An Interview with Best-selling Author Guy Finley and Psychologist, Dr. Ellen Dickstein
(2005 Fireside Chat: 1,825 words)
ED: Guy, some years ago you wrote a bestseller called The Secret of Letting Go that had a tremendous response all over the world, and you’ve just come out with a new book, Let Go and Live in the Now. There must be a lot of people all over the world who sense that they’re hanging on to something that is hurting them, but they may not even be aware of what it is that they’re hanging onto, what it is they need to let go of.
GF: It’s true. We don’t know. We think to ourselves, “When the time comes, I really need to let go of this person,” “I need to let go of this career path that I’ve been on,” “I need to let go of this pain that I’ve been carrying around.” But those are always one step short of the real solution.
A nice feature of our spiritual work, of real interior work, is that gradually we begin to recognize that the experience we have of life outside of us is first and foremost a reflection and a result of an interior life, of something that is going on inside of us. We begin to recognize that the condition we blame for our unhappiness is never the cause of the unhappiness, but merely something that shows us a more persistent misunderstanding, a more persistent problem.
How many times have you let go of things, thinking that “when I get rid of this, I’m going to be different”? It’s almost endless, isn’t it? But the fact remains that we don’t free ourselves. If I let go of you, then I get someone else.
ED: I let go of something and somehow I end up holding on to something else.
GF: That’s right, and it’s indicative of something that we need to understand at the root of letting go. The reason letting go is so hard, Ellen, is because what we have to let go of is not the person, the place, the position, the possession, but the sense of ourselves that is derived from thinking about that person, place, possession, or position. That’s the real nut of it. I think my life depends upon something.
When I first meet the man or woman of my dreams, the new job — whatever it is — I’m glad that my life depends upon it. “This is the greatest thing that ever happened to me!”
ED: It gives meaning to my life.
GF: I have meaning now. I’m going to be a full, contented human being. But it isn’t terribly long (and all of us know this very well), the person that we vest ourselves in, the sensation that we derive that was once full of happiness, begins to change and starts to become not so full of happiness. I start to become a little critical of the person. And gradually, the sensation of thinking they’re super turns into a sensation of they’re stupid. And, if you’re honest about it, from super to stupid doesn’t take that long, does it? Now I want to let you go, because it’s too painful for me.
So finally that person goes away, but nothing changes, because it wasn’t the person that was the issue. The issue is that the way our minds and our hearts work.
Real letting go begins with a kind of unraveling, a kind of uncovering where I begin to recognize that what I need to let go of is not the person or the place or the position, but this rather deep and pernicious sense of myself that believes without that person, without that condition, I will lose who I am.
ED: We understand in our minds that it is wrong to hold on to things that are hurting us, but how do we translate this knowledge in our heads into actually doing it? How does it get from our head to our heart?
GF: I love that. How do we go from head to heart? When I was a boy, I had a pair of tennis shoes that I loved. My tennis shoes were the end of the world to me. They had died about a year before, but I still kept them. My mother couldn’t stand these tennis shoes, and one day when I came home, they were goneÉ.
The point is, when you’re a child, you’re attached to childish things. But we don’t know that as adults, we’re meant to outgrow childish things. The problem is that we don’t recognize yet what it means to outgrow childish things. For instance, it’s childish to be concerned about what anybody thinks about you. It’s childish to be unhappy that you don’t live in the kind of home that you think you’re supposed to. It’s not necessarily childish to want to live in a nice home, but it is childish to believe that who you are, the measure of your wealth, is determined by how you live and what people see you with. That’s childish. It’s childish to hold a grudge. I don’t care what anybody on the earth ever did to you, it’s childish to hate a human being. It’s childish to fear.
“It’s childish” means that we’re intended to outgrow ourselves, all the time. What a nice thought it is. Every day it’s possible that a person can see that what he or she formerly valued is no longer valuable to them, and it’s a great process. It’s a great purification process that this Intelligence that we live in has set up for us, because if we’re awake and aware of ourselves, what we can’t help but see is that to the degree that we’re identified and attached to something is the degree to which we’re punished by it.
All we need to do to let go of something, Ellen, is to begin to realize that if I’m suffering from holding on to it, squeezing it tighter isn’t going to help.
ED: When we really understand this, there isn’t that struggle.
GF: To be aware of ourselves means in any given moment that we are conscious of our thoughts. Let’s say I’m thinking, “Boy, I hope this interview comes out good.” Whatever it is… the thought that comes along and tells you, “I hope this” or “I want that,” promises in the very appearance in your mind that if you do what you picture, you’re going to be in great shape. But what we can’t see about ourselves in that moment is that the more we hold the idea of how things should be, the more we struggle with events as they are, and then wreck everything for the sake of what we wanted to happen.
So awareness of the moment includes awareness of the kind of thoughts that are going through me, the kind of emotions that I’m having, even my bodily sensations. All of that is what it means to watch and be aware of myself. And in that, I can learn to start valuing something else, because the part of me that is conscious of conflict in me is always greater than the conflict it’s conscious of. So I need to place being conscious of myself above trying to prove myself to get rid of the fear I have of failing, of falling.
ED: So this implies that if we let go of the small life that we have created with our thoughts, there is a larger life that we enter.
GF: Exactly. Let’s say that someone hurt me badly and I feel resentment. As long as I hold that resentment and believe that the answer to the pain has to do with getting you to do something, what I’m really living in is the world of that little thought, that negative state. When I live inside of a negative state, that negative state tells me who I am, what I can do, what my choices are, how to handle things.
Little by little, we recognize that I’m not intended to be a captive of this condition. I know I’m not intended to be a captive of this relationship. No one sets out to be a captive of a relationship, but we wind up a captive of relationships. No one sets out to be a captive of their best ambitions, but we wind up captives of our best ambitions. Why? Because the content, all of the things that are vested in that idea that I have, I become dependent on for my sense of myself. As I see that, I want nothing to do with it. I’m willing to let go of that, and I’m willing to suffer the sense of loss of myself that comes with that. Then things change. We change nothing by changing our exterior circumstances.
As spiritual aspirants, men and women who want to have a different life, a life centered in God, in Truth, we have to be willing to risk everything for the purpose of discovering what is true and what is not. You find a person who will not risk things for the purpose of discovering what is true, and you find a person who will be ringed in for the rest of their life by the falsehoods that are connected with the idea they have to have certain things to be who they are, and they’re as good as dead.
ED: We want the familiar. That’s what makes us feel safe, even though it could be something terribly painful.
GF: It’s such a paradox, Ellen. It’s so contradictory. Here’s what you’re saying, “I’ve gotta be me.”
ED: Even if it kills me. We’re just hanging on to thoughts about ourselves, and in that we are preventing ourselves from experiencing the full life that we’re supposed to know.
GF: Right here, right now, come back to yourself. The present moment, the Now is God’s life, the life of Truth, the life of Light. Everything that ever was, or ever will be, everything that is wonderful, and everything that is dark, all is in this moment. I cannot know my true nature apart from knowing this moment. And as long as I live outside of this moment, which is all thought does by creating what was, what will be, I am isolated, and not only isolated, but connected to all of the objects that I form in my mind in that time. It’s hard for a person to understand. That’s why we have to go through so much suffering; it seems, to finally begin to recognize, “You know what? It’s all right just to be here. I don’t have to find a sense of myself anywhere outside of what this moment provides as it shows me what I need to see.”
ED: I can actually start the process of letting go right now.
GF: This very moment. Learn to watch, be as awake as you can, and letting go comes naturally.