Breaking the ties that bind

letting go 2Now that we have developed some wisdom on the subject of subtle impermanence, we need to use the second approach, which is making a determination.

We are in such a bad habit of grasping at the ties that bind, even when this is painful and we already know on one level that it is futile. So we need to be a bit determined now, to push our mind, to strong-arm it, telling it, “Stop! Stop grasping at the past!” One thing that you might like to do is to say, almost like a wrathful mantra:

I will stop grasping at the past because it no longer exists.

We don’t just say it gently, we say it strongly. And we can spell it out more: “I will stop grasping at past me, people, and situations because they no longer exist.”

  1. I will stop grasping at past me

For example, let’s suppose we were in a conversation earlier today — and we like to come across as intelligent but we said something stupid. Now the other people have all moved on in this conversation, but we’re back five minutes ago, “Why did I say that, what was I thinking?!”, writhing in embarrassment. At that time we need to say, “I will stop grasping at that me because it no longer exists.” Why are we tormenting ourselves? Let’s just enjoy the conversation. So impermanence allows us to move on moment by moment, not tormenting ourselves but living life newly.

  1. I will stop grasping at past people

Or maybe we meet someone, we like them, maybe it even gets serious; and then 18 months later we say, “You’ve changed!” It’s like an accusation – “You’re not the person I got together with, you’ve changed!” Well come on, duh. Of course they’ve changed, moment by moment. So have we. Why is that a problem for us? Because we want them to be that person we were interested in 18 months ago. So the problem is not impermanence 2that they’ve changed, but that we are grasping at how they were; and if we stopped grasping at how they were we might find we are quite happy with how they are now. So at that time we need to remember subtle impermanence and think, “I will stop grasping at this past person because they no longer exist.” Why hold onto something that isn’t there?! That person isn’t there!

  1. I will stop grasping at past situations

Also, how much time do we spend living in past situations, feeling nostalgia, melancholy for what we have lost? Perhaps we feel that all the good times are behind us, that the happiest time of our life was the summer of  ‘69. And at that time we need to say, “I will stop grasping at past situations because they no longer exist. Why am I grasping at something that is not there?!” We keep telling ourselves this till our mind changes. And our mind will change, very much for the better.

Analogy of a tug boat

It’s not letting go, but holding on, that’s painful.

To expand on stopping grasping at other people … Let’s say the other person has become less interested in you, but you hold forlornly onto the relationship as having life because you are relating to the past relationship still, not the present one. I don’t know if this analogy will help you but it has helped me before. Let’s say you are a boat on the ocean, joined by a rope to another boat. At first the rope is slack as you’re both being pulled along by similar karmic currents and winds, so a lot of the time you don’t even notice the rope is there. But after a while you find you have effectively become a tug boat pulling along a second old (moreorless reluctant) boat, and the rope is sliding through your hands. Perhaps, as they start drifting off, you get a few currents making it appear as if you are both still alongside; but they are slowly pulling away, the currents of karma and changing minds being what they are. You have rope burn, and one day you think, “I am just going to let go!” There is relief and lightness as you both sail off, wishing each other well on your way. We can once again enjoy the space around us, the blue sky, the sunshine, unfettered.

tugboatWe can love that person from then on in the moment, wherever they are and whatever they are doing. We are still grateful for the lessons they taught us. And we also have more energy and attention now for the other people and animals around us who need and want our love, because everyone needs and wants love.

Going with the flow of subtle impermanence is great because as soon as we let go of grasping no further thought is required. No rationalizations. No elaborations. We can make the most of the new moment without thinking too much because there is nothing there to think about, eg, “Should we stay friends? How are we supposed to do this? What if this happens? Maybe she does like me but just didn’t get my message? Surely something here is worth preserving? What do I do when we bump into each other again?” etc. The moment we truly let go, the endless speculation — all our conceptual bubble-like thoughts — dissolve away into the clarity of the mind; and we have lightness, freedom, and life.

Due to habits, we may find ourself still tugging from time to time, still experiencing some rope burn; but we will be able to let go more easily if we revisit our wisdom and our determination: “I will not grasp at this past person or relationship because they do not exist.”

And, you know what? We come to enjoy letting go every bit as much as we enjoyed clinging on, in fact a great deal more.

Ocean of love and wisdom

Leonard CohenNow this might be taking this tugboat analogy too far but, like I said, it works for me. The tugboats are being tossed around on the vast ocean of the root mind. Our mind and its appearances are changing all the time due to karmic potentials or seeds ripening, like waves and currents in an ever-changing ocean.

As Buddha said, all meetings end in parting. This is because appearances inevitably change but, you know something, the love can remain.

This is because love and wisdom are like the ocean itself.

