There was a time in my own personal life where I would hold onto animosities and grudges. This character defect was something I developed in my teen years and held onto well into adulthood. The concept of “getting over it” was completely alien to me. My animosities followed me like a horror movie curse, inciting rage and contempt within my being that cause lingering issues with animosity and depression. In short, not letting go equates to carrying around your personal baggage. The baggage grows over time and soon you discover that that you have an airport terminal’s worth of bags that you can’t seem to lose. What then is to be done about all this animosity? If it’s so bad, why is getting rid of it so difficult?
In my own personal journey, I made a discovery about my upbringing that shed some light into my inability to let go. My father was smart man who grew up in the South Bronx. He was polished in the business environment in which he worked but he very much has New York attitude towards life. Every day was a grind and the obstacles were often met with cuss words and consequent stresses relived with alcohol and tobacco. My mother was British and grew up with a “stiff upper lip” mentality. Obstacles for her were met with work and later with complaining. I grew up not knowing or understanding how to deal with stressful situations. The closest I ever got to learning to let go was from my Grandmother’s Christian faith, which I had been dragged into on Sunday’s. Unfortunately, I was too young to understanding some of the finer points of Jesus’s teachings ( especially the part about letting go of transgressions). When I was old enough to stop going, I did. And so with that went a way of being able to embrace a fantastic practice.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I had met the consequences of carrying around all that baggage. My first panic attack was at a pizza restaurant. I was with people from work and was looking up at a menu when I felt cold. I then couldn’t move and hit the floor, with everyone staring at me. I didn’t know what was happening, and when I was finally able to move again I went begrudgingly to a doctor. After a battery of tests, I was told that I was in perfect physical health. My mental heath, on the other hand, wasn’t so great.
Eventually I found myself taking yoga – mostly to get exposure to this thing people called mindfulness. What I hadn’t expected is that the yoga practice carried with it a thousand years of wisdom in dealing with the suffering. Through the synchronization of the body and mind- one could practice “letting go”, which I initially took for being the ailments of stress. But I would later discover that there is another type of letting go- a radical type of forgiveness where reflection and peace of mind can be attained. The synchronization of breath, the focus on the present and acceptance can bring about a state where one’s grip on the baggage is relaxed. When practiced regularly, the baggage becomes increasingly lighter until one looks down and realizes that those tattered bags no longer exist – the practice alone had allowed then to simply disappear. I can, at times, close my eyes and try to re-imagine what those bags looked like – but the stresses they represent are no longer present.
The crazy part about this is that through continued practice, I learned to not take on any more baggage. My historical animosities had been shed and I learned to deal with potential new ones in the present. The focus on the breath, the realization that the events are temporal, the practicing of radical forgiveness all being elements of my mindfulness in action. It is not only saving grace for my sanity, it is a new way of living that makes be GREATFUL for having the opportunities rather than resentful of the ones I missed.