9.6 Editor's Pick
July 29, 2009

Letting Go Sucks.

Letting go sucks. Letting go isn’t pretty. Pablo Neruda, a poet for sad, bad mornings. Plus, Chogyam Trungpa, on tonglen.

Sometimes, letting go sucks. Sometimes, letting go isn’t pretty. You won’t find “letting go” on Pinterest. You will find it in your red, raw, tumultuous, rivetingly beautiful heart.

Letting go ain’t sad. Sometimes it’s bad. Letting go isn’t about birds and cages and things coming back if they truly love you. Letting go is about heartburn, claustrophobia, heartache, angst, growling.

Letting go is about needing, needing happy music, old 1950s How do you Like Your Eggs in the Morning with Dino or Greensleeves in the morning, ’cause you’re so sad and bitter you can’t breathe oxygen, you haven’t breathed in days.

Letting go is about the anger right before you open up and hug a friend and get their shoulder wet and salty.

It reminds me of this poem, I used to love Neruda back in college.

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.

Write, for instance: “The night is full of stars,
and the stars, blue, shiver in the distance.”

The night wind whirls in the sky and sings.

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

On nights like this, I held her in my arms.
I kissed her so many times under the infinite sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her.
How could I not have loved her large, still eyes?

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
To think I don’t have her. To feel that I’ve lost her.

To hear the immense night, more immense without her.
And the poem falls to the soul as dew to grass.

What does it matter that my love couldn’t keep her.
The night is full of stars and she is not with me.

That’s all. Far away, someone sings. Far away.
My soul is lost without her.

As if to bring her near, my eyes search for her.
My heart searches for her and she is not with me.

The same night that whitens the same trees.
We, we who were, we are the same no longer.

I no longer love her, true, but how much I loved her.
My voice searched the wind to touch her ear.

Someone else’s. She will be someone else’s. As she once
belonged to my kisses.
Her voice, her light body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, true, but perhaps I love her.
Love is so short and oblivion so long.

Because on nights like this I held her in my arms,
my soul is lost without her.

Although this may be the last pain she causes me,
and this may be the last poem I write for her.

Video: How to do Tonglen.

There is a Buddhist meditation practice for working with anger, or sadness, or loss, or things falling apart. Essentially, it keeps things flowing through you, instead of getting stuck and viewing the emotions as solid, or self-confirming. It works against the ego’s tendency, which is always to cling to pleasure and push away pain, even when reality is painful and pleasure is fleeting. Ironically, the ego’s tendency tends to keep one cycling through dissatisfaction, disharmony, and self-centered turmoil—and one winds up not letting go at all, but just adding fuel to the neurotic fire called “samsara” in the Buddhist tradition.

The practice that, in my limited experience, works best as a tonic for sadness or madness is called tonglen, or sending and taking practice. Via Chogyam Trungpa:

Sending and taking is a very important practice of the Boddhisattva path. It is called tonglen in Tibetan: ‘tong’ means ‘sending out’ or ‘letting go’ and ‘len’ means ‘receiving’ or ‘accepting’. ‘Tonglen’ is a very important term; you should remember it. It is the main practice in the development of relative Bodhicitta.

The practice of tonglen is actually quite straightforward ; it is an actual sitting meditation practice. You give away your happiness, your pleasure, anything that feels good. All of that goes out with the outbreath. As you breathe in, you breathe in any resentments and problems, anything that feels bad. The whole point is to remove territoriality altogether.

The practice of tonglen is very simple. We do not first have to sort out our doctrinal definitions of goodness and evil. We simply breathe out any old good and breathe in any old bad. At first we may seem to be relating primarily to our IDEAS of good and bad. But as we go on, it becomes more real.

Sometimes we feel terrible that we are breathing in poison which might kill us and at the same time breathing out whatever little goodness we have. It seems to be completely impractical,. But once we begin to break through, we realize that we have even more goodness and we also have more things to breathe in. So the whole process becomes somewhat balanced…But tonglen should not be used as any kind of antidote. You do not do it and then wait for the effect – you just do it and drop it. It doesn’t matter whether it works or not: if it works, you breathe that out; if it does not work, you breathe that in. So you do not possess anything. That is the point.

Usually you would like to hold on to your goodness. you would like to make a fence around yourself and put everything bad outside it: foreigners, your neighbors, or what have you. You don’t want them to come in. You don’t even want your neighbors to walk their dogs on your property because they might make a mess on your lawn. So in ordinary samsaric life. you don’t send and receive at all. You try as much as possible to guard those pleasant little situations you have created for yourself. You try to put them in a vacuum, like fruit in a tin, completely purified and clean. You try to hold on to as much as you can, and anything outside of your territory is regarded as altogether problematic. You don’t want to catch the local influenza or the local diarrhea attack that is going around. You are constantly trying to ward off as much as you can.

…The Mahayana path is trying to show us that we don’t have to secure ourselves. We can afford to extend out a little bit – quite a bit… if you develop the attitude of being willing to part with your precious things, to give away your precious things to others, that can help begin to create a good reality.

How do we actually practice tonglen? First we think about our parents, or our friends, or anybody who has sacrificed his or her life for our benefit. In many cases, we have never even said thank you to them. It is very important to think about that, not in order to develop guilt but just to realize how mean we have been. We always say “I want”, and they did so much for us, without any complaint… If we do not have that, then we are somewhat in trouble, we begin to hate the world – but there is also a measure for that, which is to breathe in our hatred and resentment of the world. If we do not have good parents, a good mother, or a good person who reflected such a kind attitude toward us to think about, then we can think of ourselves.

Just relate to the technique: the discursiveness of it doesn’t matter. when you are out, you are out; when you come in, you are in. When you are hot, you are hot; when you are cool, you are cool… Make it very literal and simple…

From Training the Mind & Cultivating Loving-Kindness by Chogyam Trungpa , copyright 1993 by Diana Mukpo.
(
Official Chogyam Trungpa Website)
Published by arrangement with Shambhala Pu
blications, Inc., Boston.

Bonus, from Il Postino, which set off my Neruda fanhood back in the 90s:
Image: Flickr

 

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Helenajayneclarke Jul 2, 2019 8:26am

Hi Waylon

Thank you for sharing

This poem really touch me. I’ve read it over and over and cried every time….

Chérie Ann Jun 17, 2019 1:31pm

Hi Waylon. Thank you so much for sharing the “real” feelings of letting go. I will re-read this many times, now and in the future. Blessings. Chérie.

Susan Rubin Jun 17, 2019 8:53am

thank you for sharing Tonglen, and your experience…. very helpful…

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Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view. His dream of 9 years, the Elephant “Ecosystem” will find a way to pay 1,000s of writers a month, helping reverse the tide of low-quality, unpaid writing & reading for free online.