Where there are no desires, all things are at peace. . .
This passage from the Tao te Ching has stuck with me for nearly 8 years now, but not without good discussion from friends and family members who believe we must have desires to propel us forward in our careers, our lives, our everything. They argue (quite well, I might add) that desire is simply a part of what makes us human–desire to love, to be loved, to give, to receive. It’s hard for me to refute any one of these arguments.
Perhaps the revision to this phrase, at least in my life, should be as follows:
Where there are no expectations, all things are at peace. . .
That’s more like it.
Letting go (i believe) begins with a cessation in expecting something in return for anything I might do, even when it is not directed toward any one individual. And when I do let go of those expectations, I genuinely find that all things in my life begin to settle down into a nice groove of peace deeply within, allowing me to resonate that peace more clearly to those around me.
Hugh Prather, author of many of my favorite books including Notes To Myself, wrote a book about 7 years ago called The Little Book of Letting Go, where he details “a revolutionary 30-day program to cleanse your mind, lift your spirit and replenish your soul,” according to the promo blurb on the front of the book. For years, I have picked up this book, toyed with reading the first chapter, and then left it lying on my desk to be eventually reshelved on the top shelf, a little to the right, behind my desk.
Needless to say, I’ve never really made it past day one on that that revolutionary 30-day plan. Another typical example of avoiding the truth about my need to harbor the past to protect my present and prevent my future.
So yesterday, I plucked it from its usual spot, dusted it off, and cracked the spine one more time. In this latest go ’round with Prather’s book, though, I picked up a pencil and started interacting with the text, something I teach my kids how to do on a near-daily basis at school.
Practice what you preach, right?
When we become preoccupied with what we want or don’t want from someone, or what we do or don’t approve of, we fail to see that person’s goodness, malice, gentleness, sadness, or anything else thatis present. This habitual reaction to other people and to everything else in life needlessly complicates our lives and blocks simple enjoyment and peace. . . .We can cover that person with whatever thoughts we wish, but that won’t get us a different individual.
As important as this is for the way we perceive others, it strikes me as being just as important for how we perceive ourselves.
Let me rephrase Prather’s words to personalize it:
When I become preoccupied with what I want or don’t want from myself, or what I do or don’t approve of I fail to see my own goodness, malice, gentleness, sadness, or anything else that is present. This habitual reaction to myself needlessly complicates my life and blocks simple enjoyment and peace. I can cover myself with whatever thoughts I wish, but that won’t get me a different me.
Letting go of those expectations has to begin with letting them go for myself. Prather has these “release” exercises throughout the book, and I found myself practicing one of them yesterday before reading the suggestion at the end of the first chapter. In “Release 1,” Prather encourages us to pick out one, two, or three individuals over the course of a single day and imagine what it is like to walk in their shoes. I did this while I was watching the news on tv. As a reporter interviewed a few people who had been affected by a tragedy that had happened in their neighborhood, I realized how important each person’s life really is, how complicated it is, how beautiful it is. Each one of us has our own moments of goodness, malice, gentleness, sadness. And placing an onion-skin filter of my own emotions over any other person’s life is not only unfair to that individual, it’s just another layer of protection against my own fight to let go of my own struggle to be my own person. Every time I turn those emotions toward others, I am simply using them to protect myself from living fully. It’s not only dangerous, it perpetuates the lie of who I really am.
Now, understanding”who I really am” is not deep or dramatic. There’s no breaking news that goes along with that. It simply means a cessation in worrying about everything and everyone else and simply “being” me in all that I do, all that I say.
I find it everywhere with me, though, and Prather’s 30-day plan may have to be repeated monthly until it really begins to kick in autonomously.
One thing is clear to me right now, even after reading only the first chapter: I’ve got to be my own friend before I can genuinely be that friend to others. I can make the changes to stop sending those negative messages to the ones I love (one friend wrote me and told me how much it hurts when friends do the things I do to them), but for it to be totally genuine, I need to let go of those expectations.
And just be.