What Are You Holding On To?
By Casey Douglass
A short while ago, I listened to one of Alan Watts’ lectures. If you haven’t heard of him, he was a British philosopher who did talks and lectures in America during the 1950s, and brought many Eastern philosophical ideas to the West in a way that the Western mind of the time could understand.
In the lecture I listened to, he spoke about how, from the moment we are born, we are on a downward slope of flux, change and decay, culminating in our death. But some of us cannot deal with this and we cling to things that we think make us feel safer or more secure. He mentions the analogy of someone falling from a great height but still holding on to a rock as they fall. It conjures a comical image as to the futility of the act and we might think the person doing it to be a little bit mad. (The lecture name and where he was when he gave it escapes me sadly).
It is now that we can ask ourselves, what if the person is unaware that they are clutching something needlessly? There are many things in life that we are unaware of at any given time. If you are anything like me, you will almost certainly have eaten something at some point and been shocked when there was nothing left, yet having little memory of eating the whole thing. If we can do this over something as simple as food, it stands to reason that we might be doing the same thing when it comes to our thoughts and emotions.
As an OCD sufferer, I have always been aware that I am holding on to a great many things that others wouldn’t think twice about discarding. If I took Alan’s analogy further, I’m not just clutching one rock as I fall; I have used string and ingenuity to pull others nearer to me, fixing them together and have started building some kind of ramshackle house on the plummeting platform!
The “rocks” themselves are nearly all fear based, most featuring some worry of loss, hardship or some fear about the future or regret about the past. Awareness of this is sometimes enough to give you a little sense of release or space, even if you still cling tightly to them in every other way. As an example, I am almost certain that even if I collapsed on the street and was rushed to hospital, once there, I would still find my mind obsessing about whether I left a light turned on or my laptop on charge. It sounds strange to hear that even knowing something is worth letting go, that knowledge is sometimes not enough to allow the “letting go”. I fall into this trap regularly. If I find my life becoming more and more stressful, tiring and just generally less enjoyable, I know that it is usually because I am grasping too much.
One rock that I know I did inadvertently let go is the one which symbolised my dreams and fantasies. I just don’t seem to have them any more and when I think about that, I don’t mind too much. They drew me away from the present moment and gave me something fake and dazzling to compare my life to, which usually ended in me feeling terrible when the inevitable differences reared their heads. I don’t mind living in the moment, and after all, if dreams and fantasies stop making you happy or giving any sense of relief, they should be dropped just like anything else.
I doubt I will ever be able to let go of all the “rocks” that I have latched on to. I would like to think that the occasional awareness of the futility of the struggle might give me a measure of bravery, the desire to loosen some of the binding ropes and the will to let some just drift away, watching them mingle with the other falling debris around me.
Now it’s your turn. Have a think. What rocks are you holding on to?