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Stories from a life in progress.

What must be dropped

My totally awesome martial arts teacher posted a proverb from Lao Tzu on Facebook, and then asked a question:

"In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired. In the pursuit of The Way, every day something is dropped." Lao-tzu

What are you willing to let go of today?

Oh, if it were only that easy.

I'm pretty sure I'm on a tangent from Lao Tzu's intention here, but his proverb nudges something I've been thinking about a lot, primarily instigated by teaching from Tim Keller:  the worst sins in your life are the ones you're not even aware of.

For non-Christian people, you can recast the same statement in secular language: the worst problems in your life are the ones you're not even aware of.  It loses some of the truth of the original, but maintains the same general spirit.

There are surface sins, and there are subterranean ones.  The most besetting problems in our lives are connected to things we don't even realize we carry:  false beliefs rooted in our souls as absolutely important, critical to our worth and standing as human beings, which we will do anything to protect and maintain because otherwise we might just shrivel up and disappear.

The fear of rejection has been one of these for me.  For years and years I would never let myself take any action if there was even a chance I would be rejected, on any grounds.  In my deep heart, rejection equaled annihilation.  

I was absolutely desperate for love and acceptance, because in my deep heart I was terrified that I would never have them.  Terrified I wasn't even worth them.  I couldn't risk acquiring more evidence this was true, so I avoided rejection like the plague.  

But I was never consciously aware that I did it.

I did it by clinging to what was familiar and safe.  I didn't take any chances at all and I never considered why.  It was scary so I didn't.  End of story.

I spent lots of years locked up inside a very small life, not exploring the world around me, not looking for friends, doing nothing to find the things I really wanted.  I felt bad about that, ashamed for not being bold enough, competent enough, smart enough.  (The constant messages of "you can be anything you want to be!" from my hyper-individualistic culture didn't help.)  The fact that I couldn't take any risks seemed like even more evidence that I wasn't worthy of love or acceptance or a broader life.

It took a long time and a lot of life experience to come nose to nose with the real problem underneath a lot of surface problems: the fear of annihilation, through the vehicle of rejection.  Until I stood nose to nose with it, I didn't know I was carrying it.  Until I knew I was carrying it, there was no way I could start to prise my grip off it.  I still can't say I've actually dropped it, though I hold it a lot more loosely than I used to.

In pursuit of the Way, things must be dropped.  I'm not a pursuer of the Way Lao Tzu speaks of, but my teacher Jesus Christ says similar things.

Things of the caliber I'm talking about can't be dropped all in a day (which is why I think Lao Tzu is talking about something else -- he's too perceptive about human nature to make that mistake).  Nonetheless, they are vital to seek out, to look at nose to nose, and let go of.  This is my experience.  This is what I am learning how to do.