Monday, March 25, 2013

"Simple Living" - Sermon

Simple Living

         Last week we talked about the Buddhist path to liberation. The Buddha instructed his followers on a life of letting go, letting go of material things and relationships. Ultimately the goal is to let go of our own sense of self. It’s one great way to get at the idea of letting go, just let go of it all. But today we are going to talk about very different goal of letting go. Today we are talking about making choices that simplify our lives, letting go of some of the less important things, so that we can focus our time, energy and money on the things we really care about.
         We Unitarian Universalists have been all over the map when it comes to our personal ethics and material wealth. That might have something to do with the history that we bring from our traditions. Until 1961, Unitarianism and Universalism were two separate denominations. They had different theological roots. But more import for this discussion, the also represented different demographics. Unitarians, especially early ones, were wealthy New Englanders. They are commonly referred to as the Boston Brahman, an economically elite religious community. Mind you, not all of them were rich, but for the stereotype was certainly upper-class. Universalists, on the other hand were more rural farmers. Their experience was more connected to hard physical labor and the earth.
         Our history as a tradition brings a hodgepodge understanding of luxury. I think still today we don’t quite know what to do with the resources in our midst. By and large we Unitarian Universalists have all that we need, and more. With an awareness of economic injustice and environmental degradation, we feel some serious spiritual pressure.  We know that we have more than enough, and others don’t. It leaves us with anxiety and a looming question.
         One writer used the word “affluenza” the great cultural epidemic of modern America, the cycle of wanting more and more material goods. It is an insatiable hunger based on the assumption that objects are what bring value to our lives. But we can choose a different way. And I’m glad that we as Unitarian Universalists often do. That’s what we are talking about today, choosing to simplify our lives a bit and saving ourselves from the affluenza that pervades our culture.
         The good news is that curing the pandemic of overconsumption at both the personal and cultural scale is not about giving up the good life, but getting it back. Curing affluenza is about remembering that spending our time with family, connected to the earth, spending our money on things that nurture our soul can be deeply fulfilling.

         It really is a question of how we will spend our time, our money, our resources, how we will spend our life. Many of you are familiar with Henry David Thoreau’s adventure to Walden Pond. He set out to live in a cabin, actually as a simple writing retreat. But he found his experience of solitude so inspiring, that it became a whole project unto itself. Thoreau whittled his life down to the necessities of living, and let go of luxury in a great experiment in the woods.
         The longest chapter in his book “Walden” is titled “Economy.” This isn’t a discussion of financial matters per se. But is about how we spend what is ours. This chapter is an accounting of his two years at Walden Pond. It is an examination of how we spend our lives. The word play here is so powerful. It demonstrates the finite resources that each of us have. Our time and our money go somewhere. We make choices of how we will spend each and every morsel. His chapter “Economy” is an accounting of how we spend our lives.
         As we let go of some things in our lives, we make room for others. It’s a choice that we make with every minute of every day, and every dollar that is in our possession. What we are talking about is making priorities and living by them. The best visual image that comes to my mind is that of filing papers. Filing is a pretty dull job. No one likes to sort through files. My office is a testament to that fact. But what happens when you don’t sort things out. What happens if you don’t take the time and attention to put things in their proper place… in your heart? You end up with a mess, where nothing can be found and it all gets so mixed up. It’s difficult to get anything done.
         This sermon is an invitation to work with the files of your life. We are all at different stages of this project. Some of us need to start from the ground up, identifying the necessities of life, the things that are important to us, the things we want, and the things we don’t need. Once we know what our priorities are, then comes the step of allotting our time and money to each of these categories.
         Some of us are very clear about our priorities, we have already set up the major files of our life. But just like in my office, things pile up without attention. It may be time to spend a while re-sorting what you are working with, just to get things back in order.
         And even then, even when things are in order and your desk is perfectly clear. Who ever you are out there. It probably wouldn’t hurt to take an inventory and see if some of those files are outdated or could be consolidated.
         I know it sounds terribly dry, but sometimes life requires intentional strategy. Setting our priorities and deciding how to spend our resources is just like filing paper work.
         I have often heard it said that you can tell what an organization values by looking at its budget. I imagine the same is true for each of us and the way we organize our lives. If someone came in from the outside, and all they saw was the way you spent your time, your money, and your effort, would they see a clear reflection of your values?

