“Do your work, then step back-
the only path to serenity.”
As any Buddhist (or thinking human) worth his/her salt knows, we all lose way too much of our precious life energy in grasping and aversion. In: “more of this, but please, no more of that”. Trying to control how everything is, together with wishing that our current situation was not happening to us, is both exhausting, and impossible – a certain path to a life of disappointment.
By recognizing our need (then doing the personal work) to end this futile struggle, we can relax into a life of joy and gratitude. This definitely does not mean copping out on our responsibilities, moderating our personal goals, or stopping doing our very best work. What this does mean is not attaching to the results of our efforts. Life teaches us that in the end, we have to let go of everything, so it is really important to practice letting go of the way things “need to be”.
This is especially important in our relationships. Healthy enduring relationships are built on a foundation of loving support, of letting go, and not on a model of control.
When I met “James”, he was suffering greatly. Although still under the same roof with his wife and three teenagers, his marriage of over 25 years was effectively over. They had tried everything – couples counseling, family counseling, marriage counseling – but the mutual respect and affection was gone. His youngsters were angry and scared, his wife by words and actions was clear that she wanted to end their marriage, their home was a battleground. Despite all this, James was resisting ending their marriage.
On top of all this, his company, which had hired him and moved him to the Bay Area, fired him; and so he was in a new place, without resources, and money was now a problem too.
Working with James, after many hours of deep listening and support, he agreed to take a program which included a number of self observation exercises designed to enable him to compassionately, yet honestly, scrutinize his actions and intentions – past and present.
Soon, he was able to begin to let go of his own anger, fear and denial, to accept his situation completely, and his share of the responsibility for its creation. This last part was the key to begin making healthy choices for himself, his wife, and his kids, thus setting everyone free and opening the door to the possibility of growth and a happy life for his family and himself.
James now lives in New York, enjoying his new job, and happily remarried to a woman who respects and adores him.
And, because he has stopped trying to either to control their behavior, or win their favor – but instead, in every single instance of contact with them – asks himself “what is the right thing to do here?”, and then does that, he has rebuilt his relationship with two of the three.
When he comes back here to visit all three, we usually meet somewhere for a breakfast or a lunch and an update. He says his ex-wife has moved on, is happy, and he’s happy for her too.
James worked very, very hard and showed great courage. I am a huge fan.
“We need, in loving, to learn only this: letting each other go.
For holding on comes easily, we do not need to learn it.
To close, and on this very point, I’d like to share a lovely story from Homer’s Odyssey, which illustrates this perfectly:
In one of Odysseus’ adventures, he is shipwrecked and washed up on the shore in the kingdom of the Phaeacians. He’s found on the beach, on death’s door, by the princess Nausicaa, the king’s daughter.
She rescues him, and sees to his healing, during which time she falls deeply in love with him. Odysseus meanwhile, (hires a life coach, and by means of some self observation exercises – just kidding) searches deeply and honestly into his feelings, and realizes that what he feels for Nausicaa is profound gratitude, and affection, but not love.
Meanwhile, (back at the ranch in Greece), his wife Penelope, being told that Odysseus is dead, is being badgered to remarry. She’s stalling, promising to do so as soon as she finishes knitting a garment which she knits by day, and unravels at night.
So, Odysseus, still in love with Penelope, explains his feelings to Nausicaa and asks for her help to return to his wife. Nausicaa, her heart breaking, nevertheless intervenes with her father, the king, to outfit Odysseus with ships and supplies so he can leave her. She not only lets him go, she helps him go.
WOW!! This is the ultimate manifestation of truly loving behavior, setting your beloved free, putting your beloved’s happiness above your own. Who among us can love that much?
Flash forward 3000 years or so. Nietzsche wrote about this, he said: “We should part from our lives as Odyssues left Nausicaa – in gratitude and blessing them, but not in love with them.”
I believe that all these positive, noble attributes are alive in every one of us. Underneath all of our fears and demons built up over a lifetime, at our core, we are – happy. My coaching practice is dedicated to supporting you in your beautiful work of rediscovery – to “Become Who You Are.”
Please be kind to yourself,