About your job. What people think of you. Your weight. Etc.
Would the world fall apart? Would you?
I’ve been in that place, depressed and bitter because of the disparity between How Things Are and How Things Should Be (I’ve been in that place today, lest you think I’ve become too enlightened to relate to). I’ve broken myself trying to fit into broken systems because I cared so goddamned much.
I thought that if I couldn’t change things, playing Sisyphus would at least prove something about how dedicated and awesome I was. When your entire value system is based on continuous improvement, deciding not to care is tantamount to dismantling your identity. Letting things be the way they are, without needing them to be better, feels dangerous. Like giving up.
But…is caring useful?
How’s it working out for me?
Well, to quote Albert Einstein, “Insanity [is] doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Sometimes it feels really good, in a eat-the-whole-bag-of-Oreoes way, to have a good bitch session about how a situation should be different. But showing up to that same situation time and again, thinking that somehow maybe things will change, feels kind of crappy.
The self-righteous high of anger and frustration turns to feelings of powerlessness and depression (not unlike the way I feel when I actually binge on junk food). Anger without a constructive outlet just turns into cranky cynicism.
Ironically, it’s when I stop caring that my actions are most effective.
I was afraid that if I stopped caring, I would just passively accept whatever crap came my way and take it with a smile. (Instead of accepting crap and complaining about it, which I think has historically been more my style.) Not so!
Leaving the toxic job, writing the assertive e-mail, or practicing radical acceptance of my body becomes a lot easier when my identity isn’t riding on a successful outcome. Areas where I do have the power to improve things suddenly come into focus.
I have to learn this lesson over and over, because I’ve been practicing caring to the point of pain for almost three decades and I’m still a newbie at this whole “detachment” thing.
Something that’s helped is a trick I picked up from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy where I ask, “Is this thought useful?”
Another question could be, “What am I getting out of this?”
Or, “What would happen if I didn’t care so much?”
The answers tend to be along the lines of Not particularly; The satisfaction of feeling martyred and/or superior; and Probably nothing too bad, respectively.
Another useful question is, “Who or what am I judging here?” I usually find out some unquestioned assumption about how things are Supposed to Be that needs to be examined.
(Man, it sucks to think of yourself as a tolerant, easygoing person and then discover how much anger and judgment you’re carrying around! I mean, it must suck for those people. Ahem.)
I’ve tried “caring to the point of pain” for awhile and I know how it usually ends.
Maybe it’s time to try something different. I have this sneaking suspicion there will always be stuff to get bent out of shape about if this whole accepting-the-way-things-are thing doesn’t work out.
I’m so grateful for the work I do because it teaches me to call out my own bullshit. It shows me that a more peaceful existence is waiting patiently for me to get tired of my stuff and learn to let it go. I just have to want to be at peace more than I want to be right. Easier said than done…but I’m practicing.
Photo credit: stock.xchng
What do you think? What are some things you could stand to care a little less about? How do you successfully let go of something that’s not working?