Heartbreak Wisdom Journal–Final Entry: Letting Go of Letting Go

I’m closing out the year with this final entry in this series of posts that has both informed my spiritual development of this year and the course of this blog as well. I’m closing this narrative with a long set of connected thoughts about letting go–both my own and some quotes that have inspired me. This year is done, and this chapter in my story comes to a close as well. May this inspire those of you out there who have also gone through heartbreak.


What is the perfection of wisdom? Let’s look at some important elements that are the core of our practice as well as our lives. In face-to-face study, a student expresses agony over a relationship that ended two years ago and asks me how to let go. What is letting go?There is a little toy called a Chinese finger-trap. You put two fingers into it, then try to pull them out. But you can’t extricate your fingers from the trap by pulling: it’s only when you push your fingers further in that the trap releases them. Similarly, we think of letting go as doing something: throwing things away, ending a relationship, getting rid of whatever’s bothering us. But that works no better than pulling our fingers in order to extricate them from the trap. We let go by eliminating the separation between us and what we wish to let go of. We become it.

Do we let go of anger by saying good bye or going away? Of course not! That doesn’t work. The way to let go of anger is to enter the anger, become the anger rather than separate from it. If you even hold on to the notion of having to let go of it, you’re still stuck. In a famous koan, a monk went to Chao-chou Ts’ung-shen and asked, “What shall I do now that I’ve let go of everything?” Chao-chou said, “Let go of that!” The monk said, “What do you mean, let go of that? I’ve let go of everything.” Chao-chou answered, “Okay, then continue carrying it with you.” The monk failed to get the point. Holding on to letting go is not letting go.

We don’t get rid of anger by trying to get rid of it: the same applies to forgetting the self. To forget the self means to become what is, become what we are. How do we let go of a painful relationship? Become the person we wish to let go of, become the pain itself. We think we’re not the person, not the pain, but we are. Eliminate the gap between subject and object and there’s no anger, no loss of relationship, no sorrow, no suffering, no observer sitting back and crying, “Poor me!”

The Chinese finger-trap is solved by going further into the trap, and the same is true of letting go: Go into it. If you avoid the situation, it only gets worse. Totally be it; that’s letting go. Similarly, when we sit, it’s not a question of trying to do something. Don’t sit there saying, “I have to accomplish this. I have to attain that.” Just let go and be what you are, be this very moment. If you are breathing, just be breathing, and you will realize that you’re the whole universe, with nothing outside or external to you. The beautiful mountain–that’s you. Anger, lust, joy, frustration–they’re all you: none are outside. And because there’s no outside, there’s also no inside; altogether, this is you. This is the meaning of Shakyamuni Buddha’s “I alone am!”–Bernie Glass, from Infinite Circle

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I intended to write this post a couple months back around the time of my birthday, but I never got to it, and I can only believe that it wasn’t ripe. I was reading the book quoted above around the same time, but this quote means so much more to me reading it again now. This is my last Heartbreak Wisdom Journal entry. After all the steps in the spiritual path of heartbreak, I’ve finally reached the realization that continuing these narratives is not fully letting go. It’s time to let go of letting go. That’s the step forward on the path of the spiritual heart. That’s the tender vulnerability that was described in the first entry. We come full circle: nothing outside.

Let my birthday journal entry, Morning Pages from a couple months back, serve as an intention in this step forward:
“Well, 33! Made it!
I’ve been thinking of this particular one for a while. As a teenager, I loved the Smashing Pumpkins’ “33”. It is now my theme song for a year, I suppose. That’s odd, in a way, as it’s a romantic song about another person making existence beautiful:
– ” You could make it last, forever, you.”
Clearly, after the year I’ve had, I just don’t feel that way about anyone, and I wonder if I ever will again. In many ways, I totally don’t respect those concepts of romance, especially as a guiding light in the life of a person. Well, maybe I can transform that into something less deluded–transmutation.
That reminds me: I’ve been thinking a lot recently about just that. I want to handle my story around the heartbreak of the end of my relationship in a very particular way. I don’t want to cast her as a monster or villain. I don’t want to cast myself as hero or victim. It simply was. It was, however, not justified–another story that explains away–no matter what came after. Again, it simply was–the complicated interweaving of sharing life and love with other people. In the end, she simply decided that she wanted something different. That’s all.
In the end, this suffering has been, as is suffering in general, useless. That’s actually one of the best philosophical essays I have read: Levinas’ “Useless Suffering”. Explaining away my pain–to myself or the explanations of others–is ultimately an unwillingness to sit with, see, and genuinely feel the agony of a broken heart. Again, it simply is, and any meaning or story that makes it OK or gives it a telos covers it over and masks it. There is beauty in the rawness, and the only use is to sit with it and be inspired to compassion for others, to aim at liberating oneself and all sentient beings from such anguish.
So, no, I won’t cast stones. However, I will transmute–that earlier thread of connection–the love I reached for her into this compassion for all. I’ll blow the lid off of the Love of an Other that completes my Self and move to a warmth for all that exists. May I step forward on the path for the benefit of all sentient beings.”


