Does this sound unrealistic? Impossible?
When my kids were growing up, we had a big house with an acre of lawn and an in-ground swimming pool. We enjoyed the space and made good use of the pool. Even so, that big spread was a lot to afford and a lot take care of.
I spent a lot of stressful hours, many of them sleepless early-morning ones, fretting over maintenance issues and bills. Paying the cleaning lady, the lawn guy and the pool guy meant I had to work more hours. Letting those folks go and doing the work myself meant spending tons of time doing chores I did not enjoy and couldn’t keep up with.
One summer night, I was floating alone in the big, warm backyard pool. This was one of my great pleasures in owning such a place, one of the enjoyments that kept me clinging to this chunk of real estate. There was something so luxurious about this expanse of dark, private water, and so majestic about the grand house rising three stories above me into the night sky. I was proud of owning this place, proud of the achievement it represented.
What, I wondered, would it “say about me” if I gave this up? It would be “a step down,” wouldn’t it? An admission that I had “made it” but then “lost it”…and what was this “it” I had gained and then let slip?
Floating in the deep, languid water, my mind and body had both slowed down enough for a realization to rise into consciousness: My identity was mixed up in this house, and not in a way that felt healthy.
We cling to our stuff, to our routines, to our relationships, and if they are truly precious, then of course we ought to hold on tight.
But all too often, we cling because we fear the discomfort of loss and the uprooting of a chunk of our Self. We’re terrified that we will never be the same without those things which have become symbols of Who We Are.
Dan Gilbert’s TED talk on “Synthesizing Happiness” is so reassuring as to be profound. The pain of loss, even the most severe loss, doesn’t last nearly as long as we fear, because we have a “psychological immune system” which protects us. Knowing this makes me feel bolder, less needy, more confident about taking risks and letting go of things that are causing stress in my life. I know I will survive, even though at the moment of loss I might feel devastated.
I missed my big house and especially my luxurious backyard pool, but not for very long. And the changes I made to my sense of self were for the good. I’m no longer a person who defines herself by what she owns.
[I took this photo of a water lily at the Bronx Botanical Gardens. There are many lovely bodies of water for me to enjoy without the stress of owning and maintaining my own pool.]
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Last reviewed: 15 Oct 2012