There are many ways to look at how we live life. Some want to focus on family. Others on making money and building a successful career. Others on making the world a better place than the one they entered. Still others who want to roam the world free of all encumbrances.
But there’s a brilliant, macro way of looking at it that I heard recently from the great Mickey Singer. He breaks it into two distinct paths.
PATH #1 — USE LIFE TO COMPENSATE FOR YOUR BAGGAGE.
What the heck does that mean? Let me explain.
As I’ve written about before, our baggage, collectively known as our ego, is a compilation of all the experiences we had in life that we held onto and didn’t let pass through us.
A basic example Mickey uses is that you saw a rattlesnake in your backyard when you were ten and it scared the hell out of you. Forty years later, you’re still scared of snakes. All snakes. In fact, when at the zoo, you refuse to set foot in the reptile section.
A divorce that runs your life
Let’s explore a meatier example. Your parents divorced when you were thirteen. It was ugly. Physical fights. Custody battles. Hatred spewed to you by one about the other and vice-versa.
You were already going through the throes of adolescence, which is difficult under the best of circumstances. Heap on the family tumult and it adds up to an absolutely gut-wrenching period in your life.
Thirty years later, now aged forty-three, you have never been in a remotely intimate relationship. You refuse to put anybody through the hell you experienced all those years ago.
So a terrible thing happened earlier that you are still compensating for thirty years later. There are countless examples of this:
-You grew up dirt poor and have painful memories of not having enough food at times and living in fear of homelessness. To compensate for this, you worked your ass off and, twenty years later are now a millionaire. And yet, you live in constant fear that homelessness is right around the corner…unless you push, push, push. You can never relax. My dad was an example of this.
-You felt unattractive, unpopular and invisible among your peers growing up. You compensate for that by working tirelessly to become…a congressman, CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Hollywood studio chief…all in the service of showing those jerks who the true BMOC (Big Man On Campus) is!
-You were extremely pretty growing up and got treated a certain way because of it. This resulted in you placing an inordinate amount of your self-esteem on your appearance. Now in your 50s, you’re a plastic surgeon’s dream, getting Botoxed, facelifts, tummy tucks, wattle tightening…you name it.
Here’s the problem we face pursuing life this way: It doesn’t work. It doesn’t make us happy.
We’ve all known people who exemplify these examples. Are any of them happy? Not the ones I’ve known. They’re mostly anxious, insecure, unfulfilled wrecks.
The bad news for humanity is that this is how almost everyone on planet Earth goes through life. Fortunately, there is another way to live…
PATH #2 —USE LIFE TO LET GO OF YOUR BAGGAGE.
To understand this path requires knowing this: The root cause of suffering stems from our never-ending quest to get what we want (desires) and avoid what we don’t want (fears). And those desires and fears are generated by all that egoic baggage we’ve been talking about.
Bottom line, if we were okay inside, we wouldn’t need or fear anything. But we’re not, so we do.
What to do about this state of human affairs? Instead of using life to compensate for our baggage, which only serves to strengthen and perpetuate it, we use our experiences to let go of that baggage. How?
-That guy who grew up poor but is now a millionaire? When you see that the Dow is down two percent and get that usual sick feeling in your gut, instead of diving down that rabbit hole and freaking out that the economy is about to tank and you’ll lose it all…Close your eyes. Relax. Take a few deep breaths. Lean away from that awful feeling. And watch it. Sit with it. And do the same any time you feel financially vulnerable.
-And the fifty-year-old former beauty queen? Next time you look at yourself in the mirror upon waking up in the morning and feel awful about your appearance… Close your eyes. Relax. Take a few deep breaths. Lean away from that awful feeling. And watch it. Sit with it. And do the same any time you feel insecure about your appearance.
You get the drill. That is how we use life to let go of our baggage.
Here’s the sum up. The biggest step is the first one: Becoming aware that living our lives by chasing our desires and avoiding our fears is a losing proposition. I hope you now know that.
The second step is to commit to letting go of yourself.
The third step is to let go. Then let go some more. And some more. Every day. For the rest of your life. Mickey says the goal is to become a letting go machine.
Doing so gives us the best chance of leading a peaceful, fulfilling life.
The choice is ours.