Tonight–before writing any of this or reading these quotes again–I sat down and did a mantra meditation with mala in hand, counting–bead by bead.

Om mani padme hum.
Om mani padme hum.
Om mani padme hum.



108 times
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I focused my attention on Kwan Yin/Avalokitesvara/Chenrezig/Kannon–the listener to the cries of the world, bodhisattva of compassion. As I repeated the words and contemplated Avalokitesvara with his hundred arms–reaching out to touch the lives of all sentient beings, I felt my own loving-kindness swell, and I flashed on those who have done me pain, who have stoked my anger or sadness… I realized, as separation of I/Them dropped away, that They are I and I am They. Her face flashed by amidst others, and I saw tears and felt her fear, her anxiety. I embraced her feelings with loving-kindness. Many others flashed by as well. Among them all, my own face flashed up, my angry, sad face, tormented by delusion, struggling with all the cares of being human. I compassionately embraced this too. As Glass Roshi said in the initial quote above: “Anger, lust joy, frustration–they’re all you: none are outside. And because there’s no outside, there’s also no inside: altogether this is you.” — For a brief moment, I sat in this compassion and wisdom, in this karuna and prajna

Then, like always, my mind flitted back to ordinary shenanigans–always room for more practice.


After meditating, I lay down and finished reading a graphic novel, weathering a slight stomachache. The closing words rang true and inspired me to sit down and write this entry. We shall close with them:

I can’t give you your hope. You have to grow your own and hold it through the seemingly endless darkness. The true task–to find joy in the small things we can count on.

When we stop taking pleasure in the basic experience of being alive, beat-by-beat, we lose everything that makes life worthwhile. We must relish in every sight, every touch…
… Every memory. My daughters playing in the garden. Johl kissing my neck. Marik’s elation at a new invention. These memories are enough to light my darkest hour. To face whatever awaits above. We all of us carry burdens that seem too heavy. … Losses we can’t conceivably move past. The things that once gave purpose to life. It is all too easy to give yourself over to the traumas of the past–allowing pain to define us. There is a medicine for that–hope and perseverance. Light brings light. And no matter what we face there is one thing we can control: our outlook. It’s not about ignoring the pain or mindlessly believing things will simply be better–it’s about finding the joy in participating. And when the weight of the past pulls us low we must find the strength to release it…
…and finally give ourselves permission to start over.
-Rick Remender, Low: Volume 2, closing passage

 

The character, Stel, finds the hope to start fresh, letting go of the past, but she doesn’t do this by running away from it–ignoring it–or by blindly believing that the future will make everything right again. She’s neither lost in the pain of the past nor in a dream of a hazy, euphoric future. She’s faced all of her ghosts by sitting with everything as it was and as it currently is. She’s fully taken on her pain, her burdens. She realizes that in becoming them, the weight of the past drops with the permission to start over. That permission is always at hand, right now. It merely takes the warrior’s courage to let go: to fully be here as we are. That’s what starting over is. This may begin with holding on to the wonders of golden experiences, but this sagely wisdom fully blossoms in participating joyously in every moment of life, even the most painful or burdensome. This is wrongly called “hope” because it’s not about that belief in a future deliverance; it’s actually “faith”–trust in and no separation from all that is. This is recognizing the basic goodness of existence, and it is a clear step forward to liberation: happiness that does not rely on the conditioned.

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May this light the path to letting go of heartbreak for those who need it.

Gassho!

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal — Entry 8: Reclaiming Shards of the Past

For the longest time, I’ve been unable to listen to one of my favorite songs. Why? During my time with my ex, it became a song about our relationship, and sometimes, even she called it “our song”. This song is “Your Hand in Mine” by the ever-magnificent Explosions in the Sky. This post-rock anthem has always tugged at my heartstrings, despite having listened to it hundreds of times.

