I have been thinking a lot recently of letting things go. Stuff around the house, feelings about past events in life, fear- you know, the little things in life. I have been reading (or listening to the audiobook of) Letting Go: The Pathway Of Surrender by David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D. The title almost put me off. I am into self improvement, but only if it is something actionable and the results are verifiable. And there are no crystals involved. My tolerance for woo-woo philosophy has dwindled since the post-college years.
In a gross understatement of the text, the big idea (and by the author’s admission not an original idea at all) is that by letting go of attachment to our feelings we are able to get past them more quickly and go on to live more authentically and with stronger connections to those around you. I believe Jesus, Buddha, and a host of other deities, prophets, philosophers, and self-help types have said something very similar. But what sets this book apart for me is the amount of neurological research cited in his observations. I like scientific data to back up my woo-woo self improvement, thank you very much!
The challenge with the idea of letting go is that I am complete and total crap at it. When I was younger I treasured my strong emotions. Decades later they are still something I appreciate. Micki pointed out when I fell into tears seeing Goya’s The Third of May, 1808 in real life, it isn’t safe to take me anywhere. I love that about me. I value the fact that I have a deep reservoir of fuck it, who cares when it comes to letting my outside resemble my interior state of being. But over the years I have, from time to time, really gotten off on the intensity of some particular emotions, holding onto them, poking and prodding at them to keep them going. That has never worked out really well. When strong emotions weren’t available I used beer, exercise, sex, acting, obstacle racing, jumping out of planes, driving fast, anything that gave a jolt of adrenaline or endorphins. Some of it healthy, lots of it not so much.
So back to letting go. I think I am too precious about many things. Objects from the past, ideas of who I wanted to be, all the usual ‘holy CRAP I’m 45’ type stuff. But some of it might be important to get rid of. For instance, someone (a few someones, actually) went out of their way to sabotage a large swath of my life a few years ago. Time has passed. I am completely over it, but not really. Thoughts about those involved still get my heart racing and my fists wanting to clench. It might be that the damage was so incredibly bad that I can’t possibly ever get over it (it wasn’t), or it could possibly be that if I look too closely at it I might find areas of personal culpability. I just might poke too many holes in my boat of outrage to keep it afloat. I can continue to be precious with my emotions about it all, or I could make an attempt to grow up a bit and move on. A decades long friendship is ending, partly because I don’t want to look at the ways that events in my life affected him and his family. I might be absolutely right, his reaction to drama in my life is his responsibility. Or, just maybe, it is okay to let go of my self-righteousness and get to the bottom of what I am avoiding- feeling guilt. Because underneath that guilt, I know, is fear. Fear that I alone fucked it up, perhaps, or fear that our friendship died slowly over the past two decades and nobody wanted to admit it. I honestly don’t know, because I haven’t looked there yet.
“Man, what does this have to do with open water swimming? Isn’t that where this blog thing all started? What is this?”
Yep, it is. I get into the ocean because it blows right through all that crap and puts me in a state of Right Here, Right Now. I stand underneath cold showers because it is the closest I have come to disconnecting from the incessant emotions and chatter, and allows me to think with absolute clarity. But I can’t be cold all the time. It sucks, to be honest. However it is a doorway to a headspace I really, really could use more of. It forces me to let go, bit by freezing bit.