This I believe
I believe in letting go. This is something that I’ve struggled with for most of my adult life, a struggle that in some ways defines me, in the way the internal battles we all face help us negotiate who we are. At various intervals in my life, I’ve found myself reconciling the intuition to passively accept the life that I’ve been given with the drive to actively create my life by fighting to change what’s been handed to me.
In a way, it feels like the archetypal East versus West struggle, the battle between passive acceptance and active self-destiny. As an American, I’ve grown up believing in the power of self. I’ve never doubted my ability to live the life that I’ve imagined, and I think it is this belief in self that has allowed me to travel the world, to live indendently in varied circumstances, to become educated, to search for meaning in my life. But I’ve also felt an internal tug in the other direction, an inclination to stop fighting, to stop trying to change the world to fit my needs, to hear the whisper of the universe and to be swept away in its embrace. As an Indian, my history is one of non-resistance. I come from a culture where acceptance is valued, where fulfilling one’s duty and submitting to something larger is what’s expected.
When I lived in Africa, I would marvel at the ability people had to allow themselves to be carried away by the breeze of communality. As I watched them submit, the fight in myself would melt away as well. They seemed to respect the order of the universe in a way I had never learned to. The questions that previously plagued me–was I leading the life I should be? Were the choices I was making good enough? Indeed, was I good enough?–would lose importance. Replacing the uncertainty of wondering what I should be was the certainty that I was, and that was good enough. For a short time, I heard the whisper of the universe in my ear, reassuring me, telling me you are cherished, you are valuable, not for something you might be or do, but for you.
Yet, with time, this peace has been tempered by the frustration of helplessness. I watched the same elderly African woman who lived by the rhythm of the ocean waves allow herself to be subject to the cruelty and abuse of others, relegated to a life of powerlessness. I realized that the grandmother I admired so deeply lived a life of compromise, a life filled with the constant subjugation of her needs that communal living necessitates. I started to wonder if people accepted life circumstances not because they were at peace, but simply because they had no choice. And I found myself compromising my own desires in subtle ways, subjugating what I truly needed in a relationship with a man, placing my needs as secondary in an interaction with a close friend or family member. I started to ask myself whether this is what acceptance truly was–denying one’s own desires to accept the will of others. I wondered what it means to live an authentic and meaningful life, and how to make the most out of life without finding oneself constantly at odds with one’s circumstances. The question would keep coming up–how do you live a purposeful life without living a life devoid of respect for essential truths?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, of course. What I have learned, however, is that there is something to be said about learning to let go. As I get older, I find myself holding on with less fervor, giving in to my wants, but also learning to really believe in it was not meant to be. Sometimes I slip back into old patterns. I forget my Indian upbringing and my African experiences and find myself restless and discontented, battling the universe and myself to gain supremacy over my life. Then, inevitably, as the frustration comes over me, I sit back, and suddenly the seriousness dissipates and the laughter bubbles up inside me. I allow myself to be swept away in the embrace of the wisdom of those who have come before me. And in that moment, I don’t believe in the power of self-determination, or in the necessity to make my life exactly what I want or expect it to be. I instead allow myself to close my eyes, breathe, and feel the sheer power of letting go. This I believe.