After being dumped, the reminders of everything were just too much to listen to this song. At this point, it still plucked at those heartstrings but in a way that I could not bear. I’d just skip it whenever I heard it. Recently, though, I found myself listening to this song again one morning over my ritual cup of coffee. Not only did I listen to the song once, I repeated it numerous times, taking a simple joy in listening to this beloved song for the first time in a long while.

It’s very difficult to get past the emotion in such things. Most people try their damnedest to forget by covering up their past or running from it. That’s not really moving on though (See an earlier post on this here). That’s just as reactive as clinging to something, and running like that leaves unresolved issues, untended wounds seeping deep inside. It takes time and patience–a resolve and open courage–to face the terrors and tortures that you experience in life and sit through them, yet there is no better way to be authentic and to walk your life’s path with a compassionate and awakened heart.

I’ve also found an ability to listen to this song recently which has always symbolically reminded me of the connection of the love between me and her. Now, the pain of that connection is no longer frightening or anxiety-provoking. It just is. I can hear these songs and experience the joy and beauty of them along with residual feelings of pain and sadness. That no longer scares me. After all I’ve been through in the last few months. I can sit with equanimity through many more of life’s challenges; strong, courageous, and awake–the tender presence that gives birth to deep compassion.


Thoughts and emotions will always arise. The purpose of practice is not to get rid of them. We can no more put a stop to thoughts and emotions than we can put a stop to the worldly circumstances that seemingly turn for or against us. We can, however, choose to welcome and work with them. On one level, they are nothing but sensations. When we don’t solidify or judge them as good or bad, right or wrong, favorable or unfavorable, we can utilize them to progress on the path.
We utilize thoughts and emotions by watching them arise and dissolve. As we do this, we see they are insubstantial. When we are able to see through them, we realize they can’t really bind us, lead us astray, or distort our sense of reality. And we no longer expect them to cease. The very expectation that thoughts and emotions should cease is a misconception. We can free ourselves from this misconception in meditation.
In the sutras it says, “What good is manure, if not to fertilize sugar cane crops?” Similarly, we can say, “What good are thoughts and emotions–in fact all of our experiences–if not to increase our realization?” What prevents us from making good use of them are the fears and reactions that come from our self-importance. Therefore, the Buddha taught us to let things be. Without feeling threatened or trying to control them, just let things arise naturally and let them be.
When ego-mind becomes transparent through meditation, we have no reason to be afraid of it. This greatly reduces our suffering. We may actually develop a passion for seeing all aspects of our minds. This attitude is at the heart of the practice of self-reflection.
-Dzigar Kongtrül, “It’s Up to You”, pp. 8-9

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May this inspire you to find your own ability to let things be and to utilize your own experiences to increase your realization.

Gassho!

Previous Heartbreak Wisdom Journal: Entry 7 – Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be (Part 2)

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal–Entry 7: Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be (Part 2)

Clarification: As I wrote at the beginning of the last post, I’ve broken this entry into two pieces. The first was about my personal healing experience. This piece is a long quote from Lama Surya Das’ Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be. It’s taken from the opening section of the final chapter: “Spiritual Renewal — Healing Our Wounded Hearts”. Reading this section felt very resonant with what I have been experiencing, and it was great to find that understanding and affirmation. I thought that others could benefit from his words as well.


To one degree or another, we all have wounded hearts etched with at least a few of life’s infinitely variant scars. But if that is the case, how can we find peace? How can we release our sorrow and move beyond negative memories and hurt? How can we alter and release our attachment to the past? How can we come unstuck? How can we let go of the person we used to be?
Men and women trying to recover from disappointment and loss tend to hear a wide variety of well-meaning advice. “You need healing,” their friends tell them. “You need closure.” “You need resolution.” “Move on.” Sometimes this facile, though well-intentioned advice, is the last thing that someone wants to hear. “Change your life.” “Okay, sure. Will do. Thank you!” It is easier said than done, isn’t it?
Almost twenty years ago, while I was in three-year meditations retreat, I received a letter from an old friend who told me that her talented and beloved son was gravely ill; he was only in his mid-twenties, and I remember being very saddened by this news. She asked if we would pray for him. Later I received word that he had died. I knew that my friend suffered grievously from the loss of her son. But I was still young and I probably didn’t fully understand what she was experiencing. About two years later I visited her in upstate New York and gave her some platitudinous advice.
“Maybe it’s time to let go and move on,” I said.
“Maybe it isn’t,” she replied. “Maybe I’m not done.”
The truth and authenticity of her statement were pretty startling in the face of my well-meaning, albeit useless, chiches. Maybe she wasn’t done with her mourning; maybe she would never feel done. My dear old friend is not unique in her response to major loss. Many have told me that they have never really “gotten over” some of their experiences.