         It’s probably no secret to you that simplifying leaves more time and resources for the things we care about in the world. But how do we make that change to simplify? Let’s talk about a few strategies.
         One writer I looked at this week compared simple living to packing for a backpacking outing. The idea of back-packing is that you take with you only what you can carry, for a camping adventure over a few days. To have this adventure, and see some of the most astounding beauty in the world, you have to choose your gear very carefully. You need a few well-designed things, a good stove, a warm sweater, sturdy boots, nutritious food. And the backpacker brings along his or her skills and experience to use these tools. With the right tools, the world comes alive and fills the days and nights with rich adventure.
         We can use these same principles in selecting the stuff that we bring into our lives. Keep in mind this isn’t about buying cheap stuff, and it’s not about having nothing at all. Simple living is about carefully selecting the appropriate high-quality stuff that will attend to the real needs of our life. And once those basic needs are met, the rest of the world becomes our playground.

          So think of your stuff as a backpacker, and I would suggest, think of your time as an investor. Before we make any financial investment, we think about what it will yield. Well time works much the same way. The time you spend commuting or watching television aren’t going to yield much in return. However the time you spend building relationships with other people will continue to give back, and the interest compounds itself over time. Just think about how you spend like you might your money. What will bring the best yield?

         Simplifying life doesn’t have to be a grand transformation. It could just be a tweak here and there, an experiment. There are several different experiments I have heard of to get you started. If you are not already a vegetarian, consider making one day of the week meatless. Meatless Mondays seems to be like an easy one to remember. And who couldn’t use a slightly lighter diet after the weekend? It’s not a huge commitment, just an experiment.
         Or, consider going on a technology fast. Here in Southern California it seems like everyone has been on one kind of dietary fast or another. But imagine spending time without some piece of technology, maybe your cellular phone or your computer. How about not using the microwave it your kitchen. Granted, it is faster, but it does some pretty funky things to food. Or maybe giving your car a break and rely on public transportation. It doesn’t matter so much which piece of technology you give up for a while. But try letting go of something, and find out if you actually miss it. You might come to realize that spending the time to accomplish the task without technology is a more enjoyable and better for you.
         Or perhaps take a moment to unplug from everything. For the past couple of months I have renewed a time in my day to focus on quiet. It’s not a huge amount of time. I take thirty minutes each day for meditation. You could make it five minutes, or forty-five minutes. But pausing to be quiet and still on a regular basis is a very powerful, very simple way of centering your life.
         There are a thousand and one experiments you can try like this. Of course we could all probably eliminate some of the physical clutter in our lives. Or at least be careful of what we add to it going forward.

         Simplifying doesn’t always mean sticking with the old or reducing what you already have. It may mean embracing a new and more efficient way of doing things. You have heard that our Unitarian Universalist Association is about to undertake a step toward simple living.
         The Board of Trustees has decided to sell our historic headquarters at 25 Beacon St. It is an impressive old building that sits next door to the state capital. It’s also a five-story building that has an elevator that goes only to the third floor. It has only a few parking spaces. It is not equipped to handle high-speed internet. There is no common lunch room and the offices are so chockablock throughout the very tall building that very little collaboration happens naturally.
         This beautiful historic building is worth a tremendous sum of money but really doesn’t serve our needs very well. So our Board of Trustees just last week made a brave decision to simplify. They are letting go of an edifice, to allow for a workspace where human collaboration can occur and technology can make work easier. It’s also accessible from public transportation and accessible to people with disabilities.
         At first glance, this is a tremendous undertaking that will be chocked full of new technology. But in the end it will consolidate offices that are currently housed in three separate buildings, it will allow human beings to collaborate face to face, it will be accessible and more efficient. It will simplify the life and work of the UUA.
         Simplifying doesn’t necessarily mean whittling down or staying the same. It could mean adapting to new technology. The question is about at the end of the day, how will we be spending our time, money, and spiritual resources.

         If nothing else, I want you to hear today that each one of us has a choice about how we will spend our life. We are limited creatures with a few years to live, and a few dollars to our name. We are given a few talents and hopefully a few loving relationships. Every minute of every day is a choice. Every dollar in our name is a choice. So invest wisely. How will you spend your life?


Monday, March 18, 2013

"Four Noble Truths" - Sermon

"Four Noble Truths"

         As you may know, the theme that we are working with for the month of March is “letting go.” There are a thousand and one ways to approach this great spiritual endeavor. But Buddhism addresses the challenge more directly and more eloquently than any other that I know of. In fact, this isn’t just another component of the Buddhist tradition. Letting go is what Buddhism is all about.
         The core of the Buddha’s teaching, and the place we are starting today is with the Four Noble Truths. These are actually the ideas that the Buddha shared in his very first sermon after enlightenment. Before we dive into those though, I want to be clear that Buddhism is more about a lifestyle and a mindset than it is a set of beliefs. In many faiths the lynchpin is in believing the right things. In Buddhism however, it’s all about finding your own way to enlightenment through an appropriate and balanced life. Buddhism is about living, not believing. But to start out with, we need to take a look at how the Buddha saw our experience as human beings. In the Four Noble Truths he describes our human experience and the opportunity to do something better.

