are beyond our control, preserving our dignity by living gently and surrendering gracefully really is the only thing that can make us feel better. I’m testing it on my own skin right now and surprisingly, it makes breathing easier.
Being with our feelings — no matter how uncomfortable or smothering — is more likely to make them subside than frantically fighting them. As Carl Jung said, what we resist, persists.
Another thing I am realising these days is that the only thing we can really control in life is the way we respond — not react — to external circumstances.
We all have responsibility: that is, response ability, over our behaviour.
The best tip I’ve ever received about how to respond when completely smothered by uncomfortable feelings, was: do more of the things you like with the people you like. Having worked as a behavioural researcher for a short while, I am convinced that the easiest way to start feeling better is not by thinking, but by doing.
There’s time and space for engaging your cognition to solve problems, but the time when you’re overwhelmed with pain is not the right time for it.
So if, like me, you’re not quite in the happiest place at the moment, think of the things you can do, and the people you can do them with, to make yourself feel better. I’ve started tonight, having dinner and an ice-skating session with friends. What will you do?