Catch and Release: part 2

So instead of holding on, I let go. Letting go seems to imply that we stay in one place, and the beloved person, or object we were holding on to moves away from us. Like planets and the very universe itself, we are always moving away from each other, aren’t we? And when we let go, we let go of what we thought anchored us, not what we kept anchored to ourselves.

I saw the movie Spiderman with my son (who being 14 at the time, let me come with him and his friend, but made me sit in another row. Moving away, moving away.) In the movie Spiderman begins to lose his powers. He is climbing a wall and loses his grip. We see him falling, panic on his face, bouncing off walls and landing on top of a car.

That is what letting go is really like—it isn’t what I grasp which falls away, since I could never hold it to begin with. It is my self who is suddenly falling through the vastness of space, bouncing into a few things here and there, headed most likely for a hard landing. I don’t hold on to things so that I can keep them, but to feel I am on solid ground; to feel that as everything rushes by me, I stay unmoving. I am in a rushing river, and clutching the roots of a tree on the shore, rather than letting go into the flow of life.

But unlike dreams where we are falling, the goal is not to learn to fly. No, it may simply be to learn to accept falling, to see that there is no firm hold anywhere. Or perhaps with practice we learn, as they put it in “Toy Story,” another movie I watched repeatedly with my son: That’s not flying—it’s falling with style.

2 comments on “Catch and Release: part 2

  1. Noam E. says:

    Hi Philip,
    I just read “The zen path through depression”, and liked it very much (I read it in hebrew).
    It really helped me to accept some very harsh fellings and thoughts I have. So I went looking for youre name online to see if there are other pearls of wisdom that can help me cope with being depressed and maybe heal myself.

    In the about page you said you still battle with depression and it was so hard for me read that. I had this feeling that if I will walk this path of meditation and mindfullnes, after some time the expirence of being depressed will be in my past and I will be able to accept those feellings and maybe even not feel them anymore (I’m aware of the paradox in my thought). I guess it just too painful, and its really hard for me to accept the idea that after this episode will pass (like the last one did), I might still feel this horrible emotions again, even if I give my best effort to get better.

    And this is where this blog post connects: “… learn to accept falling, to see that there is no firm hold anywhere”. I really agree with that but still, the fall is so painful, how can you accept it. How can you let go of something that hurts you so much. When I meditate with the guidence in your book, and reach for the pains I have within, it helps me to accept reallity, accept my hurts. But when I try to accept the possiblity of this pain reacurring it really brings me down to my knees.

    So actually whats happening is I try to accept it, and then it happens and I’m tearing and feeling so bad that I cant imagine myself going through this pain again. And that it happen again. And again. And each time I break down (Which for me means, to wish I have never been born). Do you feel it is possible to really accept the feelings of depression as a part of life and not be so threatened by it ?

    • Noam–

      I believe the healing comes in accepting ourselves, depressed or not. I also believe that such healing is possible. I have learned to go though repeated depressions without hating myself and my life for it. There are those of us fortunate enough to only have to experience depression once, but statistics tell us that having it once means you have a greater chance of going through it again. So many of us can look at it as a chronic condition. (We could even argue that Buddha, in his analysis of human life, defined it as a chronic condition for all of us.)

      The point where I get lost in dealing with a chronic condition is when I believe that the mood or state I am in will last forever. If I have a really good day, or meeting with a friend, or I meet troubles with equanimity, I find myself thinking, “Well, I’ve put that depression behind me and don’t need to worry about it.” In the same way, if I am struggling, I can become convinced the depression is going to return and never leave. The truth is that neither is necessarily true. What I find is that I struggle the least when I don’t try to analyze and extrapolate what is going to happen in the future based on the present.

      There’s a story I’ve always liked that I first read in the book “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones,” by Paul Reps…

      “There was a man walking across an open field, when suddenly a tiger appeared and began to give chase. The man began to run, but the tiger was closing in. As he approached a cliff at the edge of the field, the man grabbed a vine and jumped over the cliff. Holding on as tight as he could, he looked up and saw the angry tiger prowling out of range ten feet above him. He looked down. In the gully below, there were two tigers also angry and prowling. He had to wait it out. He looked up again and saw that two mice, one white, the other black, had come out of the bushes and had begun gnawing on the vine, his lifeline. As they chewed the vine thinner and thinner, he knew that he could break at any time. Then, he saw a single strawberry growing just an arms length away. Holding the vine with one hand, he reached out, picked the strawberry, and put it in his mouth. It was delicious.”

      When I read that story still, part of me feels frustrated. Because I want to know, “What happens? Does he escape? Do the tigers get bored and leave?” Most of us want to know how our story ends…and I say that as someone who reads the end of novels before I finish them. But there is no end, only the process. Some moments are filled with beauty, some with struggle, some with beauty and struggle. And when we focus on the end, we miss the strawberries there, right in front of us.

      I do know that even days of depression can give us strawberries too. And you don’t want to miss those!

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