I am kicking off this blog with an article I wrote back in 2016 on the loss of my mother and my experience learning to let go of suffering. At the time, I was learning to shift out of a "life happens to me" perspective, and the realization I describe below was the first step in that long process.
In January 2014, I suddenly lost my mother, without a doubt the most difficult and transformational event in my life thus far. The months that followed were very dark, filled with self-abuse and negativity. My mother was the most loving, supportive, selfless person I knew, how could she be taken from me, from the world, so suddenly? This darkness lasted for about 6 months until one day when I read a post on facebook from a girl who suffered similar trauma, coped in similar ways, and yet was able to find happiness again. I reached out, told her my story, and set a time to meet. That one conversation saved my life. Actually, just one idea from that one conversation saved my life. Since that time, this same idea appeared over and over in my studies and meditations, as well as testimonies from people who have healed from traumatic events.
The idea that changed my life is control, the fact that we don't have much of it, and desire to have more of it.
I wanted nothing more than to bring my mother back, to rewind time, to hear her comforting voice, and it tortured me that I could not do this. Though I knew these things were impossible, I never released my desire for them, which caused an immense amount of suffering. As it turns out, for how powerful we think we are as human beings, we actually control very little. In fact, we control absolutely nothing other than ourselves. Life can, and will, throw challenges at us. Injury, disease, and disaster can strike at any moment and any level of severity. The more we try to control that which cannot be controlled, the more suffering, anxiety, and fear it causes.
Fear is nothing more than a lack of control coupled with a desire to have it.
You are held at gunpoint- fear arises due to the desire to control your ability to live through the trigger finger of the assailant. Anxious about a job interview- desire to control the opinions of the hiring company. Fear of losing a loved one- desire to control the fate of another person. You get my point. My life-changing epiphany occurred not when I realized that I had no control over the world, but when I let go of that desire only to find how much control I do have in my own experience of the world. I can't control what happened to my mother. I can control how I react to the loss and how I deal with it on a daily basis. I control how I treat my body, my breath, and my mind. I control how I see the world, how I think, how I treat other people, and how I live in my community. One by one, I started making changes. I quit smoking. I changed my diet. I explored my spirituality. I released my emotions instead of suppressing them. I dove headfirst into my yoga practice to the extent of getting certified as a teacher (one of the best decisions of my life). I spent my free time doing only what I loved to do. I allowed the stresses of daily life and work to move through me. I expressed gratitude daily.
For the first time in my life, I found love for myself. In a year's time of working on myself, I reflected on my current state in contrast to a year prior. I was happy, very happy. This happiness attracted a healthy relationship, success in my business, and the ability to help others by sharing what I have learned. Yes, there were moments of relapse, but I never punished myself. I learned to forgive, to let go, and commit to taking a different approach the next time. I realized I now have a totally different perspective on life and I better understand my role on this planet. I learned that sadness and suffering are two different things. Sadness is a normal human emotion, something I naturally feel and should release in a healthy way. Suffering comes from the inability to release this sadness and allowing it to become a part of me. I learned that life is a magnificent opportunity and suffering from an exterior happenstance is only time lost from creating value with that opportunity. I was afraid to let go of my mother because I didn't want to dismiss the love I shared with her. I thought the suffering would keep me connected with her, help me remember her. I learned that is not what it means to let go.
To let go is to release the desire to control the situation, to understand impermanence, and to express gratitude for the love shared with that person.
You honor them through gratitude, not lament. My mother wanted me to be happy, successful, and loving. I will be these things, and in doing so, honor her and all that she gave me in our time together.
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