People are fond of saying that life is short.
It can be the case that violence, disease, or bad luck make this folksy wisdom true. And yet, in most other cases life really isn’t all that short. The average lifespan in America is close to 80 years long. In the whole sense of time and space this is a blip, but we humans don’t live lives on scale with tectonic plates and dying stars. We live on the scale of human consciousness, and in terms of waking up eighty years’ worth of mornings and having eighty years’ worth of lunches and eight decades of love and hate and frustration and anger and joy, our lives really are quite long running.
What makes them even more epic is the tendency we humans have to pickup things as we go through our long lives, to soak in the things that touch us, the atmosphere we breathe. Given a positive set of circumstances, much of what we absorb and hold on to is a net positive: education, wisdom, fond memories – even our scars dull with the years to become painless sources of the stories of high adventure, romantic in their cooled trauma.
But there are other things that sink into us, parasites and toxins, bear traps in our ankles, cancers in our bones that we are not made the richer for having. Think about eighty years. Think about the worst things that befall even the most blessed of human lives and how they can stick like tiny seeds in the fur of us, stick and fester for our whole long lives.
Which is why the best of us learn how to let go of some things.
I’ve talked before about how holding on to anger (link) can be a source of power, energy, and motivation in one’s life, and I still believe it is so. However, not all anger, bitterness, and hatred is created equal, and the trick is knowing which passions to strap your mules to and which to put out to pasture.
What do you think about more than anything? What are the thoughts that keep you awake at night? Imagine your mind is a television station, and ask yourself: “what am I giving the most airtime to?”
The answer to this question can be enlightening, for the simple reason that it is very hard, on a day to day basis, to actually give thought to your thoughts.
Confused? I am too. After all, if your thoughts are you, then what is it that can actually step back and look at your thoughts? The whole concept of “meta-cognition” is dizzying to even discuss.
But it does present an important point- are you happy with the things you spend your time dwelling on? What are the results of those thoughts? What actions and words come of these meditations? Do those words and actions improve your life?
Often times, when I ask myself these questions, I find the answer to be no. At the risk of sounding like some edgy emo high schooler, I often find that my thoughts torture me worse than anything in my real life circumstances.
The answer, for me at least, is often defamiliarization. It sounds silly, but sometimes trying to imagine oneself as an alien come down to earth and seeing everything for the first time takes a lot of the immediacy and gut-wrenches out of the things that haunt our thoughts and dreams, trivializes self-doubts and cools disdain.
We all need distance, distance from ourselves and from the bumble bees stinging us from the inside out. In some small way it helps to try and stand outside of yourself and look at all the things you’ve picked up or might pick up over your eighty years. Imagine yourself lucky enough to live that long. Be careful what you let seep into your pores, what caustic substances you apply nightly. Those things easily become who you are after a while.
Some poison is unavoidable over eighty years, but remember that the brain is a muscle, and keeping it tense and focused is not always a good idea. That girl who broke your heart and slept with another guy. The mother who ran away or the father who disappeared. The way that death approaches headlong towards you each and every day. The foolish mistakes you’ve made. How much airtime do they get in the channel of your mind? How many knots are they tying in your most important muscle?
It may be time to just let go, to think about the roses, to go somewhere for no reason and reflect on nothing, to let peace be the goal.