I recently read Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be: Lessons on Change, Loss, and Spiritual Transformation by Lama Surya Das. This book has been on my shelf for several years, but I somehow never got around to reading it until now. I’m glad I waited. I got so much more out of reading this book at this point in my journey than I think I would have if I had read it when I got it because the topic fits so well with the exact place where the rubber is currently hitting the road for me.
I can’t even begin to do justice to how deeply this book spoke to me, so I won’t even try. I read it straight through in one sitting, and I plan to go back and re-read it again with a pen in hand in order to highlight key passages, take notes, and work through some of the exercises described.
However, I will note a couple of things that really caught my attention as I read and that have stuck with me since then as I continue to chew on the material.
The first thing that really caught my eye was the following:
“The answers you come up with for yourself regarding your own life are worth more than ten that I or anyone else can provide.”
While this isn’t exactly new news for me, it was a great reminder that I have chosen to step up and take on the responsibility of saving myself, and that starts with finding my own answers for how I need to live my life.
He goes on immediately after to say:
“Some people say that the purpose of life is to love and be loved; some say that the purpose of life is to serve God; some say that the purpose of life is the procreation of the race. Buddhism says that the purpose of life is to know oneself, because without that internal realization, all other goals will be thwarted. This is the lesson that we all need to learn.”
He points out that pain, loss, and change are the things that cause us to look inward and get to know ourselves. And in knowing ourselves, we are able to clearly see reality, other people, and our place in the world. This is a very different perspective from what I’ve so often heard that would indicate that spending time getting to know oneself is just “navel gazing” and is of no practical use. My experience more closely resembles this Buddhist way of approaching life; the places where I have best gotten to know myself, I am of the greatest use to others and the world.
I have given much thought since then to this definition of the purpose of life, and I think it is one that is extremely useful for me. Naturally, I love the inward focus, but I also value the fact that the inward focus is placed in service to outer goals.
I also deeply valued his emphasis on balance. While Buddhism tends to focus on staying in the present moment and not focusing on the past or the future, he also acknowledges that we are only able to heal and learn from our losses when we fully face and embrace them, even when this is painful. This is also true for old losses that we have never let ourselves fully face and grieve.
The trick is to be able to be present with the pain, to allow ourselves to grieve, but to make sure that we don’t cling to the pain and the loss once we have experienced it. There is nothing helpful is staying stuck in old hurts, but it is also not helpful to refuse to acknowledge their painfulness at all.
I still struggle with that balance, so reading his reminders about the importance of finding the middle way through this journey was very helpful to me.