         The first Noble Truth is Dukkha, or “life is suffering.” At least that’s the way it is usually translated. Life is suffering. From the time we come into the world we experience pain sickness and death. I know, you are thinking, but there is more to life than that. But, even as we enjoy things, we know that that they are for a limited time or quantity. We are never satisfied, we are always longing for something more or something different.
         But as often is the case, a great deal of meaning is lost in translation. The actual for the First Noble Truth is Dukkha. A better translation of this is “all life is dissatisfaction.” The Buddha wasn’t pessimistic, saying that life is just pain and suffering. Quite the contrary, he is almost always depicted with a pleasant smile. But the essential experience of life is dissatisfaction. Some other words to describe this might be imperfection, impermanence, emptiness, insubstantiality. It’s impossible to capture in the one word “suffering”. But today we will keep it simple. So the first noble truth is, Dukkha, all life is dissatisfaction.
      Which brings us to the Second Noble Truth. The Second Noble Truth is that the root of dukkha is attachment. Life is imperfect because of attachment. We get attached to material things that are fleeting. We also get attached to disappointments of the past, or anxieties of the future. We are attached to the way things could have been, or the way we didn’t quite make the mark that one time. We get absorbed in how wonderful life used to be. We get attached to what is not here and now, and we long for a different experience. The root of dissatisfaction is attachment.
      There is another type of attachment that is a little more difficult to describe, but it is critically important. Part of our longing is a commitment to perpetuating a sense of self. We cling to our identity, to our personhood and we perpetuate a sense of self. But as you and I know life changes us; we change as people every moment of every day. So clinging to a sense of self is a dissatisfying experience. Not to mention the fact that we are mortal, and try as we may to prevent it, this life, this identity will come to an end. And thus we are dissatisfied. The First Noble Truth is that all life is dissatisfaction. The Second Noble Truth is that attachment, or longing is the root cause of that suffering.
         The third Noble Truth is the next logical conclusion. Ending this constant attachment is the way to end the state of dissatisfaction in one’s life. Dissatisfaction ends when craving ends. For that sense of craving to end we must remove the delusion of needing those things in our lives. And when we are able to achieve this freedom from longing and dissatisfaction, we enter a liberated state of being, or enlightenment. The Third Noble Truth is that to end dissatisfaction we must end attachment.
         But how, you ask, how does one make this great achievement of releasing all that we long for. Well, that’s the Fourth Noble Truth. Reaching liberation or enlightenment can be achieved through the path laid out by the Buddha.
         You have probably seen this wheel with eight spokes. Often this wheel is used to symbolize the Buddhist tradition. The eight spokes of the wheel are a reminder of the Eight Fold Path. Those are the eight areas that the Buddha suggested focusing on to end our sense of longing and attachment.
         I want to name these eight areas of focus, just so we get a sense of what they are and the broad focus of Buddhist life. Right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. The Buddha gave basically an entire framework for living a life that moves toward liberation. Over the centuries different schools of Buddhism have focused on different aspects of the eight fold path. But they are all there for the taking. So there you have it, the path to letting go in Four Noble Truths: All life is dissatisfaction. The root of dissatisfaction is grasping. The way to end dissatisfaction is to stop our grasping. And the eight fold path is the journey to help us let go.

