"In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you."
According to the internet this quote both does, and does not come from the Buddha. Who knows anymore in this post-truth world that we live in. That's not the point of this post though, instead I want to focus on the meaning behind the quote, and how it rings truer with me each year as I age.
To me, this quote highlights three important facets of a peaceful life. By approaching and then assessing the nature of our relationships, we can begin to see a reflection of ourselves within them. And when we see ourselves, naked and vulnerable, we can be honest about who we really are.
- How much we love others tells us about how much we love ourselves, as those who live with open hearts for others are often open with themselves. By embracing a complete spectrum of emotions, thoughts, and world views, we can come to understand others through the many versions of ourselves, those that have been lived and those that were never realized.
- How gently we live is an indication of how we approach reality. Human beings have a unique ability to reshape the world around us in significant ways. Recognizing our power to influence and change asks us to think about the form that we want that power to take. Will we promote chaos and destruction in the world, or will build a vision of understanding and peace? Our actions are our answer to this question.
- How easily we let go of that which is outside of our control lets us know we are being honest with ourselves about who we are, and what is good for our lives and for those of others. Chances are these will never truly align, because of the diversity that exists. However, I do think that we can find healthier approaches to negotiating differences and coming to compromises. Ultimately, it goes back to the first two points. To truly let go, you have to love and respect both yourself, and the world outside of your head.
I've struggled with this last area for most of my life. Whether with romantic partners, friendships, or certain phases of my life, I never wanted to feel like I was losing something important to me. I think this fear of loss has roots in my fear of death, what could be considered the ultimate loss, and on the surface it manifests as a need to feel in control of my destiny.
In the past I held on to friendships and partners long beyond the point when I knew the relationships weren't going to cross the finish line, and it caused a lot of pain to the people I cared about, and to myself. Uncertainty, mixed messages, conflicting actions; they all contributed to a sense of unease and confusion for all parties. And then when I did eventually let go, I would do so quickly and completely, without building in space for healthy closure. But over the past week I've recognized a change within myself as I worked through my recent separation. For the first time I feel like I handled a breakup fairly responsibly, although it wasn't without mistakes and faults from my end. What's important to me is that I focused on being honest, I tried to work through the problems, and I stayed true to who I was, recognizing that if I compromised too greatly that the end result would be forced and unsustainable.
When we hang on, when we try to force pieces of the puzzle to fit together, I think we fool ourselves into thinking the picture is coming together, but when you are truly honest with yourself you see that you will be unhappy with a messy puzzle that is bound to come apart. As I get older I see that I just hurt myself the more I try to force something to work that isn't. Now that's not to say that we should throw something good away at the first sign of challenge, but when you sit with yourself and search your feelings I think you can come to the right answer. The anxiety and pain we inflict ourselves out of fear of finding someone new to love us, or the fear of being alone, is ultimately way worse than the reality of the situation.
After my past relationship with Brittany I learned that I could be strong and happy on my own. Having come out of a toxic relationship, this was a revelation at the time. I still feel sad and lonely now that I'm on my own again, but at least I can remember that I will be okay. I know that I'm being honest with myself about who I am, and what I need to live a happy and fulfilling life, and even though I don't have all of the pieces at this moment, I know my puzzle will come together to form something beautiful given time and attention.