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!

Mindfulness: The Great Challenge

Mindfulness doesn’t live and die on the cushion.
It’s a journey, an opportunity,
In every moment.
I can be here, present:
Composed and compassionate
Serene and serendipitous
Open and observant
Or I can be lost, confused:
Reactive and restricted
Selfish and selective
Dormant and dogmatic.


The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching §64, Trans. Jonathan Star

The Sage worries not about the journeys or tales of yesterday. Nor does he lose sight of the beginning step while looking at the future destination beyond the horizon. Knowing both, he steps forward, feeling every inch of ground in this step–right here, right now. The Sage’s secret wisdom?–This step is the only step. Each step is the beginning step. Each step is the whole journey. The only step to take is the one underfoot right now. The only journey is the current movement of the leg and foot, and there is no greater miracle than this. The Sage takes this step with awareness and gratitude–not lost, elsewhere, and not attached to any outcome.

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The present is direct and straightforward. Your experience of it is heightened through mindfulness. When you are mindful of your breath in meditation, when you mindful of your thoughts, or when you are mindful of going from the practice of meditation to dealing with the kitchen sink, all those situations are in the present. You don’t borrow ideas from the past, and you don’t try to fundraise from the future. You just stay on the spot, now.

That may be easy to say, but it’s not so easy to do. We often find it satisfying to have a reference point to what might happen in the future or what has happened in the past. We feel more relaxed when we can refer to past experiences to inform what is happening now. We borrow from the past and anticipate the future, and that makes us feel secure and cozy. We may think we are living in the present, but when we are preoccupied with the past and future, we are blind to the current situation.

Living in the present may seem like quite a foreign idea. What does that even mean? If you have a regular schedule, a nine-to-five job, you cycle through your weekly activities from Monday to Friday, doing what is expected of you and what you expect of yourself. If something out of the ordinary occurs, something that is completely outside of the routine of your Monday-to-Friday world, it can be quite disconcerting.

We are bewildered when something unexpected pops up. A flea jumps on your nose. What should you do? You swat at it or you ignore it if you can. If that doesn’t work, then you search for a memory from the past to help you cope. You try to remember how you dealt with the last flea that landed on you. Or you may try to strategize how you’ll prevent insects from bothering you in the future. None of that helps much. We can be much more present if we don’t pay so much attention to the past or expectations of the future. Then, we might discover that we can enjoy the present moment, which is always new and fresh. We might make friends with our fleas.
-Chögyam Trungpa, Mindfulness in Action, pp. 46-47.


May this inspire you to mindful presence in this moment.

Gassho!

 

 

Just This

Here’s one more set of Morning Pages that I wanted to share. The closing staccato of questions was inspired in part by having recently read Toni Packer’s “The Work of this Moment”, a beautiful book that I recommend to all.


Whatever arises. Whoever is here. Attend to them. You’re not in your past anymore. You’re not with future friends or later gatherings today, even. Be here. Now. This coffee shop. These people. They are but one small corner of the universe, and yet, they are the entire thing.

Beautiful and yet just a moment, one small distraction, can send the mind running away from this presence. I just was reminded of a case from yesterday, and my mind started cruising through reactive mode. I feel like there is a great lesson for practice in there for me today. I had anxious, restless, problem-solving dreams again last night.

Such reactivity is not the Way. Yet, I find my mind flying in such directions so readily. In meditation this morning, my mind did the same, and just now, I tumbled into an analysis of my ex’s “story” of what would happen to me in the future. How do we keep focused all the time–or for extended periods–without the constant screechings of monkey mind?

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Zen – Just This

Just this. That’s how. Right now, just writing. Just drinking coffee. This is the heart of mindfulness–just this.

With “just this“, I can be here now in this room full of people coming and going, aware of the fullness of this moment while still single-pointedly focusing on the tip of my pen moving across the paper.

Isn’t that somewhat of a miraculous sensation? I mean–feeling the pen slide across the paper in the grip of my hand? The edge of my hand also brushes along the paper as I glide through each word–one by one. This flows into this, one smooth unfolding of now… Of course, “now” turns this all into empty concept. Yet how do we express in language anything but these semantic boxes of use? There is no other way. Yet “now” is not now.

Perhaps, that is precisely why the teachings of the Dharma are a boat that is not to be held onto when the other side is reached. The teachings–the guiding concepts–would get in the way of actual presence–actual, live prajna–if you were to hold onto them as the key to insight once it has been achieved.

What is there to hold onto in being awake in this moment? Can I just show up to it without preconception of what it will be–something I’ve held onto from a past encounter? Will any words or concepts reveal this moment more to me, or will they all just try to capture it for expression? Can that be done, or is that just a picture of a rice cake (i.e. not the rice cake itself)? If I’m just here, is there anything left over to take on with me? Can I box up a piece of it and give it to someone else? Isn’t that just me creating a story to give to someone else to story–an ongoing story game of Telephone???


May this inspire you to do your own Zen work and be present to just this.

Gassho!

Waking Up Now, Not Waiting for “It” to Be All Over

The following set of morning pages were written about hearing Avicii’s “Wake Me Up”. I’m taking out some of the more personal rigamarole to get straight to the point.


It was spun crap about living in the moment. How is that position always turned into a justification for hedonism? Compile a set of moments that you want. Continue to do so. That’s the path to happiness. Such is the implied conclusion of that point of view. In comparison, I’m drawn to a Taoist-Buddhist-Stoic idea of happiness. It’s easy to show up to the moments you like, but if that’s the case, happiness is and always will be externally dependent.

