to live is learning to let go. And this is the tragedy and the irony

of our struggle to hold on: not only is it impossible, but it

brings us the very pain we are seeking to avoid.

The intention behind grasping may not in itself be bad;

there's nothing wrong with the desire to be happy, but what

we grasp on to is by nature ungraspable. The Tibetans say

you cannot wash the same dirty hand twice in the same running

river, and, "No matter how much you squeeze a handful

of sand, you will never get oil out of it."

Taking impermanence truly to heart is to be slowly freed

from the idea of grasping, from our flawed and destructive

view of permanence, from the false passion for security on

which we have built everything. Slowly it dawns on us that

all the heartache we have been through from grasping at the

ungraspable was, in the deepest sense, unnecessary. At the

beginning this too may be painful to accept, because it seems

so unfamiliar. But as we reflect, and go on reflecting, our

hearts and minds go through a gradual transformation. Letting

go begins to feel more natural, and becomes easier and easier.

It may take a long time for the extent of our foolishness to

sink in, but the more we reflect, the more we develop the

view of letting go; it is then that a shift takes place in our way

of looking at everything.

Contemplating impermanence on its own is not enough: You

have to work with it in your life. Just as medical studies require

both theory and practice, so does life; and in life the practical

training is here, is now, in the laboratory of change. As changes

occur we learn to look at them with a new understanding; and

though they will still go on arising just as they did before,

something in us will be different. The whole situation will now

be more relaxed, less intense and painful; even the impact of

the changes we go through we will find less shocking. With

each successive change, we realize a little bit more, and our

view of living becomes deeper and more spacious.


Let's try an experiment. Pick up a coin. Imagine that it represents

the object at which you are grasping. Hold it tightly

clutched in your fist and extend your arm, with the palm of

your hand facing the ground. Now if you let go or relax your

grip, you will lose what you are clinging onto. That's why

you hold on.

But there's another possibility: You can let go and yet keep

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