Why true ‘giving up’ is a good thing and how to be kind to ourselves

A student writes:

I apply constant self-judging to my Dharma practice, so one part of me sets demands and expectations while another part of me is fed up with a lifetime of these and rebels.

Lama Shenpen responds:

Yes it is very tiring to take these ‘rebels’ as somehow real rather than noticing they are passing thoughts that you don’t actually need to fight.


So I feel I let myself down, then I mentally “give up”.

Lama Shenpen:

Yes – it is so tiring – we just want to find a way to get off the spot – separate ourselves off from the struggle and so we invent this idea of ‘giving up’. Of course that is exactly what we never do – what we call ‘giving up’ is actually just grasping onto the idea of ‘It’s no good’ or ‘Nothing helps’ or ‘I can’t do this’ or whatever.

It seems this should somehow be more comfortable than struggling on to discover what is really happening – but it never works. We never truly give up in that way. The true giving up is to discover that it is precisely because we don’t give up that we are suffering like this.

We don’t want to give up our habits and ideas – and the reason is that we think they support our reality. It is only when we become convinced that they don’t support anything – that they are just wrong – that we can genuinely give up and see it all for what it is – it’s thinking and grasping at thinking as if it were reality. It is extremely wearisome!


This is a major block to my enthusiasm for practice (virya) since my motivation and enthusiasm are strong. In this situation I also have problems with my attitude to others, and have mixed feelings contemplating the first line of the Apramanas (a practice wishing for limitless love, compassion, joy and equanimity.) How can I develop kindness to myself?

Lama Shenpen:

It is really a matter of being very, very simple actually. It’s not easy to do but it’s important to remember that the path to liberation is about freedom and happiness and that increases as you move along the path. So whenever we think of helping others and of how the Bodhisattvas live, we should always remember that it’s about our own happiness and that Bodhisattvas are happy.

So, we have to find a way of helping others from a place in ourselves that is happy – that is essential. Sometimes we can start off helping someone not feeling very happy but if we remember that helping others actually makes us happy – it is easier to slot into a way of helping others that makes us happy.

If we forget this and try to help others from a place full of resentment and arrogance the happiness is slow in coming – it may not come at all – at least not much. That is the time to look at what you are doing to yourself – what are you doing that is making you unhappy? Remember not to try to run before you can walk. Slow down – do less but enjoy it more and work from there.

The first line of the Apramanas is to direct loving kindness to oneself, wishing oneself happiness. I find I cannot do this by taking myself as an object – although I know this does work for some people – they kind of imagine themselves receiving love and kindness and it makes them feel happy. What I do is to simply imagine being happy and enjoying myself and just feeling good about that.

I find that I am already wishing for that happiness and joy and so I don’t have to crank it up. It’s more a matter of connecting to that wish – noticing how good it is and nurturing it.

I really want to feel warm and well, I really love drinking tea and eating good food, I really love good company and lovely scenery – as I think these things I notice the wish that is there for all that and I link to that drive or wish or whatever you want to call it.

It’s good, and the more I dwell on that experience of wishing myself well – the better I feel without having to ‘do’ anything particularly. It’s more a matter of remembering to give enough time to it really.

Then I think how dependent I am on conditions to be happy in this way – so I then deepen my wish so that I wish myself the happiness that is not dependent on conditions – and I notice I have a very strong aspiration to realise that. That makes me feel very happy, which is strange really – since I do not realise that really, not yet, it’s just the aspiration.

That is amazing really – how is it the aspiration itself already brings happiness? I think there is a very deep reason for this. But anyway this is a very good starting place really for opening out to others.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

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