I just can’t seem to let go of Letting Go! This Paramita, the third on the list, seems so crucial and so central to everything. I think about moving on to the next Paramita, ‘Wisdom’, but see how Letting Go is a at the heart of wisdom.
After all, letting go is what we do as we meditate — We let go of tension, let go of thoughts as they arise, let go of grasping and clinging. We make a strong distinction between letting go and pushing away. Very clearly letting go is a friendly act — an opening, a gentle holding in a spacious way and even delighting in whatever arises in that spaciousness before it drifts away.
As women, we often let go of what is nourishing us. Why? Do we feel we don’t deserve it? Are we so used to putting the needs of others first that our needs fall through the cracks? Many of us see meditation as a self-indulgent treat that we will get to when everything we do for others is taken care of. A little reward for good behavior.
But meditation is not a reward. It’s more in line with necessary basic activities like brushing our teeth. Definitely not something we want to put off. But if you haven’t meditated before you haven’t experienced the benefits yet, so how can you know? Longtime meditators sometimes forget how much they depend on their practice to bring balance, compassion and joy into their lives. One time when I was on a two-month trip abroad, I struggled to find time to meditate, and eventually gave up. I thought that maybe while traveling I was living so much in the moment, with everything new and interesting, that I didn’t need my practice. It was a real opportunity for me to see exactly how much my daily practice supports me. The longer I didn’t meditate, the crankier I got, the less creative I got, and the more out of whack I felt. It was a good lesson. I haven’t missed a day since then. I may have occasionally done shorter meditations, but I’ve never gone without it entirely.
If we let go of meditation, thinking we are doing it for others, who will thank us for that sacrifice? No one! Because when we sacrifice our own well being — our balance, our resilience, our creativity, our sense of fun and perspective, our joy — it is not at all generous to anyone. Giving up something that feels selfish because it is personal ‘down’ time, may feel generous at the time, but in fact it is quite the opposite. Maybe we’re striving to prove how ‘good’ we are and how deserving of love. We may think we’re earning points that will ultimately ensure fidelity forever. But is that the kind of love we want? Tit for tat? ‘You owe me, bigtime. Look what I did for you.’ That’s bound to backfire. No one likes to be in debt.
We may secretly want someone to know what we need and give it to us. I know years ago I kept working at a high stress job when I was very ill, hoping my husband would say ‘Honey, quit!’ But my husband saw me as a mature adult with the good sense to take care of myself. (How wrong can a man be!) Ultimately my doctor told me I had to stop working in order to heal. Only then was I able to do so. Looking back I wonder why I felt I had to wait for permission? (Looking back I also see that if I had carved time out in my day to meditate and time out in my week to meditate in a group, I probably would not have gotten ill in the first place as I could have better handled the stress of the work.)
We may not value what we simply claim for ourselves in the same way we value what a loved one or someone we respect gives us — whether it’s acknowledgement, permission or something else we yearn for. This may be a secret even from ourselves and takes some deep noticing to see how ingrained in our upbringing this kind of thinking can be. It’s why men are so often baffled by women.
— What do women want?
— If you have to ask, I can’t tell you!
Agh! The need to be known in such a deep way that one’s most hidden desires are anticipated is highly unreasonable, of course. And it causes misery all around.
As a teacher of a women’s meditation group, I have seen how difficult it can be for women to claim the time and space to meditate. Early on in my own practice, it took a lot of gumption to tell my husband to close the bedroom door behind him when he got up in the morning and don’t come back in until it was open. Early mornings are my time for meditation and writing. When I did make my request, he was happy to accommodate me. It was not a problem. It was not selfish. He loves me. He doesn’t need me to be at his beck and call every moment. That is not the foundation of our 47 year relationship! Mutual support, shared core values, physical attraction, respect, humor and wanting the best for each other — that’s what keeps us together.
Virginia Woolf’s famous encouragement for women to have a room of their own has resonated for many women. The current trend has taken it to another level: the She Shed! Beautiful outbuildings, garden dwellings, just the right size to hold one woman and an occasional invited guest. Whether it’s set up as a studio, a meditation spot or a nest to read and daydream, it is a claimed space, away from the ongoing uproar of family life and the questions of ‘What’s for dinner?’ or ‘Where’s my baseball bat?’ Even when the main living space no longer holds chaos and clamor, it still holds distracting technology, habituated patterns and a sense of demand to be maintained. Claiming some personal space within it is wise, but a she shed! Oh my! Now we’re talking.
Carving out a regular time in the day to meditate and in the week to attend a meditation group means claiming space on the calendar and making it a priority. If other things are being scheduled, a woman may have difficulty claiming that space. If the receptionist at the doctor’s office suggests an appointment time, unless it’s somehing urgent, we don’t have to take the first one offered if it conflicts with our commitment to practice! We can protect that precious dedicated time instead of making it a default thing we do when nothing else demands our attention. If a mate has scheduled something, expecting us to be available, it is surprisingly difficult for many women to say ‘that time doesn’t work for me.’ This can be true in any personal or professional relationship that takes priority over taking care of ourselves. Men generally assume that we, like they, will speak up for ourselves and claim what we need.
If we have the inner message that our time for meditation is a treat, and selfish at that, then we are ready to sacrifice it at the least provocation because we weren’t sure we ‘deserved it’ in the first place. It’s only when we begin to see that our regular practice of meditation benefits not just ourselves but all those around us that we gain the strength to claim the time we need to practice, to attend classes and be with our supportive sangha.
When we give ourselves what we need through the daily practice of meditation, especially with the addition of metta practice, accessing infinite loving kindness, we find a source of non-depletable energy that inspires us to collaboratively and lightly create joy in the giving.
So you can see that we want to be discerning and wise in what we choose to let go of. Let go of things that deplete you, drain you, or leave you feeling lost and befuddled. Hold in a loving embrace all that nourishes and inspires you. Do this and you’ll fall in love with life, as well as your family and friends, all over again.