“If ultimately you’re going to develop the perception of not-self, why spend time developing a perception of self? The short answer is that the path is a skill, and, as with many other skills, there are many different stages in mastering it. Sometimes you have to do one thing at one stage, and turn around and erase it at another. It’s like making a chair. At one stage you have to mark the wood with a pencil so that you can cut it properly, but when you’re ready to apply the final finish, you have to sand the pencil marks away.” Selves & Not Self, p. 21, Thanissaro Bhikkhu
This is the best description of what a self is all about I have seen. We are all told we have to develop certain social skills and self-esteem. Religions talk about surrendering ourselves to the process or God or whatever, but how can you surrender something you never developed in the first place? Then Buddhism comes along and says, “What self? No self actually exists.”
Thanissaro explains it in such a Buddhist way: it’s all about being skillful and doing what needs to be done appropriately at each stage. After you cross the river, you don’t then strap the canoe to your back and carry it around.
Do we need self-esteem? Definitely, at certain developmental stages and in specific situations. We need to be functional in the larger world, not crippled by shame, rage, or whatever.
“I follow four dictates: face it, accept it, deal with it, then let it go.” ~Sheng Yen
“Let go or be dragged.” ― Zen Proverb
It sounds like a recipe for maturity: don’t pretend things are different than they are, intentionally decide what you can do in response, do it consciously, and release the result.
I’ve been the person getting dragged, haven’t you? If you don’t let it go, whatever it is, it remains in control of you and your future.
I have brothers that have not always been good, law-abiding citizens. One of the first decisions I made as an adult was that, wherever I lived, no criminal activity would occur in my residence or transportation. I still have not had my brothers over. Wherever they go, they feel they have the right to drink or do drugs. Not in my place. Take your beer and pot elsewhere because they are not welcome here. My husband is in AA and we don’t need it around.
If I was still in denial, like many of my family members still are, I would be holding on to the hope they would quit or the idea that things aren’t really that bad. I doubt I would have my education because education is a huge threat to denial.
Sometimes, people hold onto their illusions and, if you want a relationship with them, you are expected to share those illusions. If you let go of the illusion, the relationship is gone as well or extremely strained at the very least. I am no longer willing to be dragged around by other people’s illusions.
I am at a point in my life where I want to complete transactions. I don’t want anything lingering around me, unfinished. I want my dealings to be clean.
“Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you—all of the expectations, all of the beliefs—and becoming who you are.” Rachel Naomi Remen, MD
Absolutely every form of suffering I can think of in my life has come from hanging onto something I ultimately was forced to let go of. People’s approval, straight As, church, lying friends, toxic jobs, and everything else that comes to mind, all of the pain has come from refusing to let go. Holding onto those dreams, childhood needs, and non-reciprocal relationships has almost killed me.
People will extol the virtues of holding on, regardless of the real-life consequences, even martyrdom. There is no inherent virtue in martyrdom. Martyrdom is the ultimate in winning the battle and losing the war. Look at the lives of the people “holding on” to whatever it may be (a dead relationship or church, an ideology, adolescent hopes and dreams, whatever): stuck in the past, unable to move forward (or maybe at all), imprisoned by their own hand.
People want my participation so they can point to me and say, “See! Cindy does it, too.” My approval-seeking actions have been used way too often to justify other people’s submission to oppressive systems.
I think it was Michelangelo who said that he created David by removing everything that wasn’t David. It is time to start chipping away.
Yesterday, I was emotionally whipped because of finally getting the cancer-free declaration. I was more worried than even I realized.
Today, I woke up and felt amazingly better. I think it’s because I can start making plans like a normal human being. I was forced to put so much of my life on hold. Now I feel like something emotional is out of the way for me. I suddenly have a feeling of greater freedom and am not sure why. The externals of my life have not changed at all.
Everything is internal before it becomes external. I have made emotional room within myself. I have no idea what will fill it, but I will be careful in what I allow. Space/emptiness is beautiful.
“Between these two poles of the teaching — the flawed and knotted personality that we bring with us as raw material into the training, and the fully liberated personality that emerges in the end — there lies a gradual process of self-transformation governed by highly specific guidelines. This transformation is effected by the twin aspects of the path: abandoning(pahana), the removal from the mind of all that is harmful and unwholesome, and development (bhavana), the cultivation of qualities that are wholesome, pure and purifying.
What distinguishes the Buddha’s program for self-transformation from the multitude of other systems proposing a similar end is the contribution made by another principle with which it is invariably conjoined. This is the principle of self-transcendence, the endeavor to relinquish all attempts to establish a sense of solid personal identity.” Self-transformation, by Bhikkhu Bodhi
This quote is interesting because it shows the difference between Buddhism and all other religions and self-improvements: the ultimate goal isn’t self-improvement so you can be a better whatever-it-is-you-think-you-are. There is no point abandoning unskillful behavior just to become identified with something else. Even if you have a skill no one else on earth possesses, making an identity out of it will only lead to further suffering.
There is no point going to point of purification only to defile oneself with ego pursuits. If one can use a skill without getting a big head out of it, fine.
Christianity says, “Pride goeth before a fall.” Same concept.
“But really there isn’t a place in life where nothing happens, and there isn’t a place in life where the beauty and power of the great background doesn’t come through like light, a fountain of light pouring through everything, through your own heart and through everything you see and hear and touch.” Count the Stars In The Sky, John Tarrant
Something is always happening. It’s just rough when you are waiting for something major, like the news of whether the cancer has come back or not. I feel like everything in my life is paused until I know something for certain. But that doesn’t mean that absolutely nothing is occurring now.
Will there ever be a point when my life is not in a radical state of flux? I’d probably be bored if that ever happened. But it sure would be nice, just briefly.
“When we are caught within our attachments, our fantasies seem to be most interesting. But the more we let go and face the real truth, the less interesting they are. Then, what moves forward into our view is the profoundly interesting matter of life—real life.” The Gift of Life, Dharma Discourse by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei, Book of Serenity, Case 73 http://dharma.net/mountainrecord/archive/28-3/the-gift-of-life/
I’ve often tried unsuccessfully to let go of something. What generally happens is that, when I resist letting go, life rips the thing out of my hand by force. It is not pleasant.
The fantasy and attachment are suddenly gone and I am left with…reality. Reality does not always meet my needs, but fantasy never does. Something imaginary can never meet real needs.
Letting go of church, people, old dreams, and youth is hard. What do I get in return? Space, freedom, wisdom. Not a bad deal.