The Zen of Letting Go
So, last week I began a new series of articles on The Zen of Letting Go, with side references to bodywork, breathwork, and energy (especially sexual energy) work. I keep finding myself drawn to Rodney Smith’s “Stepping Out of Self-deception” as a great framework.
I know I’m repeating myself, but I want to say something about sunyata, or as we are defining it, “as-it-is-ness.”
The “difficulty” does not lie with how things are. The issue is always what our mind does with what is thinks is going on. There is the bare thing, the pure experience, and then there is the story our mind concocts.
The odd part of being human is how much credence we give to the stories we tell. We get caught up in the stories, which “coincidentally” reinforce what we already believe. For example, I once had a client who thought her husband was a terrible father. She endlessly regaled me with stories of his indifference, callousness, and inattention. One session, she said, “Do you know what he did this time? He spent 3 hours with the kids, carving jack-o-lanterns!” I said, Hmm. Seems to fly in the face of the typical “bad dad” story…” She looked at me oddly, and said, “That’s not the point. No one takes 3 hours doing something I could have done in 45 minutes! I don’t understand how he could be so inconsiderate!”
Methinks he was damned if he did… And if you think you don’t do this (see David Sheedy’s article, below) not so fast, Kowalsky!
Here’s the kicker. Our job is NOT to stop vetting each experience through the filter of “my story-of-me.” It’s to notice, laugh, and not “enact” the story.
To quote Rodney Smith,
“As long as the mind remains in charge of the spiritual journey it will endlessly complicate and prolong the process. It works on behalf of its own ideology, not toward the true intention of the heart. The baton passes from the mind to the heart once we are sincere enough to admit our old ways are no longer working, control is slipping through our fingers, and we have no fallback strategies. We do not have to conform our life to some spiritual ideal, we just have to admit our efforts are feeling and move on.” p169
From a bodywork perspective, one of the best moments is when the client starts to vibrate. This can happen from something as simple as breathwork, and has the best potential to happen as blocks are released and the the body finally relaxes. Free-flowing energy might be thought of as the body’s natural state. Right at that point, if the mind chooses to stay disengaged and observant, the energy will flow, and the body will shake.
What typically happens is that there is a new sensation, a strange, chargy, and often pleasant sensation, and the mind kicks in with a “wait a minute!” story. Muscles re-tighten, or the mouth starts moving.
Most people are so disturbed by their own energy, or the stories they have going on regarding charge, sensuality, sexuality (all the same thing) that just lying there, bathed in the experience, is way, way too freaky. So I end up backing up a bit, inviting participation, and encouraging an internal process of letting go of the stories in favour of bare awareness. This won’t happen trough the client trying to force it. As I said last week, it’s mostly about “falling back into it.”
Rodney Smith again:
“The four R’s of Wise Effort are the perfect instruments for this objective. They are relax, release, relinquish, and rejoin. None of these words holds any tension or stress, nor builds upon the “story-of-me.” “Page 99
Relaxation is not the stuff we do while on holiday, although that could be relaxing. Mostly, we try to relax by going semiconscious. We are looking for a relaxed state of full awareness.
Full awareness is being aware of all six (Buddhist) senses: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling, and mind. The entire body is open—the tightness melts, the energy flows, the vibration begins. And the mind absorbs the experience and adds it to its data-base. This is the essence of mind, as opposed to “adding to the story of me.” This version of mind states it’s experience and asks questions, but skips the “right/wrong, good/bad” judgements. Or as one client put it, “That used to feel weird, and now it feels… well… normal.”
Relaxation comes from breathing. We tend to hold our breath when we stress ourselves, and then we tighten up muscles and shut down emotionally. If we return to the breath, and even visualize the flow of energy in the body, the tension releases, and the absence of tension is relaxation.
Two exercises are deep belly breathing, and Heart — Belly breathing.