The Sage, the Buddha, the Wise: these individuals don’t require conditions to be just right to be happy. They have cultivated an internal wealth that is not dependent on the schemes of the ego to get everything just right. Rather, they realize, as Lao Tzu tells us in the Tao Te Ching that everything changes, so controlling conditions through force cannot last.

So “waiting to be woken up when it’s all over” is always going to be lost (during and after) and never will realize it. It’s lost in the ego’s search for deliverance–a way out. The “all over” is the escape of better, wanted conditions. The Sage smiles upon such inherent delusion. S/he just lives with joy, no matter what comes–a blooming lotus in the muddy waters.

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For comparison, read my posts on similar points including: Tao a Day: Verse 26 – Inner Virtues, Path of the Dharma: The Dhammapada – Chapter 1: “Twin Verses”, and Nothing to Do.

May this bring you the resolve to cultivate your own inner strength, your own wakefulness, and your own pure heart without relying on the world to give you the never existent stability of “just right”.

Gassho!

Open, Bare Gratitude

Gratitude for all–whatever arises. It’s beautiful yet nearly impossible to cultivate. It takes a radical acceptance, an embrace of the world as it is. We’re far more likely to get caught up in our minds–in our interpretations, in how we think things should be.

Near the end of my shift yesterday, I went for a walk during a break. The afternoon sunshine shone brilliantly as I did laps around the building. Cars whizzed past excitedly as people left to return home for the day. I went around one corner of the building and nearly gasped aloud as I looked up at the sky. The clouds were so crisp, their edges so intricate and nuanced with definition and color. I continued my walk in an ongoing meditation–open to each moment without grasping onto it. The birds chirping as they fly overhead… The bee buzzing by me to gather pollen… The wispy, white cotton from the trees in bloom floating on the wind… The people at the bus stop chatting as they wait for the bus… My feet thudding softly on the asphalt, feeling every shift of bone and muscle in the dynamic change that is a step forward…

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Being open and aware like this, even for a few minutes, is no small feat. Indeed, the discursive mind waits at the fringes, looking for a moment to jump in and comment–grasping at further analysis, and I have a particularly long-winded discursive mind! However, we mistake this analyzer for the depths of thought, for the mind itself, yet underneath its myriad words, there is the open, bare gratitude of being present. Before the reactions of dis/liking, commenting, and analyzing, there is just letting be. This ground is always open, waiting for us to slow down and embrace it with gratitude and wonder.


May this post help you find that open, bare gratitude.

Gassho!

The Waking Dream

We grasp
Unrelenting
This cannot go…”
“Please…”

Yet every moment
Comes & Goes
Seasons change
The world turns
Days are born & die
Everything passes

Like a dream,
The substantiality
–an illusion
With focus
This ephemeral emptiness
Shines

Figments of experience
Life = Dreaming dreaming dreaming
(That is: dream dreaming itself)
Ironically
There is nothing to grasp onto
Not even yourself
What security do you seek?
Certainty in the face of death?

Even those
Embracers of “change”
Declaring its greatness
Its wholesomeness
Move on only
To their next set of certainties
Another structure
To cling onto
A shelter in the storm?
There is no storm.
That fear
–just another part of the dream


One line above reminded me of this song:

pablo

2 Experiences of Compassion

I’ve recently been engaging with the Way of the Bodhisattva and have thus been practicing and studying prajna and karuna (wisdom and compassion). Compassion is an unfortunately misunderstood and watered down term in general usage/discussion–something I will return to another time. For now, I’d like to share two recent and seemingly connected experiences.


I have been attending a sangha (a Buddhist community) meeting run by a former instructor and personal inspiration of mine. While at the most recent session, I meditated, and as per usual, I felt the discomfort of the half-lotus sitting position, the coughs and wheezes of nearby practitioners, and the turbulent memories and thoughts about all the transition and pain of the last few months which still pulse in my life. Yet, I felt an intense warmth and utter gratitude for everything. I felt profound connection with all those in the room around me. I could sense the whirrings of their thoughts, their difficulty breathing, also their serenity and presence. I felt such deep joy and sadness all at once–too big and profound for words, filling up my chest to the point of nearly bursting. Such tenderness lies within the awakened heart.


The next day, I walked around my work building on a shared break with a co-worker. We make 2 laps around during our breaks. Near the end of the second lap, an injured bird lay before me on the sidewalk–directly in my path. I slowed and gently tried to pick it up so that I could put it in one of the bushes or tufts of grass nearby–hopefully protecting it from further injury and allowing it to heal. As I daintily cradled it in my hands, it fluttered to life, and I could feel its sheer terror at this situation–no longer able to move and flit about to safety and comfort. It flew just enough to come out of my hand and plop back onto the ground. I had to try again a few times, feeling the visceral fear each time I held the bird. Eventually, I carried him a few feet off the path, and his attempted escape landed him in a bunch of grass where he could rest. I walked away.

The last time I had such a compassionate moment of protecting a helpless bird, my life fell into complete chaos not too long after and that was likewise preceded by experiences of profound joy-gratitude-sadness (all mixed together). What comes this time? I know not–perhaps that synchronicity is only apparent. Either way, such beauty has seldom shone through as a moment of being awake in my life.

Karuna

In the service of all sentient beings,

Gassho.