Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it’s dark.
Letting go of sorrow, grief, resentment, anger, grudges, worries and anxieties is not an easy process. Yet it is a conscious attempt you must make for YOU. Buddhist texts suggest that all sorrow stems from attachment – the root cause. In this context, letting go means confronting your attachment to anything or anyone and reducing it from a boulder to a pebble. Put the pebble in your pocket as a cherished reminder, and leave room in your heart for something new. Life is a precarious balance of holding on and letting go. Consider the trees – trees allow birds to perch and fly away without either inviting them to stay or desiring for them to never depart. If your heart can be like this, you will be near to the way of healing.
Over the past few months I had managed to accumulate and stockpile a truckload of traumatic memories and unpleasant feelings, all of which enveloped me like doomsday fog. I will not call this my journey, it is the journey of many. Grief, sorrow, anger and resentment is something that we are all too familiar with and while degrees may vary, we all have our own demons to fight. This post is an assemblage of my favorite Buddhist teachings, quotes and other extracts which have helped me understand the facets of letting go over time.
C’est La Vie
The events in Oedipus Rex, written by Sophocles, show an underlying relationship of man’s free will existing within the cosmic order or fate. Oedipus was destined from birth to someday marry his mother and to murder his father. His destiny is set and he knows that he cannot help it. Oedipus himself at the end of the play argues that it is impossible to avoid one’s fate but how you respond to your fate is a matter of free will.
While the analogy of predestination is a little far-fetched, it is most certain that there will always be things beyond our grasp or control and such is life. Accept what you cannot change. Nietzche called this amor fati or “love your fate” which is in fact life. He goes on to say, “Amor fati: let there be my love from now on. I do not want to wage war against ugliness. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse the accusers. Let looking away be my only negation.” While it does take a great deal of courage to accept life as it is, life is much simpler if we let reality be reality and let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.
Learn To Suffer The Right Way
There is a Buddhist teaching that says when you get hurt, say, by an arrow, that is pain. However there is a second arrow, which is your reaction to being hurt, the getting angry, the planning revenge – that is beyond pain, that is suffering. Suffering is nothing but the mind’s refusal to accept reality as it is. While pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. The ego will say to you ‘I shouldn’t have to suffer’ and that very thought makes you suffer so much more. It is a distortion of the truth, which is always paradoxical. It isn’t what happens to us that causes us to suffer; it’s what we say to ourselves about what happens. In another sense, when you learn how to suffer, you suffer much less. However, you must come to terms with your pain before you can transcend suffering. Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Pain is your private road to awe. When you acknowledge pain, you’re one step closer to healing and letting go.
Cry Yourself A River If You Have To
The importance of mourning can never be overstated. Accumulating grievances, worries and negative thoughts is possibly the worst thing you can do to your body and more so, to your soul. Start small – grieve for the hours badly spent, for things lost and those beyond your reach, for the job you didn’t get or the job you’re stuck in. Mourn the loss of a friendship and of lost lovers, grieve for a broken heart, mourn the loss of a loved one. But remember that new beginnings are often disguised as painful endings. Sometimes the healing is in the aching. Care for your grief as you would care for a hurting friend. Emotions demand release just as pain demands to be felt. Bottling up anger, resentment, grievances, worries and anxieties may temporarily make you feel like you’re in control. But in the long run, emotional hoarding leaves you feeling empty, lonely, bitter and resentful. Remember, a tree that is unbending is easily broken.
Forgive And Forgive Again And Again
I happened to read somewhere that a Sufi holy man was once asked what forgiveness is and he said it is the fragrance that flowers give when they are crushed. When you look into your anger, you will see that the person you call your enemy is also suffering. As soon as you see that, the capacity for accepting and having compassion for them is there. And who is more hurtful after all: the person who wronged you once or you for reliving it over and over in your head? Revenge, ill-will and resentment keep you connected to a person in a negative way. Liberate yourself through forgiveness.
The Taoist have a famous teaching about an empty boat that rams into your boat in the middle of a river. While it is almost certain you wouldn’t be angry at an empty boat, you might as well be enraged if there was someone in that boat. What the story tries to convey is that people you accuse of hurting you are in fact empty boats. Blinded by their own wounds and shortcomings they were driven along by an unconscious force of their own suffering to act in the way they did. Until we realize this we remain prisoners of our grievance and resentment.
Above all, be kind to yourself and forgive yourself for your own failings. If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.
Know that we all have our demons but we do not have to live with them. Believe that you have the power to choose what stays and what fades away. And remember there is no path to happiness; happiness is the path. By letting go it all gets done. The world is won by people who let go. But when you try and try, the world is beyond winning.