Deep belly breathing is just what it sounds like. Assume this breathwork posture,
and then focus on the energy centre known as the Lower Dan Tian, located 2 inches below the navel, and two inches in. Visualize a vessel or bag, or bowl. This is the home of Jing (or ching) Qi, the Qi of sexuality, ancestry, and power. Breathe in fully, so as to raise the lower belly. It helps to place your hand over the spot, and to focus your awareness on the internal location.
Once you feel some warmth and fullness in the Lower Dan Tian, take your unoccupied hand and place it over your heart (the Middle Dan Tian — home of Qi or heart energy.)
As you breathe, modulate your breath so that both hands rise and fall equally.
Now, visualize the energy flowing down the front of your body, from Heart to Belly. Interestingly, this is “thought” to be difficult by the Western mind, as Heart and sex are often disconnected. Holding these two points strengthens both.
If you just went off and did the exercises, good for you! That would be “having an experience,” as opposed to thinking about one!
If you went up into your head and started a, “What is Wayne talking about this stuff for?” discussion with yourself, that would be what Rodney Smith is talking about in the first quote, above.
Our “sense-of-me” is powered by stories, and has a great fear of “out there.” The world, to our “sense-of-me,” is a scary place, and has to be dominated or run from. (Fight / flight response.) The very last thing the “sense-of-me” wants to do is let go—of control. Of course, the joke is that we control precious little outside of our bodies, and get off on blaming ourselves for not doing a better job of controlling the uncontrollable.
Release is where relaxation leads. In bodywork, I actually see this transition. The body relaxes, the energy starts, and if the mind kicks into defensiveness, there is a shut down of vibration, and a worried look crosses the face. One of my clients gets a big crease between her eyebrows, as her story-telling clicks in. Once, just once, she got into feeling the energy move between acupuncture points, (likely how the meridians were discovered in the first place,) and there was no crease–just a look of wonder.
So, how do you do this? Release happens first in the mind. The opposite of release, Rodney Smith writes, is control, and the cure for control is faith. Faith that there is nothing, in this moment, to resist. No story to tell. No drama to create. There is the sensory data, and the mindful awareness of both the sensation and the arising resistance.
Breathe. Notice and smile. Relax your forehead (interestingly, home of the Upper Dan Tian — it’s right at the Third Eye.) perhaps massaging that point. Even out the folds of skin, and breathe through the doubt and questioning and fear. This spot is the home of Shen Qi (which is the Qi of spirit.) Spirits fly free, and breath drives Qi.
Owning our essential powerlessness to control life is key to our work. In Zazen, we sit to sit, and nothing miraculous happens. We feel, we think, we get bored, hungry, confused. If we release into the mystery, then we can sit peacefully, right there, in the midst of it all.
Next week, well look at the final 2 R’s : relinquish and rejoin.
Back in the days of our e‑zine, “Into the Centre,” David Sheedy, a friend and guy I laugh with and at, used to contribute amazingly timely and astute articles. (Here’s the archive.) Then, as if he had better things to do, he stopped writing for us. (As did Darbella and Debashis, but hey… wait! Maybe it’s me. .….. Nah.…)
Imagine my surprise when, last week, David wrote, and in amazingly short order, sent me an article. I laughed as I read, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too.
Kowalsky ~~ by David Sheedy
Good day; was reading the bearded one this morning, and realized that a little pontification that I did with my wife this morning (“Hi Terri!”) lent itself to a contribution in Wayne’s world. I’ve contributed before, of course (If I know Wayne, he’ll put links to it), and I don’t know if and how this links to those thematically, let alone tonally. But I’ll give it a shot.
I’ve been thinking about and noticing the baseline assumptions people carry around and project on others higgledy-piggledy, like random movies cast upon unwilling screens. Where before I politely allowed such dramas to play out upon my particular personal canvas, I find myself less and less tolerant of such unpermissed (hmmm, my dictionary doesn’t know that word) boundary crossing.
There is an old joke about a drill sergeant who finds out a soldier named Kowalsky has had his mother pass away. In typically drill fashion he demands “All soldiers who still have a mother alive, take one step forward. NOT SO FAST, KOWALSKY!” That’s what I feel like saying when these things come up. Not sure what I mean? Let’s start with an easy one.
