Letting Go Miyagi-Style

            The
guy who beeps at you in traffic when there’s clearly nowhere for you to
go.  The older relative who uses
her senility as an excuse to make comments on your weight, or your haircut, or
the fact you’re still single.  The
co-worker who’s a little too blunt to be considered polite.  We all have people in our lives who say
things–deserved, honest, well-intentioned, or not–that bother us.  I admire those people who have the
strength and wherewithal in the moment to confront the person whose comment
they found hurtful or offensive.  I
am not one of those people.  Sure,
I’ll flip off the stranger in traffic; I was born and raised in Massachusetts,
after all.  But face-to-face I lose
the nerve.  Instead I’ll lie awake
at night and let the comment eat away at me while I fantasize about how I
should have responded.  My
fantasized responses are always so piercingly witty as to leave my opponent in
a stunned state of shame.  In reality
my response is usually a simpering nervous laugh, which hides the silent string
of four-letter words that run through my mind.  Clearly, this is not the best strategy for dealing with
difficult people.  So what is?  I’d like to think as an adult I could
calmly and clearly convey to another person what I found hurtful or offensive
in his comments.  I’d like to think
the adult I was speaking to could objectively listen and would attempt to
adjust his behavior.  I’d like to
think Santa is real and the housing market will make a full recovery sometime
before I retire and can no longer hobble up the stairs to my condo.  But in some areas of life I feel the
need to be a realist.  I’m a
female, Irish-Catholic Pisces; the chances of me not letting my emotions get
in the way are about as good as the Sox not blowing the post-season (assuming
they get that far).  And since I
struggle to listen to criticism or take correction without becoming highly
defensive, it’d just be hypocritical of me to expect such behaviors from
others.  Confrontation will never
be my style.  I’m stuck with my
“go-stuff-it” smile, a strategy that would be just fine if I could
master step two: letting go.

            Occasionally
during karate my Sempai would go a little Mr. Miyagi on us and try to balance
nut-crunching front kicks with deep philosophical advice.  I remember one day, during a lecture on
focus, being asked to perform a visualization technique.  We were supposed to take all the things
in life we had no control over, things that had already passed, conversations
we had already had, and visualize them as ropes holding us back.  One by one we were supposed to cut the
ropes, to let it all go, to live in the moment.  It’s a beautiful image, a super concept–if only it worked.  I might have managed to untangle the
ropes from around my neck, but I’m pretty sure they still hung there like a
loose noose.  I wasn’t making some
morbid fashion statement; I just sucked at letting things go.  Lucky for me and unfortunately for my
sparring partners, I was at least good at those front kicks.

            Twelve
years later I still keep my ears open for good advice on letting go.  This weekend, probably channeling more
Sam Adams than Mr. Miyagi, my brother espoused a fine piece of wisdom
concerning the topic: People can only bother you if you let them.  Once again, I liked the concept.  I liked it even better than my Sempai’s
advice because it came while I was lounging on the couch with a glass of wine
rather than kneeling on hardwood floors that smelled of stale sweat.  Then the wine-mind cleared, and I
realized there was a hitch: this assumes your emotional reaction to something
is a choice.  Granted, I may choose
to allow myself to cry every time I hear that damn “Christmas Shoes”
song the entire month of December. 
(Crying over fiction is the best type of crying, and it’s
cathartic.)  For the most part, however,
I can’t turn on and off my emotions like a light on The Clapper commercials.  Yesterday, as I felt my blood pressure
rising while watching a bunch of grossly overpaid, overgrown boys mangle the
game of football, I considered calling my brother to see if he was able to
remain “unbothered” any better than I was.  Knowing the answer, and realizing it was just obnoxious of me
to want it confirmed, I left the phone on the hook.

            Truth
is, letting go is a life lesson, and life lessons are so-named because, for
most of us, they take a lifetime to master.  Letting go involves forgiving the person who hurt you (even
if it was you who hurt you), appreciating your strengths well-enough to
not be overly bothered when someone throws a short-coming in your face, and
allowing yourself to feel your emotions just long enough to recognize they’re
often irrational and rarely serve a purpose.  Mr. Miyagi would probably say much more simply, “Wax on,” but then
“wax off,” so you can move on. 
And for the rare moment when some jerk really crosses the line, it’s not a bad idea to practice those front kicks.

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