         As Unitarian Universalists, we tend to buck anytime someone claims to the THE answer, THE way to enlightenment, I know I do. But Buddhism offers its answer to the challenges of life in a very gentle way. The teaching of the Buddha is considered useful and true only to the extent that it helps remove suffering in one’s life. The Buddha was perhaps one of the most humble religious teachers of the world. He never claimed that he was from God or that his teachings were divinely inspired. He simply offered a path for people to find liberation in their lives. And the teachings were only as good as their ability to provide a path for the follower. That is the point of probably the most famous parable within the tradition.
         In this story, the Buddha compared his own teachings to a raft that could be used to cross a river.
         A man is trapped on one side of a fast-flowing river. Where he stands, there is great danger and uncertainty - but on the far side of the river, there is safety. But there is no bridge or ferry for crossing. So the man gathers logs, leaves, twigs, and vines and is able to fashion a raft, sturdy enough to carry him to the other shore. By lying on the raft and using his arms to paddle, he crosses the river to safety.
         The Buddha then asks the listeners a question: “What would you think if the man, having crossed over the river, then said to himself, ‘Oh, this raft has served me so well, I should strap it on to my back and carry it over land now?’”
         The monks replied that it would not be very sensible to cling to the raft in such a way.
         The Buddha continues: “What if he lay the raft down gratefully, thinking that this raft has served him well, but is no longer of use and can thus be laid down upon the shore?”
         The monks replied that this would be the proper attitude.
         The Buddha concluded by saying, “So it is with my teachings, which are like a raft, and are for crossing over with — not for seizing hold of.”

         You see Buddhist teaching exists in a bit of a paradox this way. The teachings are profoundly life-changing ideas. They give a sense of direction and understanding. But the whole thrust of the tradition is to let go, of every sense of grasping, even grasping at the teachings themselves. The teachings are only a raft to the other side, a pathway that any person can follow to achieve his or her own enlightenment. Neither the Buddha nor his teachings are to be clung to forever.
         There is a famous Zen koan that points to this reality in a very pithy way. It is, “If you meet the Buddha, kill him.” It sounds like half like a joke. But the point is, if you ever get to a point in your journey when you think you have come upon the ultimate truth, it’s time to radically challenge those ideas, because you are clinging onto that idea. And clinging onto anything, be it a new car or a religious doctrine is the source of suffering. “If you meet the Buddha, kill him.”
         This is such a gem of religious teaching. It is so important to realize that truth, is not imbedded in a building or in books. Religious institutions are neither holy nor perfect. They are simply tools, helpful tools, to be used on the path toward enlightenment.
         Buddhsim is a path of freedom. It’s contrary to the assumption that we might have when we think of monks and meditation. It all looks very serious and from the outside. But really the goal of the Buddhist life is to let go. It’s about letting go of all the things that occupy our mind, the regrets, the hopes the fears, all that we cling to and suffer over.
          One of the best lessons I have had about letting go was during a yoga class. I have done a little bit of yoga in my life. Every time I do it I think to myself “That was great! I should do that more often.” Then I don’t do it again for another couple of years. But in one particular class I was told something that made a tremendous difference. I remember this class was during the Santa Anna winds one October. Everyone was on edge, and tense. We started the class with a long period of just breathing together, and our teacher explained that doing yoga shouldn’t feel strained. I shouldn’t feel forced, or over-concentrated. In fact just the opposite is true. I should feel open and freeing.
         It was fascinating to get such a physical lesson in this concept of Buddhism. Throughout that yoga class, I was able to be aware of my body in a new way. Was I straining, was I forcing this, was I cutting off, constricting? Or was I opening and letting go? I could feel it so acutely in my body. Our minds and our bodies are very similar and so deeply connected. Sometimes, without even realizing it, we can become totally clenched, totally constricted, forced in focusing on one little detail, whether good or bad. But if we pause to take a few deep breaths, we can choose to let go of some of that longing, some of that tension. We can choose to let go, and open up a little bit.

         I want to close our discussion today by talking about a major misunderstanding in our common language about Buddhism. It is the word Karma or Kamma. I want to explain the misunderstanding not for the sake of vocabulary, but because the way we understand this word is a very good window into how profoundly different Buddhism is from most of our ways of thinking.
         I hear people talking about Karma, good Karma and bad Karma as the way the universe responds to our actions. If you do good, you will get good in return. If you bad then you will get bad in return. This is NOT how Karma works in Buddhism. Not at all.
         Karma is not the result of divine judgment or cosmic response to our moral actions. In Buddhism there is no God that dolls out punishment and reward. Quite the contrary, Karma is simply the law of cause and effect. Through our actions we perpetuate ourselves in a particular way. We can do morally good things and perpetuate ourselves as a good person, or we can do bad things and perpetuate ourselves as a bad person. The distinction between good and bad karma is simply about the version of ourselves that we perpetuate in the world. Karma is about perpetuating ourselves as good or bad.
         But rewind with me for a moment. Everything I have said so far is that the point of Buddhism is letting go, letting go of attachment to this world and this life in order to find liberation. The whole point is to not perpetuate our sense of self.
         So whether we are acting for good or for bad, karma is a bad thing, because we are acting for the sake of perpetuating our sense of self. Karma is all about acting with our self as the primary focus.
         Let me put this in real world terms for you. Just last week, Bud was talking about this exact challenge. He described his personal ethical conundrum. He said that he has no problem doing good deeds, acting the right way. But his challenge is that when he does these things, he does it for a sense of feeling good about himself, feeling proud. His growing edge is to do the good in life, not for the sake of feeling proud, but simply because it is the good.
         That very enlightened endeavor, Bud, is what Buddhism is all about. Buddhism is all about letting go of attachment, not just of material things or memories. It is about letting go of attachment to our self. Letting go of self-righteousness.
         So this is the challenge I leave you with. It’s a different sort of challenge. Not simply to do good in your lives, but to do so for the sake of good and for the sake of others. In the week ahead let us let go. Let us act with sincere disregard for our self. Let us act according to what we think is best, and let go of the outcome.


