The Power of Giving Up

“When you can’t go up, down, or sideways, then practice really begins,” said the revered meditation master Ajahn Chah.

Life is challenging. We can all agree on this. And sometimes the demands on us are so great that we go into commando mode. We plot and plan and mentally rehearse the operations to be executed, the trips from here to there and back again. Like Navy Seals, we strive to maintain a positive attitude and laser-like focus…but then…

Something unexpected happens. A phone call or an email comes bearing news of a sudden and sometimes shocking change. Or a new demand is made of us that asks more than we are used to giving. The situation, already stressful, is suddenly so unknown and so fluid that we are thrown for a loop, as the saying goes. We are pushed out of our comfort zone, out of the brain’s smoothly running circuit of thought, into a wilder loop. Fear and the ancient impulse to protect ourselves by fighting or fleeing or freezing can be triggered.

The moment before fear ignites, we can feel as if we are masters of life. We are sleek and nimble nijas, totally in control yet relaxed, open, and present. With our plans and self-image humming along in the background, we allow ourselves to feel the crisp fall air, see the beauty of the changing leaves, hear birds sing. We tell ourselves that life is good and we are good. Then comes the unexpected and possibly shocking news or demand. Instantly we contract, closing the doors and windows to intruders. Suddenly we are embattled little fortresses in a dark world.

Suddenly we are very, very young. In the grip of fear and uncertainty, the thinking can be as repetitive and relentless as a frantic child. We become very self-enclosed. We want to be tucked back into our routines, into the known.

There is a powerful undertow to fear. There are stories to it, in every sense of the word. It pulls us down to our earliest memories, down toward the primal fear of death, and not just physical death. When life asks more of us than we think we can handle, it can feel like being trapped in the white glare of a searchlight. After all these years, the ego is busted for spinning the straw that we are into fake gold, for passing us off as competent and worthy when we are really trembling, vulnerable beings.

Here is a secret: under the mind that is freaking out, there is another mind, a vastly more quiet and responsive mind. A mind that is shining. We find this deeper mind when we let go. Here is another secret: letting go can feel like garden variety giving up. Meditation (and prayer and spiritual practice) has been called death in life. We die into a greater life.

We need not be in a monastery or on a mountain top to experience this dying. Ordinary busy life offers us many opportunities to experience this dying in a small way. We fret and fret and fret about an event. Finally we get so tired of all the fretting and projection and tension that we just give up. At least for a moment or two, we die into the state Buddhists call non-self or emptiness. Other traditions may call it salvation or the quickening of the spirit or touching the higher Self. It is a state of great peace and simplicity. It is the state of slipping under the electrified fence of the ego. In such a state, we feel the crisp fall air and hear the birds without any background hum. We feel stillness. In such a state, we may find what we seek.

“All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.” – Helen Keller

“The experience of Self is always a defeat for the ego.” – Carl Jung

11 thoughts on “The Power of Giving Up

  1. Good Morning,

    Thank you for your post, ti was perfectly timed.

    I’m here, on the computer instead of at my studio because I’d failed to fully engage the plug to the oil heater on my old Mercedes diesel and the temperatuer outside, well I think it’s over 0 by now. Then I noticed the toilet was not properly working and found out the sewer line is stopped up. So while I’m waiting for the engine oil to get warm enough to allow the car to start so I can go to the hardware store to get parts, I saw and read your blog.

    1 hour later: The car is started and I’ve someone lined up to fix the sewer tomorrow when it warms up…

    A while back I’d read Kieth Dowman’s “Maya Yoga a translation of Lonchepa’s teachings. I became enamored with the Dream Analogy for reality, one of seven or eight. I stepped it down a notch and stirred in Jung’s postulate that all elements of a dream are aspects of one’s self (my interpretation). This sets one up with total responsibility for what enters into one’s perceptive or mind fields. (The shadow side of this may be one falling into silopsism.)

    And so; as I watched/lived this mornings dream, it was interesting to have this posting enter into it as a sort of re-enforcement.


    Tom Finn

  2. I appreciate the affirmation of our human experience and being in this boat together, as well as the lovely pearls of wisdom. thank you,Tracy

  3. Ah, and so goes the true Pascal Mystery. This piece is inspired and brilliant. We know this one down to the CORE. Thank you!!!

  4. Thank you for posting this insightful piece. The idea of letting go and giving up resonates so deeply. I find that even when I believe I have let go and given up, when I am certain there is no place to turn – not right, left, backward, forward, up, or down – I can still be holding on to some small piece of something. I agree this is the ego – the false belief that I actually have control. When I pry free the grip of those tired fingers from the rusty pipe, it is freeing, and it does empower!

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