Nothing to Cling To

  1. Nothing to Cling To
  2. Clinging to People
  3. Unstuffing from Stuff
  4. The handy dandy 5 step plan to cure what ails you
  5. Real Relating
  6. No-Body Home
  7. Undoing Trauma’s Knots
  8. Non-Habitual Living and Being
  9. Healing the Mind — Body Split
  10. Ideological Foolishness
A New Series—On Clinging


Today begins a new series. I almost decided that I’d turn it into a new book, and then thought, “Hey! You’ve got three books in various stages of development!” So, I then thought I could write this one as an online book, aka a series.

I think my motivation has been the last month or so, as I’ve noted the deteriorating political situation in most of the Middle East, and in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and even in the cliché laden US primaries. Not to sit up here in Canada and preach, as we’ve got our own dramas.

The other thing was the market fluctuations. I got to thinking about how the world seems to be shifting a bit, or a lot, and how interesting the times could be, for folk not well grounded in themselves.

I suspect that might include a pile of people, as depth is not a prized characteristic. Clinging, on the other hand, is. Here, in no particular order are 10 things we cling to:

1- self-definition
2- people
3- “stuff”—money, possessions, titles, jobs
4- lists of right and wrong
5- relationships
6- body rules and illnesses
7- traumas
8- habits
9- emotions
10- ideologies

Our Self-definition


One of the hardest things to believe is that we are not as we define ourselves (and are not as others define us…) It’s difficult because, since we were small, big people have been telling us precisely this. “You are Susie! Those are your fingers! You are a good girl!” Pretty soon, we moved from a blank slate, to “Susie, the 10 fingered good girl.” This becomes us.

Then, people told us what to believe. “This is what good little Suzie worships. This is what she rules she follows. This is how the world is. This is what she should expect.”

Susie grows up, becomes a person in her own right, and spits back what she was taught to say, think and do.

And pretty much universally, typically when something goes wrong, Susie begins to wonder why she doesn’t feel quite right.

  • She wonders about the queasy feeling in her stomach.
  • She wonders about her empty heart.
  • Her body starts betraying her —aches and pains, and sadnesses and grief, and also feelings ‘no good girl should have.’

photo by an iconoclast

So, what does Susie do? If she is normal, she pulls her ‘given to her’ identity around her like a cloak, and turns the cloak into a solid wall of fear-based protection, and sits down in the middle of herself. And she waits for rescue.

If we have grown up in the west, the Puritans have gotten into this mix, and most also believe that we are born sinful, need rescue, cannot change, and are doomed to a fiery fate, if we don’t confess the party line.

We’ve been encouraged to be emotionless and rigid in our beliefs.

Loosening the self definition

We begin to disentangle from this game through what I think of as re-identification. In my book, This Endless Moment I called this process deconstruction-reconstruction. This is the path taken by precious few, and precious indeed are they.

Step 1—say after me—“My identity, my ego, is a construction. It was given to me by my parents and tribe. As such, it is not real.”

Good start!

Step 2—say after me—“My ego, my identity, is a convenience. It allows me to get a library card, a driver’s license, and to respond when called to dinner.”


As such, an identity is a good thing. It’s a label, like the label on a can of peas.

This is actually a good illustration of the concept.

Mostly, having a label that you answer to, being able to work in the world, and behaving yourself is how to deal with the world. It’s being in, but not of the world, to quote the Apostle Paul.

The problem comes when you forget that your identity is simply a convenient label.

Step 3—say after me—“I am that which is beneath all labels. I am that which observes, and enacts, my true being.
My true Self is free from definition. When I act from my true self, I am confident, comfortable in my own skin, flexible, and at peace.”

Darbella and I just got back from our second trip to the Zen Center we are attending. I really like the leader, who often sets the scene through yoga, Qi Gong, and chanting, before getting into Zazen—“just sitting.”

Dar and I have been doing Qi Gong (and Tai Chi) for a couple of decades now, and yoga seriously for 2.25 years. So, we can do a lot of the stuff. Sunim, the leader, even asked Dar to lead the next Qi Gong session—she laughed, blushed, and said, “Not next time, maybe later.”

She’s so cute!

horse stance

I noticed that, as we were doing Qi Gong and yoga, I was looking at the others there, and comparing my flexibility with theirs. My little judgmental voice did what it always does. It started judging. This is an ego based thing we all do. Now in the past, I would have judged my judging, and tried to stop myself.

What I have learned, and it is a little thing that is also profound, is to just let my judgments run in the background, and to detach from the voice. I watch with my Self, as my ego self plays labeling games. As I do this, the voice gets quieter and quieter. And then I can do what I do, and do what I can do, as I sit.

Step 4—it’s all about letting go of clinging, and we let go not through brute force, but through acceptance and detached observation.

  • Acceptance—I (and you!) are going to judge until we die. We are going to identify with our ego selves until we die. “What does he think of me? How do I look? Am I good enough? I’m better than him, at least…” It’s all crap and all meaningless, but do it we will.
    Fighting with ourselves and blaming ourselves and trying to stop is not going to help. Acceptance is total or it is nothing. I judge, and I have compassion. I hate and I love. I am gentle, and I am harsh. I am attracted, repelled, and bored. And all of it is ‘so.’ Not good, not bad. It just “is.”
  • Detachment is not the same as not caring. If you picture your fingers dug into something—clinging—detachment is like releasing your grip and stepping back. Detachment is allowing what is to simply be there.

I guess you could say that detachment is non-judgment, which is ironic, as the time we need the most non-judgement is when we catch ourselves judging.

Step 5—hold your identity lightly.

Meditation is such a great thing. If you stick with it, you find that you can detach from your busy mind, while accepting that busy mind is our nature. It’s like taking 10 steps back from a screaming kid. Still screaming, but not as loudly. Your breath slows, the tightness eases, and there you are.

  • Notice, each and every time that your ego self tries to tell you that you are this and not that.
  • Notice every time it tries to get you to anger yourself over some perceived slight, or to compare yourself to others, either favorably (snoot in air) or unfavorably (eyes downcast, feet shuffling.)

See yourself doing it, have a breath, and detach.

Say after me—“This is me playing with my ego self, pretending to be. I see me doing this, and with detached amusement, I bring myself back to simply being. I notice, I breathe, and I let myself go.”

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

4 thoughts on “Nothing to Cling To”

  1. Thanks, Wayne, for the label on the can analogy.

    This is a query — do you still come up to Port Elgin at all? I know, not in winter.…

    I’d like to do some of the tension relaxation you demonstrated to me, 4 years ago.

  2. I love the “label on a can” description of identity.

    Recently, I’ve felt the universe smashing more of my notions of my identity. I like that I notice it happening. I like that I — sometimes — stay with what’s inside the can, rather than getting agitated and waving my “label” about wildly.

    I have some decisions to make today that will affect my immediate future. Reading your article just now will help me stay with what feels right to my heart and spirit, rather than getting balled up in what’s expected or what looks best to others. I will stay true to the contents of my can, and not care so much about keeping the label clean and shiny. After all, it’s the food inside the can that nourishes us, while the label ends up in the trash or recycling.

    Thanks for your words, and for the image.


    • Hey, Beth,
      Nice hearing from you!
      There’s something scary and freeing about making decisions based upon one’s Self, as opposed to trying to figure out the ‘right thing to do,’ as there is no such thing. Trusting you’ll listen to the inner urge, and step boldly into the next moment.
      Warmly, Wayne


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