Letting Go

Approaching the later years of life, I realise more and more that life is all about letting go. We spend the first part of life building up an ego, a bank of experiences, attitudes, habits, patterns of behaviour, traumas, relationships, material things. Over the second half of life, essentially we have to let go of our attachment to all of these, as we go through the process of preparing for our approaching death. If we do not, the ego dies with the sudden traumatic loss of all those attachments – surely the reason why death is so feared by many.

Why do I come up with this theme at this point in time? Because I have been touched by the experiences of those going through this very process, suffering illness, problems with memory, suffering from attachment to past relationships, suffering from anger, suffering from stress ‘because of’ the behaviour of others…

Of course, Letting Go is not just about dying, it’s about living life in the present, here and now, unencumbered by the past. This is the essence of life.

A little bit of web research came up with the following useful links.

In this post, Paula Stephens gives a Buddhist perspective on Letting Go – for this is an essential Buddhist teaching. Letting go of attachments is a necessary precursor to Presence – living in the present moment.

“Don’t let the darkness from your past block the light of joy in your present. What happened is done. Stop giving time to things which no longer exist, when there is so much joy to be found here and now.” ~Karen Salmansohn

Jack Kornfeld points out that the question of Letting Go is at the heart of spiritual practice, and compassion, forgiveness, grace are its handmaidens:

“These simple questions go to the very center of spiritual life. When we consider loving well and living fully, we can see the ways our attachments and fears have limited us, and we can see the many opportunities for our hearts to open. Have we let ourselves love the people around us, our family, our community, the earth upon which we live? And, did we also learn to let go? Did we learn to live through the changes of life with grace, wisdom, and compassion? Have we learned to forgive and live from the spirit of the heart instead of the spirit of judgment?”

I particularly like this post by LonerWolf on 42 Powerful Ways of Letting Go – full of examples and techniques for letting go. You will probably find your own bugbears within this list; we each have our own cross to bear. The material is grouped under the following headings, so something there is probably relevant for any reader:

  • letting go of anger,
  • letting go of anxiety and stress,
  • letting go of toxic relationships,
  • letting go of frustration and impatience,
  • letting go of depression and grief.

This post also gives sixty quotes related to Letting Go. Here are a couple with particular meaning for me.

“In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.” – Deepak Chopra

“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” – Steve Maraboli

Letting Go – essential for the good life and for the good death.

Acceptance

Here’s the concluding part of another insightful poem from Steve Taylor.

Life can be frustrating and full of obstacles
with desires for a different life constantly disturbing your mind
or life can be fulfilling, full of opportunities
with a constant flow of gratitude for the gifts you have

and the only difference between them is acceptance.

Old age may be a process of decay
that withers your body and mind
and poisons you with bitterness
as you yearn for the freshness of youth
Or old age may be a process of liberation
that enriches you with wisdom
and makes you more present as the future recedes
and lightens your soul as you let go of attachments.

And the only difference between them is acceptance.

Death may be a cold, black emptiness
that mercilessly devours your ego
and makes everything you own seem valueless
and everything you’ve achieved seem meaningless
Or death may be a perfect culmination
a soft twilight at the end of a long summer’s day
when you’re filled with heavy tiredness and ready to sleep
and know that you will wake up again to a bright new dawn.

And the only difference between them is acceptance.

Immortality

I happened to be reading Yuval Noah Harari’s book Homo Deus and around the same time watching Satish Kumar’s interviews Being an Earth PilgrimHarari was speaking of the obsession of certain Silicon Valley magnates with the achievement of immortality, whereas Kumar was describing how both his mother and the activist poet Vinoba Banave recognised when their life was coming to a natural end and accelerated this process by self starvation.

The difference appears to be in the attitude to death. Kumar sees this as the natural culmination of the process of a life; the magnate sees it as an undesirable end to be avoided.

Surely the desire for immortality is a gross illusion of the psychological ego. The process of a life requires a growth of the person to a level at which the ego and it’s selfish concerns are transcended. Here lies the death of the ego that it was so fearful of avoiding, such that it desired immortality. Whether achieving this state or not, the person ultimately dies – Kumar would say this is to be reincarnated and take the process further.

There is no case in nature, out greatest teacher, of a life or process that is without end, or death. Life indeed demonstrates as a set of processes that are born, manifest, grow, flourish and ultimately die.

The search for immortality is a great vanity and illusion of the hubris of the psychological ego.

Of course, this is not to suggest that there is not value in research aiming to increase the typical human lifespan, which may well serve some purpose of which we are not yet even aware.

The Meaning of Aging

What is the meaning of getting old? Is it something like this:

“the challenge of growing old is not to conquer aging but to enter a natural, meaningful, and profoundly transforming process”?

three_secrets_of_agingIf you think it is, then you will probably like John C. Robinson’s book The Three Secrets of Aging. 

It is good to think that aging can be a meaningful process that can positively contribute to society, rather than just a desperate hanging on in the face of increasing tribulations and eventual infirmity. Again, Robinson gives a positive vision, akin to playing a part in a New Renaissance:

“…the aging experience described here can eventually become the path to a collective transformation and the discovery of a new world.”

Part 1 tells the story of the authors own coming into the aging process and becoming aware that it is not about more ‘business as usual’ with the preoccupations of earlier years, but more about an emptying of consciousness, a spiritual transformation to awareness of who we really are – a sort of modern form of enlightenment, away from the everyday concerns of the ego and its thinking monkey mind. It is the ego and the personal identity that actually keeps us away from our inner core. From this perspective, aging is a process of transformation of consciousness, and the individual is contributing to a collective process of transformation.

Part 2 offers three ‘secrets of aging’. The result of aging is seen as the creation of Elders, wise people who have always been valued by native peoples. The work involves both psychological and spiritual work, transforming loss and change, away from the life we knew with its materialistic concerns, into meaning, wisdom and renewal. Squarely facing our own personal death is a key task of aging, catalysing our initiation. We can finally reach a state of pure consciousness, untroubled by the previous interminable concerns of the ego mind. The author refers to the Cosmic Consciousness promoted by Richard Bucke over 100 years ago.

Eventually, yes, the body will in some way break down, and it will eventually be time to pass on into the Mystery. But that too is all right, a natural part of the process, no longer resisted by the ego.

In part 3 the author offers ‘A Spiritual Blueprint for the Enlightened Elder in the Twenty-First Century’. He highlights the need, in that the effects of our separation from nature are becoming increasingly apparent – the technological ego-maniac period is increasingly running into the buffers.

“Coming to our senses means experiencing the Earth directly as a vast, intelligent, living and divine being everywhere expressed in a marvelous diversity of forms and processes.”

The Master must regain control from His Emissary, in the terms of Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and his Emissary, reviewed elsewhere.

There is much food for thought in this book. For me, John C. Robinson offers an inspiring vision for the process of aging, and its relevance as part of our collective experience.

The bottom line is if you like the overall thesis you are likely to benefit from reading it.