Friday, February 23, 2018

An inquiry into "letting go"

In the contemporary self-help world, we are often admonished to “let go” of difficult states of mind that we do not like, those that emerge out of the darkness and dwell in the underworld, and are not deemed valid by a more solar/ transcendent spirituality. Anger is bad, confusion is a sign we’ve failed, fear is fantasized as some “opposite” of love, and so forth. As a result, these only get pushed further into the shadow where they will eventually come out, often in ways that further suffering for ourselves and others.

As with all teachings and medicines, there is wisdom in letting go, however as always the invitation is into subtlety and into depth, not into bite-sized fast-food spiritual clichés. In my clinical work I have seen how the project of "letting go" for many can be yet another manifestation of unconscious self-aggression and the abandonment of parts of ourselves that were not acceptable in our families of origin. In this sense, the demand that we let them go is often an enactment of the way our emotional world was related to at an earlier time: “Just get over it. Snap out of it. Stop crying. We’ve given you everything, stop being so sad. Don’t you dare get angry with me.” Another way that we end up attacking our own vulnerability, in ways that are remarkably similar to the way it was met when we were younger.

From this perspective, anger does not need to be "let go of," nor do jealousy, shame, sadness, despair, fear, or a sense of unworthiness. The invitation is to step off the battlefield and into curiosity, relationship, kindness, and meaning. We are never going to find the intimacy, connection, and freedom we are longing for as long as we are subtly at war with parts of ourselves, deeming them invalid and splitting off from the thoughts, feelings, and impulses that the world has said are not okay, including the spiritual world which is oriented in its own conditioning. But only by providing a home and a sanctuary where the entire inner ecology of what we are can be held, contained, and its rightful place can be found.

These parts of ourselves need not be “let go” but will “let go” of us when their function is no longer needed, when we no longer require the protection they have provided, and when we have fully turned toward them, listened to their meaning and called off the war. When we have allowed them to share their essence. When we have allowed their wisdom nature to come through the symptom and for its messages to be decoded. When the figures of the inner landscape have been met, tended to with soul, and touched with presence.

In the Dzogchen tradition, it is said that the nature of all experience is to "self-liberate" in open, compassionate awareness. It does not require our efforts to transform it, including “letting it go” in order to experience the freedom and aliveness that is the birthright of all beings. We do not need to get rid, of shift, or even heal these difficult states, or convert them into their opposites. But to hold these parts and provide them with space, as we begin to discover that they are not enemies to do battle with, but as allies come to remind us of how vast we truly are.

The next two events are a five-day retreat, The Place the Light Enters, with Jeff Foster, April 4-9 at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, CO

The Path is Everywhere: A Weekend Intensive, June 15-18 at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, CO