As I wrote about in Part 1 of my blog series about F. Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Traveled, “Are You Disciplined?” Dr. Peck teaches that the first step to emotional maturity and spiritual enlightenment is the ability to discipline oneself. Part of that discipline requires making peace with loss, because along with every rebirth comes death.
As the former Cat Stevens sings, “To be what you must, you must give up what you are.”
Dr. Peck lists some of the deaths every mature adult must mourn:
The state of infancy, in which no external demands need to be responded to
The fantasy of omnipotence
The desire for total (including sexual) possession of one’s parents
The dependency of childhood
Distorted images of one’s parents
The omnipotentiality of adolescence
The “freedom” of uncommitment
The agility of youth
The sexual attractiveness and/or potency of youth
The fantasy of immortality
Authority over one’s children
Various forms of temporal power
The independence of physical health
And, ultimately, the self and life itself
The Things We Must Release
To become a doctor, I had to accept carrying a pager with me much of the time, and this meant mourning the loss of my freedom, not to mention my sleep. To become a wife, I had to let go of the possibility of dating other men. To become a mother, I had to let go of the luxury of making decisions solely based on what I wanted, in order to accommodate the needs of my helpless, dependent newborn daughter. In order to become a professional writer, I had to let go of my identity as a practicing physician. I even chose to let go of my OB/GYN board certification and mourned that loss.
According to Dr. Peck, in order to grow up, we have to let go of reacting to our lives the way we learned how to act as children. We have to transform into mature adults, and that means letting go of patterns that make us comfortable but impede our personal and spiritual growth.
Life is full of suffering, and much of our suffering comes from our resistance to letting go of what we must inevitably lose. Growing up is all about learning to find peace amidst loss, finding within us an unshakable core that can withstand the traumas of life without leveling us. I believe the secret to navigating this sometimes painful transition is to cultivate a relationship with that part of you I call your “Inner Pilot Light.”
The Urge to Cling
No matter how grown up we become, it’s still tempting to cling like children hanging onto Mama’s leg to things we fear losing. We cling to our kids because we can’t bear the idea of losing them. We cling to the stability of a job—even a job we don’t like—because we fear change or financial instability. We cling to lovers and friends and material possessions because we’re afraid of losing what we value.
And yet, as the Buddhists teach, our greatest suffering arises from that to which we attach. The relief from life’s inevitable suffering lies in surrendering to what is, rather than clinging to what was.
A Brian Andreas cartoon that I love depicts a woman riding the wind in an upside down umbrella with her feet kicked up in the air. The caption reads, “If you hold on to the handle, she said, it’s easier to maintain the illusion of control. But it’s more fun if you just let the wind carry you.”
I Still Cling
I guess I’m not a grown up yet, because I still cling like my life depends on it sometimes, so don’t follow my lead on this! I try to set goals and release attachment to outcomes, but I still find myself getting attached. In fact, I attach to attaching sometimes. I look at some of the Buddhist monks at the Green Gulch Zen Center where my family attends dharma talks. And they’re just so…zen.
Part of me is jealous, because it seems such a serene, peaceful existence. If something starts to ruffle them, they just go meditate. But then part of me doesn’t want to be that detached. Part of me likes to suffer. It feels real. It feels human. When I love something or someone and then lose what I love, I feel loss, and that feels sad. And it feels healthy to grieve the loss. I’m an emotional creature—so bite me.
But I am trying to attach less, to trust more, to give myself permission to grieve but also to have faith that I will endure and that the Universe is a friendly place, even when I lose what I love.
I still haven’t completely sorted this out. I guess that’s why I blog sometimes. This is how I process things, and I drag you all along for the ride!
What Do You Think?
Tell us your stories about love, attachment, loss, and growing up in the comments.
Trying to let go of the handle,
Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself. Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities—HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.
BUY DR. LISSA RANKIN’S BOOK BELOW: