“Do you really let yourself go? Nature is giving you, by death, the opportunity to let go of all this nonsense.”ALAN WATTS
There is no life without death. But there is plenty of dying without truly living.
Below is a video I’ve put together paired with some brief audio of an Alan Watts speech about life and death and letting go. He begins with the quote above which has been stuck in my mind all night and day.
Some people might find that quote a little morbid, and without considering the positives of what he is saying and the underlying meaning, it could come across seemingly stating what’s the point in living?
Living fully is the point.
The fact that we have an expiry date, like all living beings on this blue and green ball suspended in a speckled black void that we call home, should encourage all of us to let go more.
Let go of fear and worry and frustration and anger and things that don’t really matter.
That isn’t the case, as many who have the privilege and opportunity to let go of whatever is holding themselves back and chase after something wild and wonderful never do. This leads many, like myself before I found travel, to hold onto jobs we hate and comfort habits that seem safe or absolute by-the-book standards.
Death is the absolute of life.
There is a large majority of people who don’t want anything to do with thinking about death until death is at their doorstep. For some, the Reaper pays a visit far too early, and for others, it pays a visit to the ones you love.
I know this intimately. My mother committed suicide I found my father’s body a day after he had a life-ending heart attack all before I was out of my teens. I’ve lost close friends that made me deeply regret not seeing them more often.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do about this. Predicting death is impossible, but if you knew how and when you would die — would you live more? Or would you live in fear of that very moment?
The thing is, we know we are going to die.
We know what the future holds. This in itself should be enough to encourage you to live fierce and free and to savor every drop of life we can sip before the end. That goes for ourselves and time with the ones we love.
Except we don’t let go. Most of us secretly harbor this fear of death and doing something that is potentially risky. Fear taking a chance. Most of that fear stems from the potential demise of personal success or losing things of monetary value.
If I do this one thing I’d love to do, what if I fail?
What if I quit this job I hate to pursue something I love and I fail?
What if I lose all of my money?
What if I get hurt while traveling?
What if I start this business I’ve always wanted to and it goes bust?
What if I tell this person my feelings and they don’t reciprocate?
Our lives become a series of worries and what-ifs. These are the types of fears that hold us back from truly letting go and living life.
What is the outcome of never letting go?
Succumbing to the fear of losing money or failing at something or injury and death will lead you to live a life of never living fully and dying with these fears. It might seem harsh, but death is a harsh reality of life.
Full circle it returns back to the simple fact that we will all die someday, so why aren’t we living? I’m not advising people to ditch their livelihoods or do something crazy that will probably lead to injury or death. I’m not saying everyone should go bungee jumping (thought you should). I’m not saying that those who have a career doing what they love isn’t living. I’m not saying starting a family isn’t living. Quite the opposite.
I’m expressing the feeling that we should be letting go of deep down fears and seeing what kind of life we could live if we did.
I fear too.
I’m not writing this and pretending that I fully live without fear. Sure, I’ve done some crazy things like the Rickshaw Run across India. Even my insane year of travel in 2019 where I did more activities that scare the hell out of me can be thrown in there. And hell, even leaving the United States for the first time I was gripped with fear and a thousand worrying thoughts.
I live with fear all of the time. I fear running out of money abroad (though I’ve done that on multiple occasions) and I fear not being able to make money to keep traveling. The key is while having these fears you have to recognize them and face these fears head-on.
Use death as motivation in life.
Long ago, before Lost Boy Memoirs, I wrote on my old blog about Death being my travel inspiration. It was after years of deep depression and self-destructive habits after my parent’s deaths that I mostly hid from others. In it, I talked about how after so many years of squandering (and drinking) my life away I found meaning in travel and how their deaths inspired me to live better. Eventually.
Both had died never having truly lived to their potential. Of course, I believe they found joy in raising my brother and me and the good years were great. But there were so many tainted years as well.
Letting go doesn’t have to mean being care-free. It means filling the course of your life with meaningful things.
My mother turned to drugs as an escape from her life, and my father turned to alcohol and rage. Sadness and anger I feel stemmed from being unfulfilled in life. A life not pursuing what they loved and supplementing it. Existing but not living. And in the end, the sadness led my mother to take her own life and the alcohol and gorging led my father to his heart attack. Of course, each suffered the disease of addiction, and I myself have battled alcoholism. What led them to this?
Why did they self-destruct in this manner? I’ll never know. I’ll never know the aspirations my mother had as a potential artist who always had a vibrance emitting when she was creating. Instead, she delivered pizzas or worked in a sign shop and found her escape with substance.
Maybe my father had lofty dreams of being a musician? He would pick up his electric keyboard in the later years of his life and play it on occasion in the basement, reminiscing about the years he played the electric organ and how he wanted to be in a band. How he wanted to buy a motorcycle after we were out of the house and road trip out west.
The “I’d love to do that someday” will eventually become “I wish I would have done that when I could have”.
And who knows how the lingering desire for something more will affect a person later in life.
There’s a chance that my parents and their self-destruction was an anomaly, though I always know it lingers behind me like a shadow. I’m sure it’s something many others have faced as well or can relate to. It’s a shadow I used to let consume me and a shadow I fight daily to stay away from. Always there, but we have to keep looking forward.
It’s something that I have to fight hard when I’m not traveling — to break my fears of failure and money and lack of purpose to keep moving forward. To find meaning every day in life — meaning for my life even when I’m not on the move. To keep moving forward and filling my life with the things I love.
I’m sure all of us have our own metaphorical shadows but the constant we all share is the shadow of death. We can’t run from it, we have to embrace it.
We have to use death as our reason to live, and live in a way we desire. Don’t grow old with the wish-I-had-dunnit bouncing around in your mind. Nature has given us, with death, a reason to let go and live.
At the start I put together this video just to share one of my favorite places I visited in Scotland. While listening to an Alan Watts podcast, the quote from the start really struck a chord. The two paired perfectly — being on an adventure I previously would have thought impossible when I was young and doing something I love and letting go of what doesn’t bring me joy.
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