Life: The Journey of Letting go

Everyone knows we don’t live forever and that life, this life is short. The things we hold most dear to our hearts- the people we love, our achievements, our wealth and possessions, even our own lives – we simply need to leave behind when we die.

In this journey of life, we seem to lose more than we gain as we grow older. It is a journey of letting go. But few of us really are able to come to terms with this reality and even fewer are able to realign their journey to accommodate this reality.

Losing anything of value always leads to suffering, it is a roller coaster ride of negative emotions.

So then, is it possible really to live without suffering? Can there be a life design that can minimise/ insure/ protect us from this?

Here are some ways I think we can best come to terms with this reality and lead happy lives:

1. Understand the transitoriness of life and its gifts:

That life’s gifts, our potentialities are transitory- that they don’t last forever- our strength, intelligence, beauty, wealth, youth- nothing lasts forever.

यथा काष्ठं च काष्ठं च समेयातां महोदधौ ।
समेत्य च व्यपेयातां तद्वद् भूतसमागम: ॥

Just as logs of wood floating in a river/ocean meet and then separate, all our associations here are momentary – will have to end.

It needs a certain stoic attitude towards life to come to terms with this reality. To see through life requires that we pause, take a step back and look at things objectively. Begin every new venture with the full knowledge of this reality and then live life accordingly.

2. Focus on what matters most: I think what matters is what part of us lives of us after we are gone. Your LinkedIn profile or your Instagram likes or that date with a stranger- none of these really matter so much after you are gone. I think what will matter most is what our life experiences taught us, how ( or if) we found lasting peace and freedom and how we are remembered by those whose lives we touched, while we lived. 

Here is an interesting exercise that can help us understand what really matters. 

3. Learn something from all good and bad experiences– especially bad experiences. 

Mostly it is loss that teaches us about the worth of things

Arthur Schopenhauer

Anyone can learn from their own mistakes. We know even animals can do that. That’s what makes them trainable – the carrot and stick method or more accurately called the operant conditioning method. The real differentiator in a learner is his or her ability to learn from mistakes, from the losses of others. One of my mentors once told me ‘If you realize and learn what I have learnt by age 50 by the time you are 25, you get to live 25 bonus years’.

4. Letting go may be in your best long term interest:

Andrea Mathews in her book ‘Letting go of Good’ describes how holding on is a form of ‘bargain’ and how this bargain brings pain. She says ‘Letting go means being willing to allow life to carry you to a new place, even a deeper more true rendition of self. Holding on means trying to push life into the place of your making or be damned.’

Do not fall for the sunk cost fallacy. The sunk cost fallacy is our tendency to include the value of past costs in a future decision or trade-off. Just because we are already invested in a certain relationship, project, skillset or job, we continue to invest further in them. Without realising that this new investment can pay better dividends elsewhere. Like that expensive pair of jeans you once bought and never wear and don’t even get rid of just because you’ve paid for it.

So, think long-term. See if you can say with high probability that it’s in your best interest to hold on to someone or something or not.

5. Prepare for life’s final journey: 

Letting go is always a tough call, it is always hard to take that decision. In life, while we have to sometimes let go of people and of things, we also ultimately need to prepare to let go of life itself. Live conscious of the fact that one day we will bid goodbye to our own body and that is ok too.

Accepting one’s mortality can be one of the most liberating feelings we can have. Each of us has to find a way to best process this reality for ourselves. This doesn’t mean we need to control how we die; that is impossible. We simply need to learn to live with this acceptance.

The art of dying is the art of living. The honesty and grace of the years of life that are ending is the real measure of how we die. It is not in the last weeks or days that we compose the message that will be remembered, but in all the decades that proceeded them. Who has lived in dignity, dies in dignity.

Sherwin B. Nuland, How We Die: Reflections of Life’s Final Chapter

I hope this doesn’t paint a very gloomy picture of life and helps us think and act better when it comes to letting go.

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