This week I’m doing my best to respond to fairly common life events by practicing letting go. At 4pm on Monday afternoon my laptop died, one hour before I was supposed to jump on to a zoom call for a grief group I had been assisting with. I shifted into gear (sympathetic nervous system response) – I got myself and the computer to the closest tech shop, got the damage assessed, found out my laptop is unsalvageable, bought a new computer, installed zoom, and was on the call at 5pm. Phew!
There wasn’t a lot of time to take in everything that was on that computer that is now gone, and I continue to remember. I’ve lost tons of pictures. I’ve lost the accumulation of years of writing and studying. I’ve lost courses I’ve created and inspirations throughout the years. I had created an amazing resource of information that I could lay my fingers on within seconds, all now gone. The obvious question is, did I back any of this up? Not really, only a fractional amount.
So I’m feeling the feels. I’m angry at myself for not backing it up. I’m anxious at not being able to find information I need, and stressed about having to create course content from scratch for a course that is already up and running. I’m sad over the loss of pictures, mostly the ones of my kids, but also professional photos. It’s just stuff, I know, but it hurts.
I am reminded of the Buddhist story of two arrows of suffering. The first arrow is life events that happen that are out of our control – in this case, the laptop died. The second arrow is the one we shoot at ourselves – I’m so angry with myself for not backing up the computer. Recognizing the mistake for next time is helpful, berating myself for it, is not.
Life events, loss, suffering, and the necessity of letting go happen on a scale from irritating (the laptop) to unbearably painful (losing someone we love). There is of course, a significant difference between spilling red wine on your brand-new white sweater, losing 5 years of work and photos, injuring your body, or losing someone close to us. But no matter the degree to which we suffer, it’s okay to acknowledge that we do suffer.
It’s impossible to let go without first fully acknowledging what’s happened and giving ourselves time to process and feel the many parts of our experience. As I mentioned earlier, saying goodbye to my laptop, was accompanied by anger, anxiety, and sadness. I know that it’s going to take me along time to rebuild the courses, worksheets, classes, library and forms that I’ve created. I will never get back the money I spent, or the many hours. It’s not only okay to acknowledge that it’s hard, it’s essential for moving on. Often in sessions a client will resist letting go by not allowing themselves to feel their full feelings. They will often say things like “What I’m going through is not as bad as so and so” or “It isn’t that big of a deal.” We often think it is admirable to not show our suffering but truthfully it only pushes it deeper down to remain there until we finally give it some well deserved compassion. We can kindly notice - “this hurts and it matters.” When we acknowledge that our experience matters, in many ways we are also saying “I matter.”
I notice that I am naturally moving back and forth between states that feel very resourced and resilient and the state that feels sad and anxious.
As I sit with it I also am visited by gratitude, I’m lucky that this is the worst thing I’m dealing with right now. My son was exposed to COVID earlier in the week and his tests came back negative and he is well. I injured by knee earlier in the week, and it’s slowly on the mend. The week got off to a shaky start, but it's okay. I feel grateful for all the blessings and also to notice that my ability to deal with this and land somewhat on my feet is a gift. I can feel the resilience that comes with an ongoing mindfulness and compassion practice.
The process of letting go is also the process of coming back into balance. Whatever it was that disrupted our life also disrupted our nervous system. If we had to react quickly without time to think it through, or our life has been radically changed by the event, it’s likely that we have unconsciously contracted our muscles, held our breath, and braced ourselves and it takes time and gentleness to come back to balance. Depending on the event it could take months or minutes. In the case of the laptop, it took only minutes for my nervous system to calm down and figure out what to do, but it isn’t the size of what happened, it’s how our nervous system responded.
I have heard that when a mala necklace breaks that it's the end of a karmic loop - maybe when a laptop dies, its time to trust that what I need is inside. That's how I'm looking at it. ❤