Letting Go - Life Lessons on Dealing with Pain and Loss
Letting Go - Life Lessons on Dealing with Pain and Loss
By Priya / medium.com

1

I’m eleven years old. I’m in the deep end of a swimming pool, small wet hands fastened on to the pool ladder. My instructor bends over.

“Let go,” she says.

“I will,” I tell her.

“Let go now.”

I pull one hand away from the rung. I want to move my other hand, but I cannot.

“You know how to swim already,” she says. “Just let go.”

I do know how to swim. I’ve been practising every day in the shallow end and I can manage several lengths without stopping. But this is the deep end, and I’m not ready to let go.


2

I’m twenty. My friend has a broken heart. We’re walking down a street in Boston at two AM, watching the shallow pool of light that spills out of bar doors and onto the pavement. We’ve been drinking champagne at her house, because we’re not old enough yet to be let in anywhere.

“Please give me my phone,” she begs. “Please.”

“I don’t have it,” I lie. I pretend to feel in my bag. My fingers close over the phone.

“Please.”

I shake my head. I’m doing this for her own good, I tell myself. It’s no more than she’s asked me to do. In the morning, I’ll give her phone back.

She looks at me. Her lashes are wet, still stiff and spiky with mascara. She is so beautiful and sad in this moment that I am angry with the boy who has broken her heart. If he saw her like this, I know he would not care.

I give up. I give her the phone. She sits on the pavement, not caring what passers-by think. She calls him: once, twice, thrice. But there is no answer, as I know there would not be. She texts. There is no reply.


3

I’m twenty-five years old. I am in a constant state of low-level pain. The kind that doctors might qualify as ‘a dull generalized ache.’ It is not sharp. It never becomes acute. I am barely even aware of it. But it clings to me, suffusing every aspect of my life until I am no longer excited about anything. I am not sure that excitement really exists.

When someone asks me out, my first reaction is puzzlement. I feel no spark in myself, nothing that would interest another human being. I go through old conversations with ex-boyfriends. I look at photos from when I felt pretty. Lighter. I am filled with a longing that seems deathless, so strong it will outlive me no matter how much I want it to die.

One day, I open a diary that I kept when I was twelve, maybe thirteen. In it, I have written about the life I imagined living at twenty-five. I laugh at Young Me for being a foolish dreamer, but after I close the diary, I keep thinking about that life. I find it impossible to let it go. It is not until two years later, when I’m twenty-seven and able to feel excitement again, that I will let that dream go.


4

How are we to cope with suffering?

Buddhism says this: there are two causes of suffering. Upādāna and Tanhā. Attachment and desire. We are attached to things that cannot be ours, which makes us unhappy. In order to attain Nirvana, one must kill attachment. In the story of Siddhartha, he leaves his wife and children, all his worldly goods, his wealth and prestige behind. When I read this story, I scoffed. I imagine being him and having a conversation with my wife and children.

“I’m sorry, guys. I love you. I really do. It’s just that I need to attain Nirvana, and first I gotta kill attachment. So you see, leaving you is really the right thing to do. Have a nice life. I won’t write.”

How ridiculous!

No, I was convinced that the Buddhist solution was impossible. And yet -

I went back to the story and tried to read it as a metaphor. What if Siddhartha hadn’t actually left? What if there was no physical act of departure? What if he had stayed in his palace, being a good husband and father, but his soul wandered out to meet its destiny under the Bodhi tree? Was there a lesson in that reading for me?


5

In that classic grieving anthem Unbreak My Heart, Toni Braxton sings “I can’t forget the day you left/Time is so unkind.”

It is tender, affecting. It is also a lie.


6

Here are some tools you can use. You do not need to buy them. They are already in your toolbox. They are in everybody’s toolbox. They are facts that are designed specifically to alleviate the pain of existence. There are not many — only two — but they are incredibly true and incredibly important.

Fact I. Lots of people are like you.

You are not unique. Every bad feeling you have ever had? Somebody else has had that exact feeling. Lots of someones. If you read books, you’ll discover that people have been having those exact same feelings since before books were invented. And this will make you feel better. It’s stupid that thatwill make you feel better. But it will.

Fact II. Good things are going to happen to you.

That is a FACT. It is not a prediction. It is a fact. It doesn’t matter how miserable you are currently, or that bad things keep happening. It doesn’t matter what age you are. There is a good thing that is scheduled to happen to you. (More than one, but I guarantee at least one.) You don’t know when it is, or where it is, or what it is, which is hard. But if you just keep going down the path you’re going, you will find it. The only way to miss the Good Thing is to stop going.

You’re going to get that corner office someday. Two years from now, you’re going to learn to fly planes. Thirty years from now, you’ll meet your childhood idol, and they will tell you you’re cool. Ten years from now, you’ll be holding a little person (that you made!) in your arms. In that moment, you will find it impossible to remember what suffering looks like.


7

My friend, the one who was so heartbroken at twenty, met somebody else after that. And then she met somebody else after that. And then somebody else. And then somebody else. And — I don’t know what number she’s on right now, but you get the picture.

That’s what happens. That’s how life works. There’s always somebody else. And he’ll have a bigger dick.