Buddhas and Yogis have learned this and can therefore love everyone literally unconditionally, not affected by the superficial vagaries of changed circumstances or appearances. And so can we.

When we have a taste of pure love, wishing others to be totally happy, we can understand too that it is Dharma Jewel and no different to the ocean of love possessed by the Buddhas or by the Sangha, spiritual friends past and present. We can experience immutable refuge and happiness in the vast and profound ocean of love and wisdom, despite the ever-changing world.

Do we want to mourn something we can’t have, ie, happiness from something that has disappeared, or do we want to fully enjoy what we DO have, ie, the peace and bliss of our own mind? In his Mahamudra teachings, Venerable Geshe-la teaches us to dissolve all conceptual bubble-like thoughts grasping at permanence into the peace and clarity of our own mind. We really enjoy that profound peace. Then, day by day, moment by moment, we can also enjoy all the appearances that arise from that mind.

Thank you again to Gen Samten for his insights. Still more on this subject here! Hope you are finding it helpful because I am 🙂 Please leave comments below.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

33 thoughts on “Breaking the ties that bind”

  1. Just read this for the second time. So profound and practical at the same time.. And so beautifully explained. Thank you.. And I love the tug boat analogy! X

    1. Thank you for reading it twice. I find remembering subtle impermanence is so incredibly helpful as a way to let go of worries, etc.

  2. Thank you Luna,your article appeared at the perfect time so I can end a strong attachment I have for someone 😊

  3. Wonderful, thank you, I find it also very helpful. Actually I wrote you a litte message. Thank you again.

  4. Thank you, Luna for your constant inspiration, practical and much needed advice.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing all this amazing wisdom, you help me to put a class together, I have come to rely on my online sangha, from the heart, Lesley x

  5. I am a newbie responder to your posts, and I just want to thank you so much for your insightful, beautiful articles and analogies.

    You deepen my study greatly, and being a new student in this lifetime of New Kadampa Buddhism, I especially appreciate every new teaching by my wonderful teachers. I print and save your teachings, because tomorrow they will be new to a different me. Thank you!😘🙏🙏

  6. Thank you…this was just the medicine I needed out of the cupboard…my mind started relaxing just reading this ..:)

  7. Don’t cry because you lost it, be happy because you had it. Thank you very much Luna I really need this Thank you!

    1. People always seem to need teachings on subtle impermanence, me included! We are in the habit of getting so attached, otherwise 🙂

  8. Thank you so much for this. It was exactly what I needed to hear today!!!

  9. Lovely dharma presentation Luna…as usual..thank you….it inspired a poem this morning (or was it late last night?……


    If I can’t believe
    The you that I see
    How can I believe
    The you I used to see
    With other eyes
    And a mind less wise?

    Let it go, let it go
    It’s not there anymore
    Don’t you know
    Let it go, let it go

    Like that cascade at
    Niagara Falls
    It seems so solid
    Like a wall
    Let it go, Let it go
    It’s not there anymore
    Don’t you know

    Let it go, let it go
    It’s not there anymore
    Don’t you know
    Let it go, let it go

    Sean in Windermere

    (It’s more of a song but I am musically challenged so anyone can feel free to arrange a tune if they like……just pass the tune on please)

    1. Hi Sean as you say lovely dharma presentation and nice insight in your lines. Have written a few tunes in my time could see what happens!

      Gerry in Dublin

      1. Hi Jerry

        I reworked those lyrics once I saw clearly it should be a song…

        Have a go…..the repeated lines I hear as an instrumental bit……..
        Sue what you like, the original lyrics or these

        If you are going to a festival let me know as i would like to meet up….
        My email is

        See what you can do….I have over a hundred of these lyrics written already and some actually recorded with a friend who used to live near me and is a good musician….he arranged the music and played most of the instruments….here is a link so you can hear a few if you like…



        Let It Go Sean

        intro (Instr) That cascade at Niagara Falls It looks so solid Like a wall

        CHORUS Let it go, let it go, It’s not here any more
        Don’t you know, you should know
        Let it go,/ / let it go

        Somethin’ was said, To you last night
        And it stayed-in-your-head, Until daylight
        Somethin’ was said, To you last night
        And it stayed in your head, Until daylight

        CHORUS Let it go, let it go, It’s not here any more
        Don’t you know, you should know
        Let it go,/ / let it go

        You had a plan, And it fell apart
        Didn’t end well, ’cause it didn’t start
        You had a plan, And it fell apart
        Didn’t end well, ’cause it didn’t start

        CHORUS Let it go, let it go, It’s not here any more
        Don’t you know, you should know
        Let it go,/ / let it go

