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.

“When will you arrive?”

“At a size 6?

At one million dollars?

When Mr. Right marries you?

When you find your purpose?

Maybe when you arrive,

you will realize

the trip is over…” – Brooke Castillo

When we don’t achieve what we’d like in our external lives, it’s really easy to get caught in, “I’ll be happy when…” It’s a dangerous place to be though, because when we pin our happiness on the external world conforming to our personal wishes and preferences, we may be consigning ourselves to indefinite misery. Sometimes if we can’t let go, we get dragged kicking and screaming.

I’ll be happy when I get that promotion at work. I’ll be happy when the kids go off to school. I’ll be happy when I retire.

I’ve been reading this great little book by life coach Brooke Castillo called It was Always Meant to Happen that Way. In it she says, “Everything that is meant to happen does. Everything that isn’t meant to happen doesn’t. “

Imagine that you believe that…what does it feel like? When things happen, you just know it was meant to be. Likewise, when things don’t happen, is it easier to let it go?

It’s kind of like the Taoist story of the farmer. Let’s face it, we never really know what anything is for, do we? Sometimes things that happen seem so good, and then later we’re not so sure. To quote Hamlet… “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

If nothing is good or bad, and things and events just are (or aren’t, as the case may be), how much mental energy does that free up?

And if everything is truly in divine order right now, is it okay to exhale and just…be?


I just finished watching Season 1 of HBO’s Enlightened, starring Laura Dern and recently released on DVD. It’s an ambitious show that attempts to tackle the complexities of the inner landscape, and what happens when we are in the process of re-shaping core beliefs.

The main character, Amy, has just returned from a stay at a treatment facility following an emotional breakdown in the workplace. At Open Air she learned a variety of meditation and positive thinking techniques which were presented as coping strategies for life’s difficulties. Now thrust back into the real world, with a smattering of new age thinking, she faces the challenge of navigating her “new” life.

For starters, she’s been demoted. And she’s not especially well-liked at work. She also lives under the same roof as her mother. She has a complicated relationship with her ex-husband. Further, with her effusiveness and new age-isms she quickly alienates quite a few people.

To me, the most interesting aspect of this show is the portrayal of someone starting on a spiritual journey. Amy has all of the intensity and excitement of a new practitioner. She wants to share her newfound knowledge with everyone she meets. The trouble is, not everyone is interested. But Amy’s not self-aware enough to see that she’s offending people.

Moreover, she has trouble staying in the mindset because her core beliefs haven’t yet changed. She is in the stage of “talking the talk.” She has this veneer of kindness and acceptance covering up a lot of anger and resentment; she hasn’t quite gotten the hang of letting go. She’s also in the process of learning that it’s not always possible to “follow your heart,” especially since most of the non-profit jobs she applies for don’t pay a living wage.

While I do wonder if the show will appeal to a wider audience, I applaud HBO for attempting to deal with such subtleties, as the screen doesn’t lend itself well to complex relationships and inner dialogue. Those interested in the process of spiritual awakening will likely find the show both heartbreaking and entertaining.

The Blame Game

Sometimes (ok, make that nearly all the time) it’s just easier to blame other people for things that happen to us than to take responsibility for our own role in creating a given situation.

Even if we feel that we aren’t responsible, say, for example, if something happened in childhood, as we reach adulthood, we become responsible for cleaning up the mess, even if we didn’t make it.

The unfortunate truth is that, while blaming other people feels good (and yes, I know it does), it does little to resolve the situation.

When we step out of blame, we step into our own personal power. We claim, or reclaim, our own ability to create the future we want to live in.

But how do we get there? What propels us out of The Blame Game?

For me, it is the desire for change (and the acknowledgment that doing the same old thing doesn’t get me anywhere I really want to go). The familiar can be comfortable for a time, but eventually it becomes unbearable, stifling.

Even still, The Blame Game has its allure. Things happen – difficult, upsetting things – and I look for someone else to hold responsible. Someone else’s behavior or actions to dissect or critique.

And yet, I know that I can choose to grow into my own future by acknowledging what I learned from a disappointing experience, forgiving myself for any mistakes I made which might have contributed to it, and gracefully letting go.

Every day, we have the opportunity to make the smallest choices which can make the biggest difference.

On Letting Go, Part II

(See part one of this entry.)

Let’s face it: Change can be hard. But sometimes, we make it harder than it needs to be by holding on. Whether we’re holding on to a person, a job, a house, or other situation in our lives, by investing in maintaining what is, we are refusing to allow what will be to take shape. For example, by holding on to a relationship that doesn’t work, we deny ourselves the opportunity to meet the right partner.

Often the motivation to maintain the status quo in a circumstance in our lives stems from the fear that, if we let what we have go, we will have nothing. We will lose.

But in order to grow, we must first create a space, an opening, for something more, something or someone who will be a better fit. And in that space is an opportunity for healing, for clarity, and for intentionality in manifesting the next experience.

