On Letting Go, Part IV

“Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.” – David Foster Wallace

I smile every time I read that quote because I can relate.

Letting go is hard. It’s also a process. A repetitive process.

I no sooner put something down, for just a minute… and I find myself snatching it up again.

And when I do, I cling to it more tightly than before.

Perhaps it’s just an aspect of human nature that we want to cling to things, wishing, however illogically, that they would stay as they are.

Even though we know that it is the nature of things to be always changing.

One of the things that I like about meditation is that it makes it easier to just “be with” things – even things like my difficulty letting go.

It’s a gift to be able to watch things, to watch our stories, and even laugh a little bit, from time to time, at our own craziness.

Because, what we’re trying to achieve isn’t perfection – it’s acceptance.

Things are, after all, already perfect.


I just finished reading Dan Harris’ book, 10% Happier, in which he discusses his experience with meditation and mindfulness. It’s a fun read, which I can easily recommend to anyone who’s ever wondered about meditation, or felt a little skeptical of some of the “new age” players.

He asks the question, “Even if we were handed everything we wanted, would it really make us sustainably happy?” It’s an issue I’ve discussed here before…it’s easy to say yes, at first, that if we got everything we wanted, we would undoubtedly be deliriously happy. But one need only look at some high profile stories of celebrities to see that this is not the case.

Another point discussed in detail is the fantasy that “I’ll be happy when…” which I’ve also written about here. It’s a trick we play on ourselves – happiness is always just around the next bend in the road, after the next major life event. He observes, “The pursuit of happiness becomes the source of our unhappiness.” This is because happiness is an inside job.

Two questions I’ve taken with me from the book that bear some reflection…

First: “Is this useful?” Which we can ask ourselves anytime we find that we are planning, ruminating, projecting, worrying, and the like. In other words, preparations are sometimes required, but to what extent? If we have passed the point of usefulness, it’s time to stop.

Second: “What matters most?” This is particularly helpful anytime we find ourselves worrying about the future. It’s useful for us to be aware of what we really want. We may not find that our life situations tick all the boxes, but when we can identify what’s most important, we can make decisions more easily, and can create a life that satisfies our most deeply held values.

Meditation is a different experience for everyone, and the results can be both subtle and profound at the same time. The beauty is that nothing much is required…only the willingness to inquire within.

Yoga as Medicine

A recent issue of Oprah Magazine features an article by Laura Hilger entitled “The Yoga Prescription.” The message is something that I’ve been telling people for a while: that yoga is not just about stretching. The idea of yoga as medicine, or therapy, is a new one for a lot of people.

I came to my yoga practice as therapy, unlike most people, who begin yoga as a fitness-related practice. I wanted to find some calm amidst the chaos inside my head. I never really considered myself athletic, and I certainly didn’t think I was flexible.

People now tell me how fit and flexible I am on a regular basis. I’m not entirely sure it’s true, but these things are all relative. Almost anyone who commits to a regular yoga practice will gain muscle tone and increase flexibility. For me, those are secondary to yoga’s primary emotional benefit: feeling good.

You just can’t put a price on feeling good.

And when it comes down to it, how many safe and legal ways are there to feel good anyway? It’s a short list, for sure. If you add to that the physical benefits, yoga is a winning combination.

One of my spiritual teachers is fond of saying that meditation (which is part of the practice of yoga) gives you the same high as sex and drugs, only it’s sustainable. It’s a high you never come down from.

Find out for yourself.

Inquire within.

Inquire Within

“Nothing in the world can ever make you happy, because happiness comes from within.” – David Hawkins

I’ve been listening to Healing by Dr. David Hawkins on CD in my car. He presents a scenario: you are sitting in a chair, and someone comes in and hands you a bag of money. You immediately feel happier. But nothing in your life has really changed. You feel happier because you have a thought that reflects the belief that money can make you happy.

Likewise, your thoughts can make you unhappy. And they can be a reflection of limiting beliefs you hold about yourself and the world around you. So, thoughts generate feelings which create and color experiences in life.

Happiness is an inside job.


It may seem like it’s not true at first, but it is. Oh sure, life is easier (and arguably better) when you have good friends, a nice place to live, and a great job.

But true happiness isn’t a feeling state, it’s a being state.

Feelings are reactive, and transitory. If you spend your life chasing a happy feeling, you’re likely to be disappointed.

Think of some of the happiest people you know. I mean the ones who are always up. The ones you feel good just being around. Are they happy because of circumstances? Or because of an attitude and approach to life that reflects an unshakeable inner quality?