        Maybe Inevercamethrough for you
        Now ask yourself ‘What can I do
        Whatever happened with you and me,
        Is ancient history

        CHORUS Let it go, let it go, It’s not here any more
        Don’t you know, you should know
        Let it go,/ / let it go

        That cascade, at Niagara Falls
        It looks so solid just Like a wall
        That cascade at Niagara Falls
        Well it looks so solid Like a wall

        CHORUS Let it go, let it go, It’s not here any more
        Don’t you know, you should know
        Let it go,/ / let it go
        Let it go,/ / let it go
        outro That cascade at Niagara Falls
        It looks so solid Like a wall

  10. I so enjoy reading your articles. This particular article was very heart felt for me. It never ceases to amaze how the Buddhas manifest for us at the very right moment. On another note, I at first wanted to know who this Luna Kadampa was, male or female, young or old, etc. Today’s article led me to conclude that it doesn’t matter one bit. I will allow it all just to be in the moment……well perhaps if I’m honest it’s more like I’m still working on that.

  11. If the past no longer exists, then why is there a ‘life review’ in Near Death Experiences (NDE’s). Life reviews are experienced with greater intensity of feeling than previously experienced. This includes the negative and positive, hurtful and loving interactions and responses of the ego self and others. All the ‘karmic’ impacts of self and others are experienced and felt. From this all embracing, more conscious experience and realization, forgiveness arises in the light of enlightened understanding about life, relationships and karmic interactions. Learning to love self and others more unconditionally without narrow judgments, is the outcome of this ‘peak’ experience as the oneness inter-relationship and connectivity of life is experienced in the living moment of being embraced by the light of all embracing understanding and love.

    Without personal and collective histories and ‘recorded’ memory of (‘Book of Life’) experience, the ‘learning’ of life experience is a repeating cycle of folly.
    We can learn from what is past, from previous negative and positive experience.
    Dwelling on previous negative experience and ‘nursing’ grievances can inflict more emotional self pain and hurt and undermine health and well being. Some are more prone to do this at times than others who seek to ‘move on’ with life and learn to go with the flow when more aware of the cycles of transitory change and transformation of outward and inner (subjective) processes. Learning how to let go of the tendency to hold on to transitory situations is a difficult life challenge as is selfishness. For it is self limiting to the greater expression and experience of love in all it’s forms, manifestations and expressions. Love is what we are grasping for. Like the breath of life, it sustains the heart and soul of our being. Buddha-like.

  12. The wisdom from impermenance is very insiteful and it was nice to have a part 2, for waking up on yesterdays Dharma teaching and wanting to understand more and need a continuation. It helps me a lot, Infact I love it. I’m grateful for these teachings. Moment by moment. I WILL NOT GRASP ON TO THE PAST. QUOTE: THERE IS NOT A MEETING W/OUT A PARTING.

  13. Hehehe, how amazing! I read about the three times yesterday and discussed it with my sister. Something just blew me away. Buddhas reside in the three times. From the POV of the object and not the observer. The three times are functioning things! Mind. Blown. Time just went all Kansas on me.I still need to meditate on the series of merely appearing moments. I experienced this in my ordination. When Gen la Dekyong clicked her fingers. In a moment I left behind Emma and become Khachö. My world the last few days is very soft and flexible, thank you x <3 x

  14. Thanks Luna-
    This piece was particularly perfect for me today. I am struggling mentally with a project I lost a while back. If the past would only stay in the past! This film project is now poised to be realeased only to serve as a reminder of how I failed. It opens up old wounds for me. I have practiced letting go and thought I had done a good job but….
    As a Kadampa, I try to rejoice in the good fortune of all the people who will benefit from this. BUT as a self cherishing being, it hurts my pride and future prospects. You ask, “Do we want to mourn something we can’t have, ie, happiness from something that has disappeared, or do we want to fully enjoy what we DO have, ie, the peace and bliss of our own mind?”

    This is indeed an either/or question! I either commit to the vast view of things (the bliss of my own mind) or allow the GDSC (great demon..) to run amok yet again.

    So far….he maintains the upper hand.

    Believing Faith is founded on experience. I have faith in dharma and Geshela because I have experienced blessings. I love the analogy of the tug boat because the tugboat represents EFFORT! I believe we are all tugging at something with great effort but are we tugging the right thing? When I remember to put effort into shoring up FAITH, it always delivers!

  15. Thank you, Luna. You write beautifully and I always look forward to new posts. Lots of love

  16. I am loving these little pearls. Thank you. I save them for when I am out and about. In a caf or on a train.
    I like the advice and the analogies.
    So so helpful.
    I like the bit about keeping at it and gradually things will change for the better.
    Thank you

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