be a little lighter
“It’s dark because you are trying too hard.
Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly.
Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply.
Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.
I was so preposterously serious in those days, such a humorless little prig.
Lightly, lightly – it’s the best advice ever given me.
When it comes to dying even. Nothing ponderous, or portentous, or emphatic.
No rhetoric, no tremolos,
no self conscious persona putting on its celebrated imitation of Christ or Little Nell.
And of course, no theology, no metaphysics.
Just the fact of dying and the fact of the clear light.
So throw away your baggage and go forward.
There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet,
trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair.
That’s why you must walk so lightly.
Lightly my darling,
on tiptoes and no luggage,
not even a sponge bag, completely unencumbered.”
— Aldous Huxley
This quote is one of my favorites and has become very relevant to me this year. It was first introduced to me by Joe who discovered it in Aldous Huxley’s book Island.
It seems an inadvertent theme for me this year is “lightening up.” I say inadvertent because it sort of cropped up by accident, and I wasn’t planning on taking it seriously or even seeing progress because of it.
I started a tradition of making a note in my phone for every year and filling it with random thoughts, feelings, and memories chronologically ordered. It’s been a really cool habit because I can track my feelings or see what my interests were at the time or save funny quotes Joe says. This year the first thing I wrote was on New Year’s Day.
“This year I’d like to get less angry about things; learn to shrug stuff off, and be a little more easy going (Jan 1, 2019).”
I’m not naturally an easy-going person and am not able to shrug things off when it comes to myself. I tend to overthink a lot of things, and as I was (over)thinking about this post, I skimmed through my notes to find examples of how overthink-y I can get.
Here is an entry from Summer 2018:
“Day 2: operation “stop overthinking things” is not going well. Try again tomorrow.”
And another from Fall 2018:
“I’m an overthinker. I always have been. It’s a habit I’m not very proud of, and I’d like if I could just chill sometimes. But other times, it seems kinda funny. Like I have this crazy person commentary in my head all the time. It helps me write. Like right now, I was overthinking and thinking about how I overthink, and then I started thinking of this exact commentary and had to write it down. It’s been quite an interesting experience.”
It is kinda funny and interesting, and it does help me write. Also I know how important it is to just accept yourself the way you are, but for some reason at the beginning of the year I casually decided I wanted to change that about myself…but I didn’t overthink it ;) and put it in the back of my mind.
Into the year a lot of things started happening, and I got very depressed (more details in my last post). I had to make a lot of changes, but now and then I would think about that first thing I wrote in 2019, and I’d repeat to myself using Aldous Huxley’s phrasing, “be a little lighter.” Now and then when I would notice Joe overthinking or if I was getting dramatic or heavy about something, we would remind each other to “be lighter.” It became a running joke in our family. We didn’t think it would actually change anything, but we would always remind each other with a little smile.
I didn’t really believe those little jokey reminders would change anything long term, but they did.
Going back to the quote at the top, I can see why making this little “break” in my thought process to remember to “be lighter” stopped my overthinking brain which was dragging me deeper and deeper down into the darkness. “Quicksands” were definitely “sucking at [my] feet” and by quicksands I mean my old ways of thinking that were addicted to fixating on every negative passing thought and stringing it along for as long as possible. My brain loves it! It loves to be in despair! When I read the part “I was so preposterously serious in those days” I really relate. I noticed how I felt like a victim and took everything and every feeling I had so seriously. I got “sucked[ed] down into fear and self-pity and despair.” Simply recognizing this, breaking those streams of subconscious thought, and reminding myself to be light in a light, humorous way, started changing some habitual pathways in my brain remarkably.
It’s hard to put into words the changes I’ve seen in myself. I was talking to some friends the other night about it, and I’ve noticed myself feeling less inhibited and less self-critical in the past month and a half - these are things I’ve wanted to change for years, but I wasn’t even actively focusing on them.
“It’s dark because you are trying too hard.”
I realized it boils down to my decision to overthink less, be lighter, and stop trying so hard.
“Throw away your baggage and go forward.” It’s such a burden to ruminate on every negative thought that enters your brain, and it’s terrifying to know that those thoughts are there but have no idea how to cure yourself of them. Recently I’ve noticed that a lot of my issues have been resolving themselves when I simply refuse to put up with them anymore and let them control me. Instead of focusing on them and over-analyzing the crap out of them, I lightly set them aside for a minute.
I end up at a tipping point where I say to myself, “I’m sick of being dragged down further into the depths of my brain and fighting it so hard.” As soon as I notice myself overthinking, I say out loud, “STOP. Be a little lighter.”
One of my best friends once said, “Stop over-analyzing everything and just fucking live.” It wasn’t even meant for me, and yet it was so hard hitting and poignant, and I can still hear her voice in my head when I begin to overthink.
I don’t want to minimize anyone’s problems or mental illnesses by saying you can just “stop” feeling that way. I know that mental illness is serious, and it’s very debilitating. I’ve been depressed several times, and the only way I’ve made any progress is by getting fed up living that way, which is a necessary precursor for change. You have to desire change.
I’ve realized how automatic we are. This involves the things you do, the things you think, the ways you react, the things you think about yourself and the world. Once you become conscious of your automatic patterns, you can break them and experience change. But before I knew they were automatic patterns, I thought they were just “who I was” and thought I would always be that way. That’s, thankfully, not true.
I can’t say all this as well as Aldous Huxley, so before you go, go back up to the top, and read his quote again. Read it daily, and remind yourself daily to walk on tip toes so you guard yourself from getting dragged into the quicksands of a spiraling mind.
Overthinking ain’t never helped nobody.
“Lightly, child, lightly.”