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Buddhists/How to let it go without being a pushover



I've been reading "Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears" by Pema Chodron and have been practicing "letting it go" when I find myself hooked or angered by something in my life. The book recommends taking three breaths and letting things go when you find yourself feeling a strong negative emotion or a desire to lash out. I think this is a great idea but I'm having trouble understanding how to do this without being a pushover. For example, if my husband does something that angers me (maybe forgetting to pick up milk on the way home), my instinct is to get angry with him and verbalize this. But Chodron seems to just suggest stopping, taking a breath, and letting it go. But to me, this seems to send a message to my husband that it's acceptable to forget things. If I show him my frustration and anger, perhaps he won't forget the milk next time. How can I practice taking a breath and letting it go to center myself and stay in the moment when I feel the need to express my anger and "get the message across" to my husband that I'm not happy with what he did? Can you help me understand how I can take breaths and "let it go" while at the same time not being a pushover or allowing people to "get away" with things in my life? Thank you!

The specific thing to "let go" of is I/my/me. The practice is to NOT be driven by "I like this" or "I want that." Once you let go of "I want," then it's possible to respond to each situation not just for yourself, but for all beings.

If you think that your husband has done something bad, something that will cause suffering for himself and others in the present or future... then your motivation can be to help your husband correct his mistake. Generally it's most effective to communicate with kindness. But maybe sometimes it works to communicate angrily (not necessarily by feeling angry inside, but by acting angry outside).

It depends on the specifics of the relationship and situation: sometimes it's best to help using kindness, sometimes using anger. The important thing isn't whether or not you're angry. Rather, the important thing is your intention, your motivation. Are you motivated by trying to help your husband by whatever means are available? Or are you focussed on getting good feelings for yourself?

In difficult situations, a very strong "I want!" may appear, and there's an urge to robotically follow I/my/me. Taking a moment to watch your breath etc makes it possible to see beyond "I want." It provides the opportunity to focus instead on helping everyone involved, instead on getting what you want.


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Stuart Resnick


I'm a long-time practitioner in a Korean-style Zen school. I can answer questions regarding Zen, formal sitting meditation, self-inquiry, the practice of "koan" transmission, and offer the particular perspective of this school on the great life questions.


18 years of formal practice with the Kwan Um School of Zen, currently with the Empty Gate Zen Center of Berkeley, currently a "Senior Dharma Teacher" at this center, I give periodic talks and informally answer questions of students interested in Zen practice and teaching style

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