“Oh, deep down, on some level, you really DO believe in God”. Now, this is an oldie but a goodie. Implied in this is that a) we are speaking of a Christian/Judaic deity, and b) whatever deity, I must believe in one. It’s patronizing and condescending of course, but even more than that, it’s a projection. There is actually more proof/research/reasons that we NEED to believe in God, than there is proof of God him/her/itself. The assumption here is “I’m afraid of dying and want there to be something afterward, so you have to be there as well.” Look, I have no problem with you clinging to whatever gets you through those lonely moments of your looming mortality. Just don’t drag ME into the delusion. And so I say “NOT SO FAST KOWALSKY.”
Here’s a familiar (and familial) one: “It doesn’t matter how old they get, they are still always your children.” Said almost desperately by the helicopter parents of the ikid generation. These are the ones who keep their kid’s documents (SIN cards, birth certificates) in boxes at home, because their 26 year old might lose them; Who lecture their 31 year old on driving their new car too fast; and who cross their own boundaries in order to have any kind of relationship with their kids. Don’t get me wrong, I struggle with allowing my children to be who they are without interfering in their lives. But I do my damndest; and I don’t attach myself to what I think they should or should NOT be doing. They made it to 18 in good health; my work here is done. As Joanne Peterson used to say, ‘good enough parenting’. They are grown-ass women and men, and should be treated as such. That means leaving them the hell alone.
The addendum to that one might be “They are your parents/siblings/third cousins, and you’ll love them no matter what.” What? Look—my parents got ME to 18 with relatively little damage; thanks very much. I now owe them fealty (worse, adoration) for the rest of my life? Rubbish. I don’t expect them to love me unconditionally, anymore than I believe I am required to do the same with them. If they don’t like who I am, or how I’m treating them, they should bounce my ass the way they would do with anyone else in their lives. My parents are 3 provinces away, with no qualms from me. Yes, they will die some day, and yes, I’ll speak at their funerals (although, when I try and think of what I’d say at their eulogy I find myself unusually stumped for words). I enjoy the time I DO spend with them, and control it judiciously; as I imagine they do with me. But if your parents are interested in the opposite of what you are, believe fundamentally different than you do, why are you spending time with them?
“Relationship is about compromise.” Wanna know a secret? Compromise is where every party involves gets less than what they wanted. And a relationship is supposed to survive in those circumstances? I’ll tell you what happens with compromise. One party resents, the other doesn’t know, and soon that is leaking out all over the place. I say relationship is about understanding as much about what is going on with the other person as possible. That means practicing Radical Honesty (Wayne’ll probably link you to the book here), so that you know where each of you stand, WITHOUT either one of you having to move an iota.
One more, and it’s a complicated one. “Oh sure, that’s easy if you have _______”, but I have _________” The simplest example of this one I saw in a People Magazine where some celebrity had lost weight and gotten into shape. A person wrote in about their ‘lifelong struggle’ with their weight, and said how ‘easy it would be ‘ if only they could afford a personal trainer and a dietician like the star. Gimme a break; put down the potato chips and go for a walk. How much does THAT cost? I always marvel at this idea that there is some mysterious way to get what I want (in shape, over my anger, lose weight, find a mate) but that there are obstacles soooo insurmountable that I couldn’t POSSIBLY overcome them. Wayne went through this with me in my first marriage (no offense to Alison, who was doing nothing she need change). He’d happily show me tools, choices, processes, etc that would help me in the relationship, and I would patiently show him reasons, justifications, exceptions, and rationalizations as to why they couldn’t possibly work for me. Truth is? I ain’t that special. None of us are. If you want to do/be/change something, then start doing it. Hell, you don’t even need a library card anymore, just an internet connection. If, as Wayne has said to me, you need a mentor to get you started, find one. But don’t be that ‘help-seeking/help-rejecting’ person who keeps finding reasons why solutions don’t work for them.