Some Basic Truths:
1. We Are Not in Control
2. Life Isn’t Fair
3. Letting Go is Key
In driving class they tell you to steer into a skid, which doesn’t seem logical. And, yet, there I’ve been on a slippery Northern Ohio road in the dead of winter starting into a skid, following the instructions, feeling like there’s nothing between me and whatever comes next but my loose hands on the wheel and my racing heart.
Not in control. We live in fluidity and chaos also known as a normal morning. Sun comes up. Good. The coffee is its great hot self. A text from my boss — another crisis. One which I didn’t create but that I need to “handle”. So, I begin the drill. Emails, calls, and so on. All the time, my mind working to wrap whatever is happening into some sort of an understandable narrative. One that I can have some chance of affecting.
We all do this. We tell ourselves stories. We want a logical world. We want to believe that we can control our experience.
“We can plan, we can care for, tend and respond. But we cannot control. Instead, we take a breath, and open to what is unfolding, where we are.” Jack Kornfield
This belief in control is pretty much what holds our families and institutions together. It’s in the way we raise our children, how we are taught in schools, it’s what supports the hierarchy of the workplace. Most of us are just trying to do the right thing, hoping to get whatever reward we think we need/deserve. If we control our response and conform to expectations, we believe that we will see a good result for our efforts.
But, of course, that’s not how it happens. I can obey all the traffic laws all the time and still get side-swiped by a car speeding through a red light.
This is where #2 comes into play. Life isn’t fair. Consider the difference in the life and opportunity that comes the way of a child who just happens to be born in a wealthy suburb in America versus one born in poverty.
I wonder when the right time is to break the general unfairness of life to your kid? Imagine sitting a little four-year old down and explaining to him that he’ll probably struggle in one way or another throughout his life? Frankly, I can barely manage to say this to my 29-year old son now.
I wish I’d know when I was a young mother/woman what I know now. I might have had that little sit down with my boys when they were ten. Old enough to hear and understand the nuance. That bad things happen no matter what — and that the best we can do is learn how to be resilient, how to get back up when we fall.
Here is something I know about resilience. It’s not about being tough. Tough is veneer.
Tough is (usually) a lie covering a scared self.
Resilience is about looking at that scared self, letting it have all the feels it needs without coming entirely apart and then? Going on anyway. In the face of it.
“Resilience is more available to people curious about their own line of thinking and behaving.” Brene Brown
Resilience is earned through experience and trial (and error). And it grows as we practice facing our sad, scared, hurt, mad selves and moving on in the face of all that.
How to move on?
Paradoxically, by letting go. Next time you are up against something take a careful look at all the unpleasantness. How much of that is co-created by your own reaction to whatever is happening?
But, you say, I should be pissed at that person who just jumped into the express lane with 40 cans of catfood, and at least 20 more items. Maybe? But holding that emotion just ties YOU into knots.
“How sad it is that we become so expert at causing harm to ourselves and others. The trick then is to practice gentleness and letting go. We can learn to meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal.” Pema Chodron
How would it feel to not worry? Not to hold onto anger? Do you even know?
Even if you don’t, you can practice this:
Notice when you get stressed out or irritated by something. Open yourself to the emotions, physical sensations — whatever comes up in this moment. In that awareness, practice letting it go.
It’s a feather you can blow. A balloon you can let rise up and away. A leaf you can watch float downstream.
It’s not you or yours.
It never was.