"It is better to do nothing than to waste your time." - Sharon Salzberg
"Every morning, look in the mirror and repeat three times: "It's not about me." - Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Ah yes. These are the lessons I am still, always learning. I am always finding myself holding on so tightly to something or other - a project, a person, a storyline, a hope or a fear. I guess ultimately I am holding onto myself the very tightest - this illusory, shifting, changing self I call "me". Because I still make everything all about "me".
There is a traditional teaching on generosity that says if you are having trouble giving to others, start very small. Start by passing an apple from one hand to your other hand, back and forth, back and forth. Once you can do that without resistance, try giving the apple to someone else. I feel lately like I am starting very small when it comes to letting go. Leading up to Halloween for instance, I spent many late nights crafting a very cute costume for my toddler, a Thomas the Tank engine made from a box, poster paint, cardboard, glue and some other odds and ends. It looked awesome. When I first showed it to him, he ran around our apartment with glee and wanted to wear it immediately. Flash to the big night of trick or treating, and he adamantly refused to wear it. He screamed and tried to destroy it when it was placed on him. And I found myself beginning to fight him - trying to force him to wear the silly thing when coaxing wasn't working. When fighting him didn't work, I neurotically voiced my disappointment, using a line learned by heart in my own childhood "I don't know why I even bothered going to the trouble of making this for you!" Hearing me, my father who was present agreed, saying "Exactly right!" or something along those lines. And that's actually what stopped me in my tracks. He was the perfect mirror, reflecting back to me the frustrated resentment I was letting leak out onto my little one. I just stopped, walked into the other room and took a very deep breath. And then I started to laugh. Why did I care so much that he wore the costume? Had he even asked me to make him this train? He had only the barest notion of what the evening was celebrating. I was the one who wanted to make the costume. I was the one who wanted him to wear it. I was the one who wanted others to coo and praise him and me for the cuteness I had created. How ludicrous. How unnecessary. How silly to expect a certain outcome from a two year old. How painful to expect a certain outcome from any being, or for our particular agenda to work out in a particular way. How very much against the flow of life to insist on that particular agenda when things as they are say no to it.
So I let it go. I stopped wasting my time and my toddler's time. We dressed him in his winter coat (it was freezing), stuck an engineer's hat on him and off we toddled to receive refined sugary treats from strangers.
It was such a small thing to let go of, but it helped me realize how busy I still keep myself wasting time. I am always so busy with my projects, trying to mold reality into something more to my liking. And this causes me so much suffering, and causes those around me to suffer as well. It wasn't wrong to spend so much time and energy on my son's costume. It was just unhelpful for me to expect a certain reaction from him and others when presented with it. And it was really unhelpful for me to try and change that reaction into what I wanted it to be. It made me angry. It made him unhappy. Any space that existed around the gift and the night quickly contracted into neurosis and tears, because ultimately, I was making it all about me and what I wanted, and not about him and what he wanted. When I was able to see what I was doing and just let it go, the space opened right back up and we went on to enjoy our evening.
Almost every day I catch myself busy wasting time, trying to deny things as they are. I find myself pushing my projects onto my children. Whenever I start getting really frustrated or anxious around them, I need to stop and just look at what is going on. What am I up to? Is it really important that we go to the museum today? Is it really important that we not be late to this playdate? Is it really important that I spend 12 hours making the elaborate Thomas the Train birthday cake that will be forgotten in 2 seconds? Most of the time, the answer is "no". It's not crucial. We can relax, let go, and see where we really are and what is actually needed. We go to the playground instead. We call the other mama and tell her we are running a bit late today. I make a simple layer cake and let my son decorate it with animal charms from Red Rose Tea boxes. How happy he was when we presented the cake to him and our guests. How in love he is with the charms. How relaxed I was not having stayed up until all hours molding a train from cake and fondant. It can seem like doing nothing. And it is doing nothing, in the sense of not doing our habitual patterns. Not so busy being us. Better to be present to what is actually happening and respond authentically to that present in all its richness or chaos or boredom or whatever, than to waste our time trying to push it away, cover it up or force it into our very narrow expectations of how things should be.
This letting go takes practice, but the more I do it, the happier I seem to be.