Monday, March 4, 2013

"When to Hold'em and When to Fold'em" - Sermon

“When to Hold’em and When to Fold’em”
         Life is not perfect. I know it’s disappointing to hear but it’s true. Life is not perfected. In fact we are forced to make one compromise after another. Faced with limited time and limited resources, we have to choose what we will set as a priorities and what we will let go of. We have to choose, “When to hold’em and when to fold’em.”
         All this month we are focusing on the theme of letting go, which is a huge spiritual endeavor. So to start out that conversation I thought we should spend some time talking about how to decide what to let go of, and what to hold on to. It seems that in our lives there are a good many things that call us into being our best selves. They give us a foundation for deeper and wider exploration, they resonate with our truest sense of self. Then there are a good many other things in our life that limit us, that distract us, that prevent our truest self from being expressed and fully living.
         In a way this is what we talk about every Sunday in our worship services. We come together here and remind each other of our priorities in worship. That is what the word worship means after all. We don’t come here to may homage to some divine being. Our worship is much more nuanced than that. What we do for worship can be seen from the word itself. The word “worship” comes from the Old English worthscipe, meaning worthiness or worth-ship — at its simplest, to give worth to something. The historical details are not all that important, but I bring up the concept of worthship because it describes what worship means to us as Unitarian Universalists. In worship, we celebrate and name those things that are most important to us. For some of us that means worshiping God; for others that means celebrating our highest ideals and ethical principles.
         Sometimes the reminder is more grounded, it is about personal relationships. Sometimes it is about justice, sometimes it is about more abstract ideals or spiritual matters. But at the end of it all, we come here to name and remind each other what our priorities in life are, what we want to hold on to. And hopefully in doing so, we offer a foundation to build on.
         One of the ways of discerning when to hold’em and when to fold’em, or what our priorities are, is the way they ground our life. I’m talking about religious belief now, but the same is true for any other belief or relationship. Some serve as a foundation that we can grow and expand from, and others are an anchor that only weigh us down. In terms of religion, this looks like offering a living tradition. That’s the title of our hymnals, and it is woven through a good portion of writing about Unitarian Universalism. We aim to be a living tradition, a faith that is both grounded in the past, but also growing and living into a dynamic future.
         As progressive religious folks, we are able to pretty clearly point to that difference. We know that some religious beliefs are limiting while other beliefs are expansive. But the same is true for other beliefs and priorities. Some of the things that we hold dear serve us well as an foundation for growth, and others really limit our potential. But it isn’t always easy to tell the difference.

         Perhaps the biggest challenge in this decision of when to hold’em and when to fold’em is that no one else can tell you the answer.  Deciding what to hold tight to depends most of all on what is in your own heart and who you are as a person. Even if your commitments don’t line up with what the rest of the world might think is best, it’s up to you to listen to your heart and to figure out how are should play the game. Sometimes doing your best and being true to yourself doesn’t bring the most obvious success. But in the end, I promise you, it’s the only way to win.
         The writer John Fulghum has an interesting story about just this phenomenon. Well it’s not so much a story as a version of someone else’s biography. It’s the story of the 19th century Unitarian, John Pierpont.

