Friday, May 7, 2010

From My Cold, Dead Hand

A few weeks ago, I was sitting with a client with whom I use vipassana meditation in support of more "traditional" psychotherapy treatment. We were discussing the idea that we can be liberated from suffering by releasing the tight fist of grasping, and she said, "Well, sometimes I feel like I have to use both hands just to let go." She demonstrated this by closing her right hand into a fist, and then reaching across with her left, pantomiming prying her fingers open one by one with great difficulty. 

Indeed, sometimes it seems to take all of our strength to peel the fingers apart and open the hand. Sometimes, it takes more strength than we actually possess, and in those cases, the hand may stay firmly closed. Other times, the hand may open for a moment, and then slam shut again right away.

My client's example reminded me of the iconic statement that the late Charlton Heston made when he was president of the National Rifle Association. When addressing his feelings about the possibility of his right to bear arms being taken away, he raised a rifle above his head and declared, "They'll have to take it from my cold, dead hand." A few years later, in the midst of his struggle with Alzheimer's disease, all he had to do when speaking to the NRA for the last time was to hold the rifle up and say, "From my cold dead hand," and the audience went crazy with applause.

Many of the things we are struggling with in our lives are not new issues; they have been with us in varying forms perhaps since childhood. It may feel as though we will always be stuck with our hands firmly clinging to these problems because, for whatever reason, we feel like we need to keep holding onto them. We may even feel like it is a hopeless situation, and that we will be stuck with this closed fist until the day we die.  

However, we can make the choice at any time to release the grasp, to open the fingers, to let whatever is in there have some space. And, yes, the hand may slam shut again, so we will need to repeat the process over and over again. It doesn't mean we are trying to get rid of whatever it is, but it means that we are abandoning the origins of suffering, meaning that we are stopping the clinging.


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