Mourning is a necessary process as well as a deep and significant spiritual experience. It brings us closer to the ground of our being and our felt sense of authenticity. We need to intelligently process our most difficult experiences in order to regain balance, harmony, and inner peace. But there comes a time when it is helpful to seek and find ways to release the pain. Yes, certain losses remain with us; they are part of our history and our karma. But that doesn’t mean that it is appropriate for us to spend our lives grieving. We need to find ways to peacefully coexist with our sadness. We can embrace our pain and our losses and be greater and more authentically real for doing so.
I am not alone in saying that a broken heart is often the beginning of healing and renewal; many wiser men and women have spoken these words. Sometimes it is only desperation that can drive us out of a rut. When we are sad, we need comfort; we need to find new hope; we need spiritual renewal. These are attainable goals; these are all possible. Everything is possible to those who seek and persevere. In the New Testament, Jesus spoke the following beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Spiritual transformation and renewal are forms of healing, of rectification, of rebalancing. Such renewal restores us to wholeness and to peace through new beginnings. Our hopes, dreams, and aspirations are revived, and we are able to make fresh starts. Sometimes all we need to do to make a fresh start is to begin seriously questioning ourselves–our assumptions and beliefs and what we are doing. This kind of self-examination helps us think “outside the box.” When we do this, it can help us view the world in such a different way that we are sometimes able to make dramatic changes. Seeing differently is believing differently and leads to different ways of living.
Buddhism teaches that the reason we are unhappy and experience difficulty is mainly due to ignorance and our false sense of incompleteness and separation. Out of this ignorance and feelings of separateness comes all kinds of unsatisfying unfulfilling behavior and effort. A pop example that comes to mind is the all too human tendency to look for love in all the wrong places. We do well to renew our outlook and our efforts toward more intelligent and fulfilling directions and modes of seeking what we really want and need. Remember that one definition of insanity is doing what we have always done and expecting different results.
Few of us carefully examine whether or not our current pattern of desires and habits are producing the results we want. Too often we just continue as we have always done–“same old, same old”–just as our friends, colleagues, and elders have always done, thought, reacted, hoped, and believed. We do this without thoroughly, conscientiously, and deeply scrutinizing for ourselves how well these strategies work for us.
Rebirth is one form of renewal and regeneration. This may happen in the afterlife or in heaven, or it may happen through reinventing oneself or one’s career and relationships in this life. Or it can happen moment by moment by taking a good deep breath and taking a fresh and renewed look at life in the immediacy of the present moment. This moment-to-moment rebirth is a practice of both love and freedom. It allows us to embrace reality right now, as it is; it allows us to be as we are without being burdened or conditioned by the past.

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May this resonate with you who need this as it has with me. May it help you let go of your past, the person you used to be, so that you may move forward in reinventing yourself for the good of yourself and all the world. May you find liberation in stepping from your sloughed off old skin.

Gassho!

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal–Entry 7: Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be (Part 1)

Clarification: I’m splitting this piece into two parts. The first is my own personal experience of late, and the second is a related long quote that goes well with this, but I feel it best to let them both stand on their own, yet connected and in a harmonic resonance with each other.


Last weekend, I went down to the city I used to live in with my ex. I stayed with mutual friends–the first time seeing them in months. It was eye-opening. After all this time and change, I’ve still been carrying some ideas that this home has some elements that are the same, but like me, really, so much has shifted. I went, in part, to feel this connection again and to weigh the opportunity of returning there. It was odd, unhemlich really: some things still felt like the home I miss and love–homey=heimlich, but there was an overarching foreignness alongside this familiarity–unhomey=unheimlich: that bizarre feeling when the familiar is unfamiliar. The saddest part was how distant others were when I saw those other connections beyond the friends I stayed with. All of this made me realize that if I go back, it will have to be completely on my own steam and without expecting the familiar to be there. As sad as that may be, seeing things clearly, especially even the most subtle layers of desire and hope–unconscious ones, can be liberating. Seeing clearly what you are holding onto can gently open the hand, letting those things fall away.

