On Letting Go…

“Real happiness doesn’t come from getting things. Real happiness comes from letting go”. (Pam Weiss)

A year or two ago I was attending one of the regular Wednesday night SF Insight group classes led by Pam Weiss, my coaching – (and important spiritual) teacher.

Have I ever mentioned in any of my posts that most of my important teachers have been women? Well, after Laura and Julia, my sweet wife and daughter, Pam is pretty high up there on that list.

Anyway, I hadn’t seen her for quite a while, so when we were catching up a bit, she asked me: “What’s up Michael? How’s it going? To which I replied: In regular life, all the important stuff is totally fine Pam. Practice wise though, I’m focused on the work of learning to let go…not so easy.” She looked in my eyes and responded: “Letting go…yeah, that’s the biggie, isn’t it?”

Boy, Is it ever!

For me, letting go of the need to get and pile up more “stuff” is the easiest part. I’ve understood for a long time that more possessions; and wealth beyond a certain freedom and comfort level is not “where it’s at” happiness-wise.

“The heart lets go first. The fingers just follow.” (African proverb).

Experiences and memories though, most especially pleasant ones, are more challenging. Where we humans all live is: “YES! More of THIS…but PLEASE, no more of THAT!” Our task in this department is to be in the moment…then to let the moment go. Definitely harder:

Two weeks ago, I was leaving our Vermont cabin to return home to California. I was having big trouble with that. A significant piece of my heart is in Vermont. It is a special place. I love my time there. I was feeling sad.

What’s crazy though is that it’s not as though I was heading to some terrible place – like a Gulag in Siberia. We have a beautiful, beautiful life here in CA. I’m happy here too.

So, just before heading out to the airport, I spent my last 10 minutes at my favorite place on the planet – our magical swimming hole/waterfall deep in the forest.


Paradise Lost?


I’ll share my actual thoughts…the “voices”:

“Make your choice Michael: You can use this 10 minutes feeling sorry for yourself and sad that you are leaving (grasping, clinging), OR you can enjoy this time by being completely here, right now, then let it go. It’s your choice.

“Do I really believe that the only moment we actually get is the one right here, right now? Or is that just an intellectual concept for me?  Is this something I actually practice? Or just read and talk about?

“This 10 minutes is my whole life in microcosm.”

And speaking of life, what about letting go of that…my life, that is. I’m gonna have to let go of that too. How am I gonna do that?

I’m thinking though, that letting go even of our lives, although obviously way harder still, is something that nature, and the passing of time, and of people who have been important and dear to us, slowly teaches us to do. Contemplating my death doesn’t bring on the panic that it used to when I was 20 or 30.

Attitude helps a lot too. With respect to my own mortality, I find Nietzsche’s advice – to try to live, and then ultimately to leave my life, with a spirit of profound gratitude for my life, but not “in love” with it – of great help and comfort. A mind-set of gratitude precludes “grasping, and clinging, I think.

Hmm..what else is there? Oh Yeah, almost forgot…understanding things. When I was a kid, I thought that as I aged, one of the few good things was that I would be able to understand more and more stuff. It’s not working out that way at all. The list of things I don’t understand is getting longer – not shorter. Big surprise! But…letting go of needing to understand  everything, is the key to not making yourself nuts.

Way, way harder for me than all the above is my ongoing, unresolved struggle to let go of “the way things need to be” (code for “the way Michael needs them to be”.) I’m not even close in that department.

Small case in point…you’ve all been there too: After moving directly from the above described swimming hole, to the Burlington Airport a few hours later, I encountered three or four successive flight delay announcements, with no reason given. From the ground crew, no useful (or even truthful) information, just a series of constantly shifting stories. It’s likely that they don’t know any more than they are telling us – which is nothing.

Fun...Huh? Look Familiar?

After I forget about my connection in Newark, and wonder where I’m going to sleep tonight, I focus on what am I feeling. What I’m  feeling, is anger and frustration. I have given over my power to others who are not being up front with me. They do and say whatever they like. I am stuck. I am stuck and I don’t like it.

