Let Go of What Was Never Yours
Returning Books and Dismantling Beliefs
Do you have something in your office or home that you don’t even remember how it got there, who it came from, or if you, indeed, put your hands on it and carried it into your space? I think I’ve returned books that were loaned to me by friends, but I cannot swear to it. No one has yet asked for those books back and if they did, I might initially think they were mine because these treasures of delight have been in my possession for a really long time.
Maybe some of you have that stack of library books or DVD’s or tools that you borrowed and they’ve gotten mixed in and assimilated into your collections. What once was borrowed has morphed into a belonging that you now might claim as yours because no matter how much you rack your brain, you cannot remember where it came from or when it became part of the furniture.
This is such a great metaphor for the network of beliefs we are born into as children. We’re surrounded by teachings, ideas, rules, expectations, and obligations that may never have made sense, been true, or produced value for our lives. In fact, some of what was never ours may seem completely foreign to our essential understanding of how life actually works.
There’s a lot that we borrow and then assimilate as though it’s fact. As parents we say we want our children to be happy. Yet, when a child is, in fact, happy, we might say, “Wait! You aren’t going to be (fill in the blank of a deeper expectation) or do (fill in the blank of a family rule)? Ah, the confusion that ensues. A parent has placed a child’s happiness into a narrow box of conditional choices selected by the parent. “I want you to be happy.” May really translate to “Live like I want you to or how I expect you to live.” “Behave according to my definition of happiness and do as I say, by the way.” And do we really want happiness to be the destination, the “be all”, end all of a life well lived? What about being courageous, generous, trustworthy, kind, compassionate, loving, and creative?
Then, there’s the “please” training of our children, which goes like this: Say “please” and I will give you what you want. Then our children turn into desperate beggars for all kinds of things using that “magic word”, which we told them was the “magic word.” They throw tantrums and then we look around and see adults begging and throwing tantrums because of this insanity. We figure out that it was just not true and we don’t always get exactly what we want even though we’ve been impeccably polite.
Life is life. All these expectations, strange teachings, set ups for complete confusion, and imaginative storylines exist as inventions. They mostly are not true, but sometimes we operate our entire lives as though they were. It can be so subtle how these beliefs sneak up on us like the physical clutter that seems to spontaneously generate in a cupboard or drawer. They may not fill our true needs or make sense for the quality of our lives. Yet, we persist in holding on to all the mismatched Tupperware, the borrowed measuring cups, the knick-knacks, and the beliefs as though our life depended on them.
John Stuart Mill in his book, On Liberty, offers such keen insight into the path of liberation. He shares about questioning everything that others’ around you do by rote, habit, and without question. He emphatically encourages people to attain their life thoughts and habits from a place of deep questioning and profound self-discovery. We can ask ourselves important questions like: Is this actually true, good, healthy, useful, fulfilling for me to think, do, or become?
Noticing we have thoughts that we inherited is often a first powerful step and then riddling these thoughts with powerful questions can be a second step to begin to divest ourselves of what was never ours. Beginning to watch these thoughts flow by like the leaves fluttering away from all the trees can be such a great practice. Mindfulness can be an empowering choice. Dropping deeper into quiet stillness, we can begin to view all these scattered irrational thoughts at the surface of the water or the ground. We might ask ourselves “Who could I become without this belief or thought rolling around in my mind?”
In these moments of reflection and self- discovery, we can more easily and gracefully see a way to return the borrowed books and begin to rid our lives of those beliefs and belongings, which were not ever ours. We can begin to allow a fulfilling life to emerge from this place of liberation, new insights, and awakenings that bring joy and extraordinary results.