How my best friends’ departures made me a better person
“When you are unable to allow life’s events to pass through you, they stay inside you…the energy gets packed up and forced into deep storage within the heart” (The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer)
In the time that it takes to create one Simpsons episode (longer than you think), eight of my closest friends moved out of San Francisco. Given SF’s reputation as a city of bodily transience, moving is common, but the sheer volume imprinted on me in a way that I didn’t realize until many months later.
As the last packing+dinner dates and farewell parties wrapped, I found myself without my trusted network and with a towering dread: I’ll have to start over.
Now, I’ve moved around my fair share and have prided myself in intimate but tearless goodbyes. However, I was used to being the one who leaves, not the one left behind.
The one who leaves is propelled into new habits by a fresh environment, while the one left behind is faced with simply the absence of old habits.
I can’t count the times I’ve reassured others about change. Even if you stayed perfectly still, those around you will change — why not be the one to initiate it?
Then one day, I was the one still.
I suddenly didn’t feel like going out. I stopped planning and initiating. I flaked on everything, from dinners to hikes to even weddings. My psyche was unable to allow the loss of my support network to pass through me, and it took up deep storage in my heart. It took up so much storage that for a while, it left little heartshare for my remaining community.
In response to the sadness I felt when others left, I myself disappeared without leaving.
I don’t want to overdramatize this. It wasn’t as if I couldn’t get out of bed or that I shut down. In fact, my work thrived as never before, and to those at work and dance, I was the same animated self. However, in other settings, I lost my appetite for more connection.
I felt like I was at a negotiating table across life. In the past, I would’ve moved on to new deals, but this circumstance taught me to focus on a different solution, a truer solution. One inspired by real negotiations: bettering my BATNA.
In negotiations, your BATNA is your Best Alternative To The Negotiated Agreement. The better your BATNA, the more power you wield in negotiations, because you are less dependent on the outcome. Bettering your BATNA is one of the most effective ways of increasing your leverage and optimizing your deal.
In these past months, I slowly realized that the relationships one pursues or settles for while “negotiating” with life is dependent on the quality of the relationship one has with oneself — in other words, one’s BATNA.
When my friends moved, I had to face the reality that a social community can never stay fixed. Even in the rare case of no physical divergence, there will be mental ones (e.g., as people hit life milestones). Even if I were to pursue and build new communities, the reality is that while they can be just as rewarding as my old ones, they will also be just as impermanent. The only constant is my BATNA: the life with myself.
I had some truly amazing bonds, and I don’t want to diminish them. However, I must admit that what saddened me was not only the departure of people I loved but the departure of a crutch that so effectively saved me from facing my own thoughts.
As Dan Millman caveats, outer movement can sometimes substitute for inner development (Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior). When life temporarily removed the constant plans and excitement, it forced me to be still — and being still can be terrifying.
While I would later rebuild my community, I knew then that investing in and bettering the life with the “still me” would be much more valuable long-term than feeding the part of me that craved movement.
How did I do this? I’m not sure I could articulate it in writing yet, so I won’t bother — it would come out in platitudes. But if you’re interested in talking it through, contact me.
This whole process took me many months, but today, I am a better person for it.
I’ve discovered a deeper confidence, because I finally know that I am enough as is, enough even when still. This allows me to approach my relationships from a place of abundance, rather than a place of need.
I’ve established fulfilling ways to observe and interact with the world both when I am with others and when I am alone. This allows me to take social risks and only pursue social connections I find meaningful.
And finally, I’ve learned to enjoy life more, because I now understand that how you appreciate the so called small things is the yardstick of how fulfilled you can be with anything.