Want to start an inner journey towards greater happiness and well-being? Meditation is a good first step. Why? Because a meditation practice makes you more aware of your thoughts, and your thoughts shape your experience of the world. How do you change your thoughts? Start by watching them – the act of observation itself is powerful because it makes you less reactive.

The big picture? Change your thoughts, and you will change your life.

The Heat of the Moment

“I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.” – Anne Lamott

One of the important things I’d like to think I’ve (mostly) learned over the years is not to make decisions in the emotional heat of the moment.

Sometimes, in the midst of an emotional storm, it’s tempting to take some action, to relieve the pressure of the intensity of our feelings. We can start to mistakenly believe that if we take drastic action, we will arrive at the solution to the problem, whatever it may be.

Unfortunately, this is rarely (if ever) the case. In my own life, I haven’t yet made a decision in a state of emotional turmoil that seemed wise when I considered it later. As an adjunct to this, conflict resolution became much easier when I learned that every thought does not need to be shared aloud. Indeed, there are a great many better left unsaid.

One of the things I noticed when I started meditating was the sheer amount of garbage manufactured by my mind, on an almost constant basis. I daresay this power would be impressive if it could be put to good use – though I think that’s the idea behind affirmations and positive thinking. But sometimes the mind has to be left to just wear itself out spinning crazy, awful stories.

And they are just that: stories. Fortunately, a regular meditation practice helps make that clear, because when we start to believe our own stories we’re treading on dangerous ground.

Eventually the mind grows tired, and we can step out of the “thought-emotion-action” loop, thereby gaining access to our greater wisdom. If we can weather the emotional storm, watching it until it dies down, and acting in the calm after the storm, we stand a better chance of achieving the outcome we truly want.

It’s a process, and a non-linear one at that. In the words of Anne Lamott, “You can get the monkey off your back but the circus never leaves town.”

That’s why they call it a practice.

“Wherever you go, there you are.”

It’s true. There’s no getting away from yourself. You can go to the ends of the earth, but you can’t outrun your own fears, insecurities, or vulnerabilities. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, or how good your security system is, or how well-insured you are.

Sometimes it’s tempting to change things up. You may feel that moving to a new town, or getting a new job will change your life in a way that’s meaningful. While this might be the case, often the sense that life will be better following an external change is simply a reflection of an internal longing. And this seems to be particularly the case when it comes to moving away.

Personally speaking, in my various moving experiences over the years I found that whatever problems or issues I was experiencing in one location simply re-appeared in another. Sometimes they never disappeared at all.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t make changes in your external life. By all means, if something’s not working for you, take steps to change it. At the same time, it’s important to realize that real change comes from within. And that much of what you see outside of you is a reflection of what’s inside of you.

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer

Recommended reading: Kabat-Zinn, John. Wherever you go, there you are.


Recently I attended a study retreat with Swami Bodhananda in which the topic of renunciation was discussed in some detail. Renunciation is choosing to give up things we are attached to. In giving up our attachments, we free ourselves. He said, “Renunciation is the secret of happiness.” True happiness (bliss) is outside of the pleasure/pain cycle, where pleasure is inevitably followed by pain.

Think about it. You desire something. You get a little of it. You feel pleasure. You want more. You don’t get it. You feel pain. And so it goes, on and on, with each desire. He compares it to drinking salt water. The more you drink, the thirstier you become. The solution? When in the world, take only what you need.

When I heard all this, I couldn’t help thinking of all of the “stuff” that most of us own. I’m surprised by how much stuff I have, every time I have to move it. (Which for me is kind of often.) Still, compared to most people, in this country at least, I don’t own much.

I used to have a lot more stuff. I thought I needed it all.

I didn’t.

But it took me a long time to realize that. It wasn’t easy to give up a lot of that stuff. I didn’t think of it in terms of renunciation. It was more of a cost/benefit analysis. If I hadn’t moved so much, maybe I wouldn’t have given it up.

Ultimately, I felt like my stuff started owning me, instead of the other way around.

When I realized that, letting go didn’t seem so difficult. After I did it, I felt much lighter.

I felt…free.

Love in Disguise?

“People should worry about each other. Because worry is just love in its worst form. But it’s still love.” – Simon Gray

As a follow up to my previous entry on worry, I found this quote, which I read in a magazine years ago. I remember reading it over and over, thinking about it for a long time. I couldn’t decide whether I agreed with him or not. I think worry is something misguided people do to show their love. But does that mean worry is love?

