5.5
September 17, 2011

Letting go isn’t about birds & cages & things coming back if they truly love you.

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On Letting Go.

Pablo Neruda, a poet for sad, bad mornings. Plus, Chögyam Trungpa, on tonglen.

Letting go sucks. Letting go isn’t pretty.


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.

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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, this pushing away of pain and pulling at pleasure 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.

Chögyam Trungpa, Buddhist teacher (click for more):

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 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. [click for tonglen instruction via Pema Chodron]

In my day to day life, I try and exercise, eat real food, keep good friends around me and be happy. That’s okay—to the extent that my happiness is able to further your happiness. But if my happiness is fragile, brittle, a gated community, spiritually-speaking—then I’m selfish, not happy; I’m afraid, not relaxed; I’m lonely, not fulfilled; I’m willing to lie, cheat, steal from others if it’ll further my own happiness.

But life isn’t like that. The universe is infinite, and the kingdom of God, or Buddha Nature, is that universe. We can afford to extend ourselves to others, to open up, as they say in the Buddhist tradition, with a raw heart and strong back.

To be a spiritual warrior,
one must have a broken heart;
without a broken heart
and the sense of tenderness and vulnerability
that is in one’s self and all others,
your warriorship is untrustworthy.

~ Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala.

And that’s what, I hope, elephant is here for: to change the conversation in this world to one about us vs. them to remembering it’s a small world, and we’re all in the same boat.

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christiepage Jul 27, 2015 1:50pm

I needed to read this today!

charliehaskins Oct 31, 2013 9:46am

Thank you for this read today. In having to let go of so much of what I thought was "mine" in the past three years and experience the "heart break" of letting them go, I have felt my heart and soul transition from closed vessels of protectionism, where I was trying to not let them be hurt and trying to protect them in very unhealthy ways, to the full acceptance that they are in fact, now broken wide open and revealed, aching, raw and most importantly, accepting. Of all the journeys that I have taken during my life, this is one that I know has no ending. I am thankful to the Universe for setting me on this (initially) most unwelcomed but fulfilling path.

Monkey Mar 17, 2013 8:57pm

Yeah it sucks… sucks hard.

I like to say/think… there is no such thing as a 'broken heart', only a heart breaking open…

That pain, that is the fuel for peace, freedom, love and joy.

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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.