I was posed a question today, via the ZenCast: What can I let go of, to make me happy? There are things in life that we all obsess over, think about, worry about, that tie up our minds and drag us down. If we just let go of some of those things, no longer allow them to have influence over us, we reduce our suffering and therefore become happier.
Sounds like tree-hugging hippie crap to some of you, I know. I challenge the rest of you to read on.
I gave the question some thought. What causes me the most grief? What in my life makes me the most unhappy, and how can I release it? Here’s what I came up with:
Expectations. I’m reminded of one of my first marching band performances, back in September of 1992. My high school was in the middle of a cornfield, and we played football against other schools in other cornfields, and went to band contests hosted by still other schools in other cornfields. I forget whether this was our first away game or our first contest, but I do remember being on the field and being disappointed that the grandstand was no larger than the one back at our school. I mentioned this to my best friend, Mel, when we boarded the bus to go home, telling her that the evening wasn’t what I’d expected.
Her response? “Never expect anything.”
I’ve held that piece of advice with me for all these years, although I’m not always good at following it. I always expect myself to pick up on new skills faster than I do. I expect myself to be generally more successful than I end up being. I set expectations of how things “should” go or “should” be.
I can let go of expectations, and my need for expectations. (Not to say that I can let go of aspirations or goals, although I suppose the true Zen practitioner probably would.) If I let go of my expectations, it becomes harder for me to be disappointed, either in myself or in a turn of events. It also becomes easier for me to be satisfied with whatever happens, because I didn’t come into things with prefabricated expectations.
Being disappointed in myself brings me to the next thing I can let go of:
Self-judgment. Every morning, when I turn off my alarm clock and roll back over for just five more minutes, my conscience speaks to me in my mother’s voice. “Come on, girly-girl. Time to get up.” But I don’t listen. I close my eyes once, twice, three times, often oversleeping to the point where there’s no physical way I can get to work on time. Every morning, my conscience turns from sweet and motherly to caustic and abusive, taking on my own voice instead, a tone of voice I don’t think I’ve ever used with another human being. I berate myself for being late to work, and hurl insults at myself for opting out of my morning shower in favor of getting to work only ten minutes late instead of 20.
I tend to take the Bible with a grain of salt these days. Even so, as with all holy books, there are still some nuggets of truth for all. Romans 14:22 is one of my favorites (emphasis mine):
Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
Translation: If I allow myself to sleep in, I needn’t beat myself up over it after the fact. Take note, come up with a strategy to avoid oversleeping in the future, and fix it. Don’t be so judgmental of yourself.
I can let go of my self-judgment. I can appreciate that I am a work in progress, and I can give myself constructive criticism, but I can let go of the need to mentally flog myself over small things.
Which brings me to my final luftballoon:
Who I Am Not. Sometimes, I wish I were more motivated. Or thinner. Or that I didn’t procrastinate. Or that my hereditary jowls weren’t beginning to make an early appearance. Or that I weren’t so self-deprecating. Or that I could rid myself of any number of negative qualities. I often find myself depressed over who I am not. Rarely do I celebrate who I am.
In line with the ideas above, I can still give myself guidance on how to improve myself and cultivate positive qualities to replace the negative. But I needn’t obsess over who I am not.
I can let go of who I am not. She has no power over me. If she exists in another dimension, her life is much different than mine… and I wouldn’t give up certain parts of my life for all the world. Just like I wouldn’t want to change certain events in my life, because I wouldn’t be where I am today, I wouldn’t want to be who I am not, because I also wouldn’t be where I am today.
I can let go of my expectations, and my need for expectations. I can let go of my self-judgment. I can let go of who I am not.
What can you let go of?