Someone told me recently, “Cruelty is the closest thing to love.” I was truly stunned. My first inclination was to disagree vehemently. But I had to consider it further. Maybe it’s true that some things are close to love, but not love exactly. I have an easier time believing that worry is close to love. But cruelty?

I think the difficulty in determining whether or not worry and cruelty are at all equivalent to love is related to the difficulty people have in defining love. (See The Power of Love for more on this topic, and for a discussion of David Hawkins’ scale of consciousness.)

If love is an energy (or an action that carries an energy), is the energy of worry (or cruelty, for that matter) on the same level as that of love? Hawkins would answer with a resounding no on both counts. Worry calibrates close to fear, and cruelty would be close to anger. Both are well below the love vibration.

So if love is an energy, then the energy of love is much different from the energy of worry. A Course in Miracles says the opposite of love is fear. On the other hand, if love is an action, does cruelty in some way demonstrate love? It takes energy to be cruel (just as it takes energy to worry). To be cruel means to be calculating. Maybe by that token the opposite of love is not fear, or even hatred, but rather indifference.

It’s only if love is a “feeling” that we can say that worry or cruelty might be a little bit close to love. If love is a feeling that we get caught up in, a feeling that we’re powerless to control, then we might behave in ways that are cruel.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that love is a feeling. Are we powerless in the face of our feelings? Simply under their control? If so, we’re little better than a two year old throwing a temper tantrum.

One of the benefits of meditation (and spiritual practice in general) is that it tends to move people from a state of reaction to a state of contemplation. In other words, it allows us to live in the gap. In the gap, we can make choices about who we want to be in the world. This means that it’s possible to choose words and actions that reflect our true values and priorities. It also means that we can choose how to direct our energy.

If we choose to direct our energy and intent toward being love in action then worry and cruelty will have no home in the same neighborhood as love.

On Worry

“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” – Winston Churchill

Most of the things I worry about never happen, which leads me to believe that worry is merely a habit, or maybe an addiction. It can be extremely harmful because it takes focus and attention away from the present moment.

The thing is, worries always seem to be legitimate at the time. But we’re really not warding off anything by worrying. In fact, the opposite is true. By worrying we’re feeling into possibilities we don’t want to have happen, which actually have not yet happened, and may not ever happen at all.

One way out of worry is by creating new habits: essentially re-training the mind. The way to begin training the mind is by watching your thoughts, noticing the stories your mind creates. The key though is that the exercise is just watching, not judging. There are no good thoughts or bad thoughts. Just stories, projections on a movie screen. They aren’t real. They can’t hurt you. They are not who you are. And, you don’t have to try to stop them (thankfully), or do anything with them at all.

Thought-watching is a foundational aspect of meditation. It’s become clear to me over the years that many people think of meditation as something that only a few really special people can do. It’s simply not the case. But meditation requires discipline. It isn’t easy or fun. Nobody pats you on the back for doing it. Nobody, in fact, will even know that you’re doing it, unless you tell them.

Will meditation change your life? Probably not in the way that you expect. (And no, it won’t happen overnight.) Meditation is self-discovery and self-recovery. You don’t know what you’ll find along the way, but that’s part of the adventure.

Inquire within.

Healing the Wounds of Love

In our world today, relationships end. Even marriages end. All too often. And then, even though we might not have initially thought it possible, we enter into a new relationship after a period of healing and renewal. In Kundalini Yoga there is a meditation for Healing the Wounds of Love that utilizes the Shabd Hazaray from the Sikh holy book, the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. A sadhana for this meditation would be 11 recitations per day for 40 days.

If we don’t take the time to heal, we take the wounds of the past into our future relationships. Those hopes, fears, and projections can be a hindrance in a new relationship. They can cause us to over-react to the issues that will inevitably arise in any relationship. They can cause us to mis-understand things another person says – and in the worst cases they prevent us from really hearing that person altogether.

If we can begin a new relationship with a clean slate we give it the best chance of succeeding. It takes time to heal old wounds, and a focused intention to unravel the complexities of past experiences in order to avoid the trap of seeing people as merely good or bad – or of viewing our relationship experiences in terms of polarities.

By developing a process orientation, we can view our relationships in terms of the lessons we have learned and the ways in which we have grown. Beyond that, by developing skills for conflict resolution that go beyond win-lose or compromise, we can use our creative abilities to cooperatively birth new and better solutions to conflicts without polarizing differing perspectives on issues of importance.