Friday, March 1, 2013

On letting go

For a while now I've been doing some work. It's the kind of work that takes place mostly inside my psyche and sometimes shows on the outside. As an example, I have spent a fair amount of mental energy examining my habits and responses to external problems and as a result I've lost about 20-25 pounds depending on the day.

But that's just one example. It's the most visibly dramatic. It's hardly the most important, however.

I've been letting go of many things in the past few years and I don't see signs of stopping; since we're always works in progress. Letting go is allowing me to be a better me, even if some of the losses are difficult.

Here are the top three things that I'm changing or ditching in an effort to live a longer, more peaceful and true life for myself.

I do not owe anyone anything.

As we go through our years we find that we develop friendships and other relationships which are based on many different things. Sometimes it's as simple as a bloodline, but also humor, shared sadness, or a common goal. And as we travel our lives we think that the favors we've done or the stories and secrets we've shared somehow entitle us to something from one another. I have learned that I am happier when my relationships are based on feelings of trust, compatibility and whatever the opposite of "relationship debt" is. No one owes me anything that they cannot give freely and I, in turn, owe them nothing that isn't freely given. This is, perhaps, the most difficult lesson to realize because we tend to feel owed.

People often remark that a friend should do something, offer something, be something to another, because of history or because of what they feel they've invested of themselves into another. This is so unfair. People can give what they can give. And score keeping helps no one. When people have expected more than I can give I have had to step back and understand that it is not a reflection of me, or them, that I can't be the friend they want. (Disclaimer: a dear friend told me this very lesson, when I sought her opinion for absolution.) 

It's okay to determine that your own peace and happiness are strengthened by letting go of relationships where you can't be what the other person needs. In this way you accept responsibility not only for your own role, but for your own happiness. And even if it's sad and difficult, it's liberating. I have found this to be the Golden Rule of my own peace and happiness.

I owe myself my own good health.

I'm a mom, so naturally my gut instinct is to take care of my children first and foremost. Here's what I've learned lately, however: when we don't care for ourselves first, it really is true that we serve no one. This sounds so very, very selfish and self-involved but there's a fine line that has to be traveled. If you do it right you're a better person for those around you. When I was pregnant with my younger son, my mother was dying. Midwives tried (in vain) to have me care for myself. What could I do? I certainly couldn't demand that my needs for rest and nutrition would come before my dying mother's needs. Could I? At any rate, I didn't, and I had frightening pre-term labor that threatened a premature birth. During my sixth month she died and in that sad, sad time, I had nothing left to do but care for myself and my older son. 

I couldn't stop to learn the lesson then, but in the years since her death I've reflected on that time and I know I could have taken steps to find more space for myself, my needs and those of the baby boy growing inside me. Who knows how things might have changed had I been more selfish for us. But this lesson is not learned too late. In the past few years I have found that demanding time for writing, for yoga, for reading is worth it in ways I cannot measure. Sometimes it means not doing laundry after the boys go to bed. Sometimes it means that dinner dishes wait until the next day to be washed. Sometimes it means shutting the bedroom door and taking five minutes to breathe. To breathe. 

We forget to breathe and it's the most important thing we do all day. 

I have let go of expectations for myself that aren't mine.

This sort of seems like a repeat of my new Golden Rule, but it's different. The expectations that I am talking about the ones imposed upon me, mostly by society at large. A few years ago I felt really defeated by not being at the top of a career. In fact a few years ago I was still floundering, trying to decide just what it is I want to be when I grow up. It seemed like a giant let-down to "just" be a mom. Maybe I was doing a disservice to the bold and brave feminists before my time who gave so much, so I could do anything I wanted, just to "settle" for being a mom. Although, what if being a mom is my best life and not giving it my all in trade for some career is going to leave me feeling wasted and sad? 

And really, who cares? Who besides me, my partner and my children cares? The honest answer is no one. Everyone else is far too busy laboring along their own paths to be looking at me and my choices. So ultimately I can't make choices based on what I think others might want of me. I have to make my choices based on how I'm going to feel at the end of my days. 

I'm not a famous anything. I'm not a superstar writer. I'm not the best mom or wife who ever lived. But I am as good as I can be, and always trying my best to get better. Friendships are growing stronger and more equal, and calm days and nights with more satisfaction find me smiling more often. In the last blog, I decided that less would mean more and that luxury could be found by living with fewer expectations and simpler possessions. 

Not everyone approves of this path I'm taking, but if I apply my own rules correctly that's okay. I can allow them to disapprove of me, even dislike me, for living a life that doesn't make sense to them. It's okay to let someone travel their own path without you. My goal now is to find the people who can travel with me, without expectations and without keeping score. When I stop keeping track for myself, I find peace and true happiness.

And that, I believe, will lead to a life well lived.