Walt Whitman wrote, “Re-examine all that you have been told, and dismiss what insults your soul.” Unfortunately for us, Whitman never left detailed instructions on exactly how to do this. And how do we really know the difference between the things that insult the soul, and the things that though difficult to practice, keep the soul firm, strong, and honest? It seems rather easy to dismiss anything that we find difficult to live by, or go through, under the guise that, “it is not meant for you.” But difficulties, uncomfortable situations, and the struggles we face, do more than give us grief and great stories – they temper the soul. And they make the spirit both humble and resilient.
Yet if you observe clearly – both others and yourself – you will find that people hold on tightly to things, especially onto beliefs that certain things are meant for them. And this manifests itself in different ways. From destructive relationships, to an inflexibility in changing one’s career path or vocation, to the unwillingness to constantly reflect on one’s fundamental values, much less change them. We hold on tightly to things because it is very easy to form habits. And our habits – whether they are our thoughts, words, or actions – are not easy to break.
Think of something that you really wanted, that you thought was meant for you. Maybe it’s even something that you had, but lost; something you eventually ended up without. It hurt, didn’t it? And maybe it hurt so badly that you just couldn’t quite let it go. And holding on to it, in its own strange way, felt like you still had it. But this sensation, this obsession that we have for the things that we hold onto tightly – our grip seemingly unbreakable – rarely, if ever, keeps us from loss. We lose things all the time – “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” as Job warned us in the Old Testament.
One way to be kinder to people, I think, is to remember that we have all lost something, and many have lost a great deal. Sometimes the loss is so difficult to bare, that even the illusion that whatever we wanted is still with us, is better than nothing at all. And then we go through life with a tight grip on everything that has already escaped us. The fear of letting things that we oftentimes think define us, or keep us whole, supersedes the courage that we are capable of, of choosing the unknown, and letting the familiar leave us.
But here’s what I know, and it’s probably one of the few things I actually really know: Tighter grips on the things that aren’t meant for us, close us to life. And you have to be open to life. If you’re not open, you’re going to hold onto things that will bring you unnecessary pain and suffering. If you are open, life still brings you pain, but it will be the kind of pain that is necessary to get you where you are destined to be. Even if this destiny might be drastically different from the path you’re on right now. And maybe this is where Whitman’s counsel comes in – knowing the difference between the necessity of our suffering, allows us to keep what is meaningful, and to throw away the unnecessary pains; to throw away what insults the soul.
If you don’t trust anything or anyone in life, trust that the things you leave behind allow you to make room for the unexpected. Because with enough faith, courage, hope, and love; and the awareness of every blessing we’ve been given, and feeling gratitude for every gift we’ve been granted, the unexpected paths we end up taking, often end up feeling like the place we are exactly meant to be.
In the end, our paths are rarely straight and narrow, and they were never meant to be anyway. And if all we do in each one is learn a lesson, or meet a friend, or know ourselves better, or do something kind for someone, we have done much. But first, first we must have the courage to let go of the things that are not meant for us.