The hardest thing was that I almost saw her. Even just hearing her voice from a distance brought up all the little idiosyncrasies about her that I still miss. I lost a partner and a best friend so many months ago with this breakup, and it is very often, still, that I hear her voice in my head, saying certain things just that particular way that only she would say them, or I can almost hear and see her responding to the goofiness that I regularly bring into the world.

Yet, the gusto of her voice, also recalled all those bizarre relationship-ending conversations, galvanized with that sentiment of self-righteousness, as though the point of this life-changing decision were distinguishing right and wrong. That voice, those eyes, that cold feeling of being disconnected from reality with overlays of denial… I’m glad that I chose not to go say hello. I don’t see any benefit in facing that now, if any of it remains at all. If that is the case, certainly she wouldn’t be interested either. She wanted my presence cut from her life, wanted me dead in a certain sense, and she’s never reached out again afterward. She could just as readily have walked down to say hello to me as well; the decision did not have to be made by me, and clearly, she didn’t want to. That’s fine. Ultimately, one of the largest parts of moving on in the kind of situation I’m in is accepting the choice of a person you love to not love you anymore. In a certain sense, it’s dying with grace. It’s letting go of the person you used to be.

I came back home to my life in the Seattle area, after this whirlwind trip, and I began the work week again. It was a bit jarring making this transition… For the week previous to the trip, I had been doing a Healing Bootcamp of sorts, described in The Wisdom of a Broken Heart, but I didn’t finish the closing of the last day due to leaving on my trip to see my friends and my old home. The middle of the relief program requires a journalling of the beginning, middle, and end of the relationship–piece by piece, and then, you write down points of gratitude for each of these stages and offer them upon your altar. At the end of the program, you perform loving-kindness meditation for your ex and burn the offered gratitude while stating that for now this relationship is over, and you are a better person for having experienced it.

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A simple altar that I set up for this recovery program — sans the written offerings described in this post

After returning from a trip of letting go, I belatedly did this final ritual–opening my heart with loving-kindness and burning the past with a cleansing fire. I stood on the bricks in the backyard, lighting each piece and feeling the warmth of the fire sharing my joy at the gifts I’ve been given (and was offering as gift over to the flames) but also burning them away–past and gone. Unlike a rebound or more aggressively “moving on”, this whole process was so kind, loving, gentle, yet affirming. It has been a completely mindful way of growing through heartbreak with acceptance, even gratitude, for pain and change. It’s not a denial of the past or the present in the slightest. On the contrary, it’s showing up for it: taking the path of the spiritual warrior–knowing that even this, maybe even especially this, is an opportunity for practice.

I still have a lot of healing to go, so there may still be several other entries in the Heartbreak Wisdom Journal, but this experience was definitely a turning point, and I feel some liberation from showing up to the person I used to be and tenderly, yet bravely, letting go of him.


Here is what I had to say about the ritual in my Morning Pages earlier this week:

I spoke to each note, reading them all aloud and emphasizing how wonderful each point of gratitude was but emphasizing also, like everything, these pass too. These moments were gone. The points of gratitude–the experiences–have shaped me. Their karmic consequences have begun blooming, yet, their cause, and the connection associated with them, has been severed and crushed. Now, it has also been burned. The fire was beautiful–flickering flames lapped at my words of gratitude, embracing them and celebrating them with the burning joy they deserved. Now, those words are dissipated, spread on the wind. Who knows what comes next? Not I.
This has given me some small amount of emotional clearance, yet there is much more healing to come.

May this help you find your own ability to let go of the person you used to be.
Gassho!

Mantra for Moving Forward

Help me make the crossing.

Help me find the path.

Help me walk it gracefully.

(Repeat as many times as necessary)

Gassho

I’ve been drawn to Ganesha as a symbol of overcoming obstacles recently. Plus, he’s just rad! Perhaps he can be an image to keep in mind while reciting this mantra to help empower you and hone your focus on the intention. I was told recently that the secret of Ganesha is that he not only removes the obstacles for you but is also the one who put them there in the first place. If this is the case, the ordeal of the obstacle and the overcoming it have a meaning and a lesson for you. In getting beyond them, make sure that you are learning what you should from them. Don’t simply try to run away from the process. Good luck on your journeys!