         John Pierpont died a failure in 1866, at age eighty-one, he came to the end of his days a government clerk in Washington D.C., with a long string of personal defeats abrading his spirit.
         Things began well enough. He graduated from Yale, and chose education as his profession. He was a failure at school teaching. He was too easy on his students. So he turned to the legal world for training.
         But, he was a failure as a lawyer. He was too generous with his clients and too concerned about justice to take the cases that brought good fees. The next career he took up was dry-goods sales.
         He was a failure as a businessman. He could not charge enough for his goods to make a profit, and was too liberal with credit.
He wrote poetry and though it was published, he didn’t collect enough royalties to make a living.
         He was a failure as a poet. And so he decided to become a minister, went off to Harvard Divinity School, was ordained as a minister of the Hollis Street Church in Boston. But his position for prohibition against slavery got him in trouble with the influential members of his congregation and he was forced to resign.
         He was a failure as a minister, then also a failure at politics for his stance on slavery. The civil war came along, and he volunteered as a chaplain of the 22nd Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers. Two weeks later he quit, having found the task too much strain on his health. He was seventy-six years old. He couldn’t even make it as a chaplain.
         Finally someone found him an obscure job in the back offices of the Treasury Department in Washington D.C.  where he finished out the last five years of his life. He actually wasn’t too good at that either. His heart wasn’t in it.
         John Pierpont died a failure, having accomplished nothing that he set out to be. Today there is a small memorial stone marking his grave. The words read: POET, PREACHER, PHILOSOPHER, PHILANTRHOPIST.

         John Pierpont knew what to hold onto in his life. Even when his commitments appeared as failure to some, he continued to pursue the life he knew was in his heart. It took a while for the rest of the world to catch up with him, but in the end, it was his commitment to his true self that made him a really remarkable human being. Not titles or trophies, but personal commitment and fortitude marked his life. He knew well, what to hold on to, and what to let go of.

         If knowing what to hold onto and what to let go of is about tuning into your heart, and your true self, I guess we should talk a little bit about the differences between our true self and the things that distract us. We all have distractions, different coping mechanisms that make life a little more comfortable. Some of them are big, some small, some are momentary and others can last a whole lifetime.
         I remember a very jaded moment several years ago, a friend thought he was being wise and real, when he said “Isn’t that all life is anyway, a long series of coping mechanisms?” I look back and remember the conversation and part of me thinks, wow, what a terribly sad and bitter thing to say. “Isn’t that all life is anyway, a long series of coping mechanisms?”
         Each one of us uses some coping mechanisms. They are ways that we act, masks that we wear to make the world a little more comfortable. We learn to start wearing them from a very early age, as soon as we learn that some piece of us isn’t that pleasant, or we find that our feelings can get hurt. So we hide a little bit, or take on some persona to cover up something.  
         This is especially true for survivors of trauma. Whatever the trauma is that occurs in our life, it changes the way we act in the world for a while. Our sense that the world is safe is challenged, so we add a layer of protection, a mask, a shield. We create a slightly different persona to hide behind. Of course if we are fortunate to have the opportunity to learn again that the world is safe, through friends and family and loving community, then we can put down some of that shield. We can let it go. But the truth is many of us, I might even say most of us, carry with us throughout our lives a bit of a mask, a coping mechanism, a way of being that is not in complete harmony with our real self, because it is not our real self.
         There are a couple of unfortunate things about these masks, or coping mechanism. Probably the most important is that they get in the way of us being our full and complete self. But they also stand between us and the people that we care about. Rather than two people sharing their sincere hopes and dreams, we find a couple of coping mechanism coming up against each other. Don’t get me wrong, coping mechanisms and masks can fit very, very well together. They can lock two people together like glue. But is that the best that life has to offer? Two false versions locked together forever?  I’m fully convinced that life and love has more to offer us than that. But for real relationship to develop, romantic or otherwise, we have to set down some of the disguises and put our real amazing self out there.
         The other really unfortunate thing about masks is that they take a tremendous amount of energy to maintain. Acting is very hard work. Being someone other than your true self is exhausting stuff. And it is taking evergy that could be spent doing things that you really care about.  As I told my friend, no, life is not just one long series of coping mechanisms. Though we do all from time to time grab a hold of an idea or a way of being that isn’t really true to our self. We’ve all been there, we all have a few things in our life that we would be better off without.

         We have been talking about letting go for a while now. By now you have probably begun taking stock of your own life. You have probably started to name some of the things that you do that mask the real you, or some of the things that tie you down rather than give you a foundation. If you haven’t, well then I want you to think about it right now. What two things do you want to let go of, two things that prevent you from being your true self? These are things that take up your energy that could be spent on something you really care about. They are things that build a barrier between you and the people you love. What two things do you want to let go of?
         I want you to hold them in your two hands. Make a fist and hold on to them tightly, as tight as you can. You’ve probably been holding onto these masks and coping mechanisms for years and they probably make you feel much safer. In just a minute, we are going to let them go, but for now, take this time to say goodbye to them.

On the count of three, I want you to open your hands, and just let go.