I think we got it all wrong. I realised this when I considered the fact that it is impossible to die from holding in your own breath. We’re hardwired to survive, or at least to want to survive. Self-preservation has always been the driving force that created both good and evil outcomes in this world, so I find it increasingly curious to note that we get this wrong so often.
There is an abundance of memes and motivational speakers telling us why we need to persevere. Hope in tomorrow makes the struggles of today worth it, but what happens when that hope does not materialise in a favourable outcome? Do we abandon hope, or do we question what we wanted in the first place?
I paced around restlessly this weekend quietly observing these thoughts flit through my mind as I saw the reality of it echoed in those around me. Expectations contaminating and embellishing everything while most interpret it so differently. Rights and privileges. Who determines when they’re legitimate and when they’re not? Does a right become self-indulgent when we expect it to be fulfilled, and do we automatically erode the rights of others when we live with such apparently justifiable expectations? The rabbit-hole seemed endless.
Quite unexpectedly, it dawned on me. Life is about giving up, not about holding on. Knowing what to give up has proven to be infinitely more important in establishing sanity in my life than holding on to dreams or expectations, or insisting on the fulfilment of my rights for that matter. I did not give up on my dreams. No. That is still firmly intact. But it has changed in shape and form consistently over the course of my life.
I often noticed how my dreams or aspirations were informed by the celebrations of others. That which they celebrated as being significant became my aspirations. I wanted to share their sense of elation, or their sense of belonging, because I didn’t have a definition of my own for that. As time passed, I slowly realised how hollow life is when I followed the crowd, or worse still, when I adopted the goals of others as my own.
This always created a lot of conflict within me because my base definition of life appears to be quite at odds with those around me. Or so I thought. However, what I have grown to realise is that most are distracted enough to only subscribe to the collective perceptions of success because they have so little knowledge of themselves. That’s the root of it right there. Self-knowledge is a prerequisite for balance, and balance does not always lead to peace. Harmony can be established from such balance, but peace is something considerably more elusive.
Giving up on failed expectations holds more value than holding on to them at all costs. If the dreams of our lives remain consistent throughout our lives, then I would call into question whether we’ve grown as human beings or not. My views of the world at age 20 cannot be the same as my views of the world at age 30, or even 40. If it is, it suggests a wasted life. It suggests a holding on to past dictates and expectations without an appreciation for the ever transitioning landscape of life that continuously offers new opportunities and beauty with every fresh breath we take, if only we opened our eyes to it all.
Not every breath is a fresh breath. More often than not we inhale to sustain rather than to live. This becomes ingrained as the only way to live because we’ve celebrated perseverance in such unhealthy ways. We hold on to bad relationships, detrimental mindsets, and toxic environments all the while hoping that our perseverance will pay off, but neglecting to notice how much we’ve discarded of ourselves in the process.
The courage to give up on what is not good for us is often thwarted by the need to be right. Giving up is a tacit acknowledgement that we got it wrong, but because our egos are so focused on how we’re perceived by others, we would rather stubbornly persevere than to be perceived as a failure because we know that the likelihood of being celebrated as a martyr is significantly higher than the likelihood of being celebrated for being sensible. And we all want to be celebrated.
That breath we take from fear never reaches the corners of our soul that needs its nourishment more than anything else. Slowly those corners become hardened and dry, eventually decaying and becoming cancerous, as we hide it from the world, but unleash its aggression in moments of intense disappointment or betrayal. We neglect our own nurturing because too often we believe our worth is only equal to the value that others place on it. We fail to see how the ‘others’ are equally contaminated in their self-worth and therefore subscribe to a view that is inherently toxic, while adopting it as a definition of our aspirations in life.
Giving up on the appeasement of others in the face of conflict with my convictions has left me alone at times, but rarely has it left me sleepless. Seeing the world for what it is becomes that much more difficult when I hold on to expectations and rights that have little probability of ever being fulfilled. The balance I strike therefore becomes a combination of creatively seeking to express myself in a way that fulfils the rights and expectations of those around me, while simultaneously offering me a space to breathe. Half a fresh breath is better than none at all.
When we refuse to give up, we actually give in. When we refuse to give up, we ultimately abandon the core of who we are, and any purpose or beautiful contribution associated with it, in favour of a contaminated contribution aimed at the appeasement of those that define our self-worth, the net result of which is anything but fulfilling. But the hoards waiting to judge you for holding on to sanity instead of enslavement to their notions of reality will always be a distraction that pulls us away from the path of peace, and instead drags us into the mud-filled ruts that they have accepted as home.