8

Instead of trying to get rid of our emotions, drown them out, or ignore them, we’ll practice giving our emotions an infinite amount of space and time to change within.
Let’s start right now. What emotions are you experiencing? What are you feeling right now? Identify it with a single word.
Whatever’s arising right now, even if you’re not sure what to call it — see if you can give it some more space to arise within.
Let the experience get as big as it wants. Let it take up as much space as it needs. Notice how it changes as you do this. Does it become more intense? Less? Or does it change and morph into something else? Give your experience an infinite amount of space to be felt within.
What are you feeling right now?
In addition to giving your experience space, give your experience as much time as it wants. Give it permission to have an infinite amount of time to be present, if that’s what it needs.
Notice what happens when you give your experience as much space and time as it wants. Notice how it changes, becomes softer. Notice how the pain is diffused. Notice how the longing lessens, grows weaker. Notice how giving it permission, giving it infinity, makes it harder to hold on to. Notice how it leaves you.
  • adapted from a Buddhify meditation, Infinity

9

I’m twenty-seven years old.

I don’t have anything figured out. I don’t know anything. I have lots of hard days. I still experience suffering so acute I think it will snap my ribs and take out my steaming heart. But right now, right at this very moment, I’m sitting here at my desk, looking at city lights. Trying to figure suffering out with you. Trying to figure out how to let things go. Perhaps that is a kind of grace.


10

You know how my swimming instructor got me to let go of the edge?

She grabbed my hands and threw me into the deep end. I was so angry I could have screamed, and so afraid I wanted to cry. But it turns out I did know how to swim.

3.8 ·
1
What's Next
Trending Today
Have You Heard of The Great Forgetting? It Happened 10,000 Years Ago & Completely Affects Your Life
Daniel Quinn · 16,399 views today · (Excerpted from the book, The Story of B) With every audience and every individual, I have to begin by making them see that the cultural self-awareness we inherit from our...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 10,752 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
10 Stunning Images from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award
Natural History Museum · 9,452 views today · These incredible images are a selection from of the 25 shortlisted by The Natural History Museum for the People's Choice Award from this year's Wildlife Photographer of the...
The Myth of Positivity: Why Your Pain Holds a Mighty Purpose
umair haque · 8,536 views today · Of all the great myths of contemporary life, one of the most toxic is positivity. It says: there are negative and positive emotions, and only the positive ones are worth...
Van Jones: Only a 'Love Army' Will Conquer Trump
Tim Dickinson · 5,440 views today · Though it's important to fight Trump's policies, "it's at the values level that we need to do a reset," says Jones
Seven Must-Have Skills for the 21st Century
Tommy Lehe · 3,082 views today · We live in a world that moves faster than we do. Trying to keep up can be an overwhelming task that at times feels hopeless, like we are falling further and further behind—but...
A New History for Humanity - the Human Era
8 min · 1,787 views today · It is time to reframe how we think about our past. We need a new year 0 for humanity. But which one should we choose and why?
Forget Air Force One, Pentagon Wastes Billions and Billions Every Month
Nadia Prupis · 1,768 views today · President-elect Donald Trump's focus on single Boeing contract ignores enormous waste of bloated Pentagon budget
David Graeber: We Need a Revolution in the Way We Think about "Work"
4 min · 1,586 views today · David Graeber on the Value of Work. Does the world really need neuroadvertisers, PR researchers and branding consultants? Renowned academic and coiner of the ‘we are the 99%’...
Trump: The Illusion of Change
Helena Norberg-Hodge · 1,361 views today · “Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.” — Wendell Berry
The Most Powerful Algorithm in the World
Joe Brewer · 1,340 views today · After the insanity of the U.S. election, a lot of people are blaming Facebook for its algorithms that parse us into ideological bubbles and spread “fake news” and other kinds...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,157 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Asylum-Seeker Faces a Dangerous Deportation Back to Afghanistan
3 min · 1,102 views today · After an EU deal with Afghanistan, more than 80,000 rejected Afghan asylum-seekers are facing deportation back to that country. Alim says being sent back to Afghanistan could...
How to Expose Trump's Dastardly Bait-And-Switch
Robert Borosage · 1,073 views today · Trump is not an economic populist, he’s just playing one on TV.
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,043 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Stunning Summary of US Imperialism and Native Resistance... on MSNBC!
4 min · 1,026 views today · On The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC, Lawrence explains why a protest by Native Americans in North Dakota reminds us of the history American always tries to forget.
15 Easy Things You Can Do to Help When You Feel Like Shit
Maritsa Patrinos · 919 views today · You don’t have to tackle it all at once.
It's The Damn Police
Walter Fields · 823 views today · From an early age Blacks are socialized to live defensively and to absorb the mental body blows that come from the day-to-day indignities that are hoisted upon us by the very...
Amanda Abbington Introduces iAnimal - 42 Days in the Life of Chickens
4 min · 734 views today · Shot undercover in British factory farms and slaughterhouses, this immersive 360° video gives you a birds-eye view of what happens to chicken from farm to plate.
DREAM: A Spoken Word Meditation For When Life Is Kicking Your Ass
4 min · 723 views today · If life is kicking your ass and the general un-coolness of everybody on planet erf is making you want to off yourself, TALK to someone: 800-273-8255 (national suicide...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Letting Go - Life Lessons on Dealing with Pain and Loss