On Letting Go


The doorman at the building has a list of guests for my friend’s party. He scans the list, looking for my name and I look it over, too. My eye trips over the name of my ex-girlfriend, and my stomach drops to somewhere below my navel.


I have known that I would run into her eventually, have felt the tingle of premonition as I walked past her neighborhood. I am half longing for and half dreading our meeting. I feel totally unprepared for it.


For the next several hours of the party I’m on edge, drinking beer in a workmanlike fashion, building up the anesthetic buffer of mild drunkenness. Each time the door opens I look over to see if she has come in, my muscles tensing. I know that I will feel her presence like a blow. The anticipation of discomfort is worse than discomfort itself.


I miss the actual moment of her entry. I turn toward the door, and she has materialized there in a zone of absolute clarity. It is as if the air around her allows for some sort of super-acuity of focus – all of her features stand out in crisp delineation and the rest of the room blurs softly. I am assailed by the details of her. The fit of her pants, the shape of her rib cage, the profile of her body. She stands like a bow being put under tension, a curve straining forward, rib cage sitting atop the hips thrust forward, her thighs curving back.


I abandon the conversation that I am in, and go to her. We hug, and she wants to know how I am and how my trip was. I return the appropriate banal responses automatically – I’m fine, my trip was good – but I feel like I’m reciting my lines from inside a washing machine. One with a really clear glass door.


I look into her dark eyes, the irises almost black, merging imperceptibly into the pupils. They dance a little as we speak, but it is not a dance of welcome. Her eyes perform the wary footwork of a fencer, and she holds her smiling features composed before herself, like a shield.


Although we parted months ago, both willingly, I have still not really managed to let go. It is the same with all of my exes. There is a part of me that refuses to believe that I have lost access to them. In my mind, all of my former girlfriends have gone off to the Land of the Lotus Eaters. There they remain, warmed and softened in the golden light of re-creative memory, their arms open and beckoning to me. They are always waiting for me there.


It is disconcerting to meet them in their real lives. They have moved on, following the meanderings of their own lives, changing, evolving. They are married, with children, happy, divorced, lonely, successful, beleaguered. I am very close with some of them, and I’m happy to accompany them through the passages of their lives. But I feel the tension between my relationship with them as they are, the selves that have evolved and that I know are real, and my relationship to them as they are in the Land of the Lotus Eaters and that my heart refuses to believe might be illusion.


Back again in my apartment, I am awash in the flotsam of my history. I open my desk drawers and see the things I don’t really want to keep, but that I could never bring myself to discard – small electronic items, old floppy disks, correspondences, business cards. It’s not the objects themselves that I hold onto so fixedly, but the intentions and fantasies that have become married to them. I can’t bring myself to toss the broken headphones because they are wed to Tom the Composer. Discarding business cards feels like discarding the person that gave me the card, and worse, discarding the person that I intended to become when I collected the card.


I don’t want to jettison all those Toms-that-might-have-been, but it takes so much effort to keep them all in suspended animation. I feel the dreadful weight of the accumulated fantasies in those desk drawers. A small kind of panic seizes me as I think, “Sooner or later I’m going to have to deal with all this…” and quickly close the drawer.


How much simpler it seems to flee to a place with an empty desk!


Of course I know that wherever I go, the desk drawers will inevitably fill up with new items of the same ilk as the old. The hordes of Toms-that-might-have-been will attach themselves to new objects, and call for nourishment. They drain me, those parasites. Holding on to the past takes effort, as does holding on to any weight.


It is time, I think, to begin the practice of letting go. So I open the drawers and begin deciding whether each item is something I need right now.


I pick up a stack of business cards in my drawer. I look at each card, remembering the person that gave me that card, and the person that I was when I received it. I let the cards fall into the wastebasket by my desk. When the basket is full, I carry it to the garbage chute in the hall. I tilt the basket up, and the cards tumble down the chute. They make the soft sound of fluttering wings as they fall away from me.




About Tom Weiser
This blog is devoted to the development of the Bad Lama's Guide to Meditation.

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