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Monday, March 24, 2008

Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be

Das, Lama Surya. Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be: Lessons on Change, Loss, and Spiritual Transformation. While there isn't much really new here (after all, wisdom has a long tradition), I need to be frequently reminded. Whether approached as religion, philosophy, or ethical action, some truths just need to be reinforced.

The idea behind this book is transformation, and one of the most interesting transformations in this book is the transformation of an American-born Jewish boy greatly attached to his baseball mitt into a Lama and teacher of Buddhist principles.

In letting go of our attachments, Das notes that we are attached to more than things.

We are attached to "...our opinions and theories. We become attached to the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we think. We become inordinately attached to our status, accomplishments, and reputations--and what we think they say about us. We become attached to our biases, and habitual way of doing things. We become attached to religion and political preference; we even become attached to our fears and anxieties." And, "Often we cling to habits that aren't even comforting or satisfying simply because we are unable to let go or explore new ways to do things."

I loved this quote from T. S. Eliot: " For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."

It is important to do the best we can, but we have no control of the outcome and should not become attached to it. This coincides (for me) with much of existential thinking (whether religious as Dostoevsky's version or agnostic/atheistic as Camus' version) -- what is important is that we live with integrity and do our best.

My favorite section is the last section about mindfulness, a quality that I need to increase in my life, and Das gives a six week practice to increase our mindful awareness, sense of peace and serenity, and aliveness. I've been working on sound for nearly a week. So many background noises that we tune out...

Nonfiction. Philosophy/spiritual. 2003. 210 pages.


  1. This sounds really interesting! I hear what you're saying about always being to be reminded - I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People every couple of years, just because it has all these great truths that I keep forgetting.

  2. That sounds like a wonderful book and right up my alley. Thanks, Jenclair. I'll add it to my wish list, right now.

  3. This might be a good book for my face-to-face book group. We're going to try to read 4 nonfiction books each year and I'd like to recommend this one. Great review.

  4. A few years ago I read a mind-altering quote: "You need to let go of the life you dreamed so can you enjoy the life you have." (It was something like that, anyway.) I say mind-altering because I still haven't let it change my life. I need to read this book for further ammo.

  5. I agree. This does sound interesting. Thanks for the review, Jenclair.

  6. raych - I find it interesting how common sense just slips my mind. If you read much of Buddhist thought, it is all familiar, but I did enjoy it and found I needed reminding about so many perfectly logical thought processes that seem to slip my mind.

    Bookfool - I really think some of his earlier books might be the place to start; I intend to go back and pick up some of them. Dark Orpheus would be able to tell us which she liked best.

    Les - It might make for some good discussion and that might be fun.

    Booklogged - I love that quote. We all forget to enjoy and make the most of the moment!

    L.F. - Nothing new here, but I especially liked the breaking down of "mindfulness" into the various senses and paying attention to one thing at a time.

  7. I love the Eliot quote too. It echoes the Bhagavad Gita, where it says we have the right to effort and duty, but not to the fruits of our labour. What will come is the unfolding of karma.

    We try so hard, and yet we are frustrated because we are too attached to the results -- too attached to how we "prefer" things to be, rather than what it really is.

    We need faith to let go -- trusting that karma will unfold and things will be what they ought to be. Paradoxically, we still need to work mindfully towards the best.

    Thich Nhat Hahn's Miracle of Mindfulness is a useful guide to mindfulness. Or Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are.

    But if you would prefer something more secular, perhaps you would like to try Ellen Langer's Mindfulness.

    I have a personal preference for Lama Surya Das' "Awakening to the Sacred" -- simply because it's so inclusive of different faiths and spiritual traditions. It's about how faith and a spiritual life is ultimately a personal experience.

    If we just stay mindful and sincere, we can imbue everything we do with a sense of the sacred.

  8. I want to know how you manage to read so many books ! I manage a couple a week - but you must read one a day !!! Love your reviews -- really

  9. Marie - I do read quickly, but I also read every day. If I'm not watching a favorite show on television, I read after dinner until I go to bed. There are lots of things that never get done, but it is a rare day that doesn't involve reading. :)