The Art of Not Giving a Shit

I was going to call this essay “The Art of Not Caring.” But that’s frankly just too PG-13 for my current perspective. I’m going balls out and saying I don’t give a shit. Well, I actually do. I give many shits. But this past week the universe has laid out an intricate, land mine-laden obstacle course for me to navigate. In the process, I have found myself faced with the question, “Why do I care?” Actually, this very morning, my mom replied to my text-barrage of drama with, “Practice not caring.”

Practice not caring.

What a radical concept.

When I say “not caring” or “not giving a shit,” I by no means am implying one ought to walk through life with utter disregard to others space, time, feelings, thoughts, and the like. I am pinpointing a very specific and controversial notion. This is a constant, in our lives, this over-caring. I would go so far as to group it with the toxicity of holding a grudge. The whole “drinking poison and expecting the other person to die” idea. Does the person we’re angry with feel our anger when the argument is over? Nope. Does the person with whom we disagreed suffer over our ensuing obsession? Negative. Guilt, fear, regret, anger, jealousy, defensiveness…all of that ultimately affects one person and one person alone: you.

Clashing opinions, conflict, criticism…it’s going to happen. It’s called being human and living in a world with other human beings. One of my yoga teachers Seane Corn often says during practice, “Keep your eyes fixed on one spot and try not to shift your gaze…reduce the fidgeting and notice when you do.” That last part is what hits me the hardest, in the best way. Notice when you do. Occasionally we stray from our virtuous path. Sometimes we willingly engage in the “wrong” action. We get angry, we say something we don’t mean, we direct our rage towards other drivers on the road, we vent our irritation on our partner or the dog, we lie, we cheat, we fuck up. It happens. We do these things; we’re only human. It’s a part of life. But if we decide to do something harmful, like get totally wasted or blow off an important assignment or flake on plans last minute…may we do so knowingly. May we have the courage to say to ourselves, okay…I’m doing this. It’s not the right thing to do, but it’s what I am choosing to do in this moment. I am acting mindfully, even if this action is not in accordance with my highest morality. Hopefully we don’t find ourselves in this conversation often. But in the moments we do screw up, may we screw up with as much Grace and dignity as we are able. May we have enough compassion towards ourselves to realize we almost predominantly do the right thing, and then give ourselves permission to live fluidly. Sometimes living fluidly draws us downstream into a bit of pond scum. But we need those pond scum moments to strengthen our swimming skills. We need the moments of stuck-in-gunk-ness to see what it’s like to bob amidst that dirty film, and then exercise the kicking muscles to get back up to clean water where the moving is easy.

We are bound to have moments of darkness. We are bound to be dishonest. We are bound to be offended by criticism. We are bound to hold grudges. We are bound to mess up. We are bound to care what others think. We are bound to give a shit.

We are bound by our humanity, and by our ethics. But I believe that if we are making an effort, day in and day out, to live in line with our moral manifesto, to see ourselves with compassion and to commit to truth…then I believe we are living our most authentic, well-intentioned lives.

What can we do besides follow our own moral compass? If we are living in line with our ethics, being good and doing good, aiming to spread beneficial energy all the while being true to our own internal rhythm – what more could anyone ask for?

But they do ask for more. And more, and more, and more.

You know it. You’ve been there. We all have. At some point, we have to determine the toxic load of our experience. We can’t change what’s happening…but we can change our reaction. We can choose to not give a shit. In my experience this means acknowledging the reality of a situation, responding to it with fierce authenticity, holding my ground while staying in line with my truth, and also remembering when to compromise. Is it better to be right or be kind? I think we all know the answer to that one.

But it’s also important to stand up for ourselves. So this is tricky business. What about the person who, despite no longer being in your daily life, still finds ways to criticize and get in “digs”? How do I “not care” about that? I find my “not caring” comes in a messy little package of defensive, guarded irritation.

I don’t believe it has to be that way, though. I know in my deepest depths that we have the power to revolutionize our own thought processes. We have the power to move, albeit slowly, from that place of irritated inattention to authentic neglect. What I mean by authentic neglect is the profoundly natural inclination to move away from an emotional state that does not serve our highest good. A response that says, this is not good for me, this is stressful and toxic on a cellular level, and I am benefited in no way by caring. We have that power! It just takes practice. Willful, repetitive exercising of that force. Those kicking muscles. We have to get to a place where our desire for our own peace and healing overrides any lower mind desire to obsess, wallow, regret or, ultimately, soak in the pond scum of negativity. We come to a place where we refuse to drink poison and expect the other person to die.

So, you see, learning to not give a shit is truly an art form. It requires practice, patience, dedication and compassion. It calls for truth, goodness, love and courage. It is by no means a throwing in of the towel. It is in no way a surrender. It is not even a “fuck you,” (most of the time). It is none of those things. But what it is is an act of self-preservation and of utmost benevolence. Choosing to remove oneself from the power struggle is the balm to the burn. This skillful choice cuts short the hurtful back-and-forth that ensues when one continues to care and, essentially, prod the wound. Adding insult to injury is never going to result in healing. Having the last word only gives the illusion of satisfaction.

Learning how, when and if to reply to criticism or conflict is a lifelong journey. But it’s one I hope we can begin practicing dedicatedly today. Right now. Because the more intimately familiar we become with the art of not giving a shit, the more deeply we can sink our roots into the moist, fertile soil of our truth.

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