Recommended reading: Letting Go of Attachment, From A to Zen

Echoes from the Past

Tonight I was talking with a friend about my struggle to let go of the past, and of my own need to be right about, well, everything.

He told me something someone else once told him…. That if you keep rooting around in the garbage of the past, trying to prove yourself right, eventually you very likely will, but you’ll be covered in garbage. Another option is to leave the garbage of the past behind for more beautiful scenery.

There are, as he said, echoes from the past in everything we do in the present. While we are wise to learn from the lessons of the past, we are unwise to assume that because we were hurt in the past by one person, we will be hurt in the present by another.

If we aren’t willing to risk being vulnerable, we can’t enjoy the fruits of intimacy. I’m not speaking merely of romantic relationships here, but of any close relationship with another person.

It’s difficult to be in the gap of not knowing. It’s far easier to go triumphantly forward clutching the wound, shouting “I was right. I was right all along. And here’s the proof.”

He reminded me, “You don’t have to know the outcome to enjoy the journey.” And I thought, But if I knew it would be a good outcome, that would certainly make things easier.

And then I realized that really easy things are rarely worth doing anyway.


“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” – Mark Twain

As a follow up to the entry on freedom, I want to talk a little about forgiveness, because I think the two are closely related. Forgiveness is a tricky subject because for many people it’s closely connected to religion. But I think from a spiritual perspective forgiveness is less about religion and more about freedom. It’s less about doing than allowing: forgiveness is letting go.

Forgiveness allows you to free yourself.

When I first heard that I wasn’t sure how it was true. I thought forgiveness was freeing the other person. Letting him/her off the hook, so to speak. I didn’t like the sound of that at all. I thought of blame as a sort of punishment.

While I don’t doubt that we can direct a fair amount of energy (and therefore psychic violence) at others by holding on, I want to focus more here on the cost of such behavior to ourselves.

By pouring mental and emotional energy into our own stories (usually stories in which we are the hero and someone else the villain) we are energetically poisoning ourselves. And often, the target of our energies goes on about his or her life entirely unaware.

It’s easy to hold on to the idea of justice, of punishment and retribution. But here’s the thing about justice: it doesn’t bring back what was lost.

Establishing blame doesn’t facilitate healing or growth. It’s just a trap. Marinating in anger, bitterness, and unhappiness will change you, and not for the better.

Now, I’m not advocating martyrdom. I’m certainly not suggesting that through forgiveness we place ourselves in a position to be harmed repeatedly by the same person. Forgiveness doesn’t include amnesia. It doesn’t mean abandoning healthy boundaries.

But it does mean letting go of stories. Or rewriting them. I think it’s possible to be the hero of your own story without making someone else the villain. But maybe that means we need to re-define heroism.

It’s worth taking a few moments to consider this question: What are the qualities of a true hero? And, to take it one step further, how can you manifest those qualities to become the hero of your own story?


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.

The Summer Solstice Experience

Every summer Kundalini Yogis from around the world gather at Ram Das Puri in the Jemez Mountains near Espanola, New Mexico for a variety of intensive workshops and 3 days of White Tantric Yoga. They call this experience Summer Solstice.It is a transformative immersion opportunity. I have had the Summer Solstice experience twice since I began practicing Kundalini Yoga. Both times I described it afterward as one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

Because Ram Das Puri is in the high desert, the weather covers some surprising extremes. It can be as warm as 90 degrees during the mid-day, and as cold as 40 degrees at night. Add to that the altitude of nearly 7,000 feet, the desert sun, the dust, the wind, and occasional torrential rains, and you have quite a climate experience! (Oh, and you will be camping, so don’t forget to bring your tent!)

A day at Summer Solstice begins at 3:45 with group sadhana (spiritual practice), followed by breakfast. Throughout the day, participants have a variety of yoga workshops to choose from. Meals are included in the registration fee and follow a special cleansing diet prescribed by Yogi Bhajan, the Master of Kundalini Yoga.

One of the most remarkable features of the Solstice experience is the intentional community. Everyone who attends participates by providing some special service as part of community-building. Being part of a group of up to 2000 like-minded people coming together to pursue a common intention is incredibly powerful. Add to that the sacred history of Ram Das Puri in the Native American tradition, and Summer Solstice is an incredible opportunity to deepen one’s spiritual practice and commitment.

I think that many times if we look back and are completely honest with ourselves, the times at which we were learning the most, and having the greatest chance of moving forward, of becoming most fully ourselves, are challenging times. Letting go of who we used to be can be difficult and painful. The degree to which we will experience pain and difficulty in that process depends upon the extent to which we cling to old ideas and beliefs which no longer serve the person we are becoming.

The dates for this year’s Summer Solstice are June 14-23, 2012. Service scholarships and financial aid are available.

Photos of Summer Solstice courtesy of Amarjot Singh.