This is NOT letting go. It’s the opposite. This is aversion, just another form of grasping.

The Buddha taught that ultimate happiness is calmness. His words: “There is no happiness greater than perfect calm.

I am definitely not calm – definitely not happy. If he were here, sitting next to me right now, waiting for his flight, would he be keeping calm? Yeah, I bet he would. I admit I have work to do. Maybe another 50 years on the cushion.

And while I’m fessing up about how hard this is, and just in case you need another example – yet another missed opportunity to let go of the way I need things to be…voila! (You’ve all been in this place too, I’m pretty sure):

Our AT&T  (phone, internet and TV… everything) is down… again…on and off for a month and counting. They are driving us nuts. We’ve had no fewer than 7 experts here to figure it out. They can’t. Each one comes, shakes his head, and redoes the work of the fellow from the day before. They are all unfailingly polite, and courteous – all really good people. They just can’t fix the problem.

But for me actually, that’s not the worst part of this adventure into tech-hell. The worst happens when I phone them to schedule yet another expert. AT&T obliges me to SPEAK to their machine.

Why do I have so much trouble with this? Why is it that I am OK with entering data on a keyboard or keypad, but not talking to a machine? Am I alone in this? Is this just me? To me, it feels like they want my humanity. They want my voice.  MY VOICE!

How am I going to let go of that? “Stuff” is one thing, experiences and memories another, my life yet another, but my voice? Must I  let go of that too?

I hear myself yelling “AGENT! AGENT!” at their machine. Laura says, “Do you realize you are yelling at a machine?

I’m wondering whether young people are as bothered by this phenomenon as I am. Yes? No? For sure, the youngsters don’t remember a time when people, not machines, served people. So maybe this is easier for them. I really hope so. Soon, all of us codgers will pass, and speaking to machines will be completely the norm, as if it was always that way.

When is it that Captain James T. Kirk, Scotty, and the crew of the Starship Enterprise will be “boldly going where no man has gone before”…300? 500? 1000 years hence?

For fun, flash forward (then backward) with me, to a quick look at one of Scotty’s adventures back in time – to now. As you see, our successors have no trouble at all talking to their machines. None! Indeed, they PREFER it! Here’s proof. Have a click, a look (and a smile).

Mitt Romney says: “corporations are people my friend.” Antonin Scalia and at least 4 other Supreme Court judges appear to agree with him. But it’s looking like the actual corporations themselves might not, because the few remaining people in those corporations are replacing as many of the other people with machines – as fast as they can. Corporations are machines, my friends!!

So, where is yours truly in all of this? Michael…you need to chill!!

Practice tip:

Just below is the link to a wonderful talk by Pam on this connection between letting go, and real happiness. It’s about 30 minutes long. She offers an entirely different perspective for us on what it means to be happy. It’s about 30 minutes long. I promise you, it’s really worth your time.

BTW, The usual caveat: if you get this post in your email and the link doesn’t work from there, just click on the title of this post. That will bring you to my site, and the link will work. Enjoy!!


As Pam explains so well: joy, (what we usually think of as “happy”), is only the first of four stages on the path to real happiness.

The second level is a kind of sweetness, or peacefulness (“a bit less ‘sharp’ than joy”). Next comes calmness, and the final stage – happiness, comes with equanimity; which is basically, being OK with whatever comes at you whether it’s labeled “good” or “bad”.

And so, if you – and I – can get to equanimity, we’ve “made it!” We are happy! YAY!!!

But remember, “YAY!!!” is extra. YAY!! Is not equanimity. Nor, for that matter is its opposite: “WHAT…ever”, (which is code for “I don’t care”).

This is the job of a lifetime.

So dear reader, be calm (happy), be safe, be free…and please, be kind to yourself.




About Michael Scott

Michael Scott is a life coach, author and teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. After spending 35 years in business - coaching found him - and he's never looked back. Michael uses his coaching training and experience, in the service of his clients, as their constant and loving guide towards joyous, fulfilling lives which are genuinely their own. He lives with his dear wife in Sausalito, CA.

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