© Dr. Chris Schriner 2004
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
March 7, 2004

The Unitarian Henry David Thoreau wrote, "... It is something to be able to paint a picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look ... To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts."

We have been exploring ways of carving and painting the quality of our own experience through "The Art of Letting Go," and this topic is so interesting to me that I have managed to stretch out a three-part sermon series on letting go into four sermons. It's like Douglas Adams writing Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as a four-part trilogy! And one of the underlying themes of these sermons is that our circumstances do not dictate our quality of life. Our worship associate, Mark Rahman has (in two poems by Kahlil Gibran) shared some reflections about the fact that most of life's pain is not caused by what happens to us. Instead, we give ourselves pain by how we respond to what happens.

So how can we respond to everyday ups and downs in a way that enhances quality of life? One helpful answer is found in Hinduism and Buddhism, which tell us to do our best, and then detach ourselves from the results of our actions. After we do what we can, the rest is up to the universe. Sometimes we function perfectly, and things turn out badly anyway. Sometimes we are grotesquely incompetent, and it all turns out fine. We can give ourselves credit for our actions, but it is foolish to take credit or blame for the fruits of our actions. In fact, our actions do not control anything. An action is only an attempt to control. If the rest of the cosmos doesn't cooperate, we won't get our way.

It's not surprising that this Eastern emphasis on detachment is so appealing to Americans. We tend to be very busy and success-oriented, and people who are busy and ambitious often become tense as a result.

I recently ran across a series of proverbs that purports to be from a new religion called Zen Judaism. It's a blend of East and West, and in each of these proverbs you can see the clash between Eastern tranquility and Western anxiety. And you definitely don't have to be Jewish to identify with the Western side of these proverbs from the wisdom of Zen Judaism:

Be patient and achieve all things. Be impatient and achieve all things faster.

Let your mind be as a floating cloud. Let your stillness be as the wooded glen. And sit up straight. You'll never meet the Budhha with posture like that.

Wherever you go, there you are. Your luggage? That's another story!

To find the Buddha, look within. Deep inside you are ten thousand flowers. Each flower blossoms ten thousand times. Each blossom has ten thousand petals.You might want to see a specialist.

And finally,
Whenever you feel anger, you should say, "May I be free of this anger!" This rarely works, but talking to yourself in public will encourage others to leave you alone.

The Eastern idea of detaching ourselves from results ties in to my suggestion that we often cause unhappiness by tensely wanting to make a situation turn out "right." Sometimes we tensely try to make things work when we actually are able to make them work. So what was the tension for? Other times we tensely try when there is no hope of success. Again, what was the point of the tension?

Actually, it is remarkable how often we strain to make things happen that are impossible. We may unconsciously demand that:

- People always like us.
- People always treat us fairly.
- Everyone knows our needs without our telling them.
- We are never bothered by painful emotions.
- We are always making progress, never backsliding.
- We are not getting any older.
- We are never unexpectedly inconvenienced.
- If we take a risk, it inevitably pays off.
- Someone or something will finally come along and make life turn out perfectly.

Does any of that sound familiar? If we want lots of guarantees, that will guarantee one thing. It guarantees that we will be dissatisfied.

In this last Sunday in the letting go series I want to give you a chance to think about how these ideas apply to you. So I want to ask, if you could let go of struggling for control in one area of your life, what would you choose? Would it involve work? School? Chores? Finances? Family issues? Trying to change your own personality? Trying to control other people? Trying to change the past? If you could let go of straining for things to turn out right in one area, what would that be?

So we're going to enter into a time of prayer and meditation, asking the question, "In what area of my life would I like to let go of pushing and straining for control?" During this quiet time you may also want to recall the ideas you've been hearing about letting go and think about which of these ideas have been most meaningful to you. We will start with silent meditation, and then Pat Rodgers will play piano music for several minutes to accompany our reflections. So I invite us all to close our eyes and relax. Take a few deep breaths, and enter into an attitude of prayer or quiet reflection.


Now take a few deep breaths to complete this time of meditation, and open your eyes when you are ready. Let's hear from a few people either about an aspect of life where they would like to let go of struggling for control, or some idea about letting go that they have found meaningful in the past few weeks. (Discussion.)

Remember, your brain will try to tell you that you need to stay tense in order to be effective, and that if you let go you will be less effective, but that is not true. Actually, straining and struggling creates confusion, so that we often fail to see how we could solve our problems. Patricia Carrington puts it very well, in a statement I read yesterday at the retreat:

"It is only after you have let go of wanting to change a particular thing that you can really perceive its nature." (Patricia Carrington, Releasing, p. 247)

To see what she means, think about listening to two different radio stations at once. Can you clearly perceive the music on either station? It is only after you have turned off one of the stations that you can perceive the music on the other one clearly. In the same way, whenever we are tense, our minds are focusing on two different things at the same time. We are focusing on the problem at hand, and also on the fact that we are upset. Just like listening to two stations at the same time, we end up with confusion rather than clarity. That's why people who are extremely angry often say irrational things. People who are depressed or in deep grief often fail to see opportunities that are obvious to everyone around them. And people who are very anxious are like deer frozen in the headlights, when actually they have freedom to move in any direction.

I have suggested that in learning to let go, it's best to start by practicing on minor glitches and inconveniences. If you want to move up one step further, the next challenge might be to let go of trying to control other people. For example, we can think about ways that we wish members of our family were different. Maybe you can't depend on your grown children to call you when they say they will. Or they eat too much fat. Or you don't like their taste in clothing. After you let go of criticizing their color choices, you could move up to bigger issues such as the fact that they didn't vote the way you wanted them to in the last election.

We might as well admit that in dealing with people, or anything else, our actions do not control anything. An action is only an attempt to control, and without the cooperation of the cosmos we can accomplish nothing. We might as well let go of struggling for control, and when we do that we receive a remarkable bonus - the gift of greater clarity. "It is only after you have let go of wanting to change a particular thing that you can really perceive its nature."

If we let go, we will reduce our stress level, but we will also accomplish something far more important. We will transform the quality of everyday experience. And that's what these sermons on letting go are all about: an inner, spiritual transformation.

As Thoreau said, "... To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts." All of us are artists, and our medium is life itself. We may never fully master the art of living, but what a privilege to do our best, and then allow a larger hand to take the brush and complete the picture that we have only begun.

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