Let Go or Be Dragged

Sarah Richards
October 25, 2015

Let Go or Be Dragged

“Let go or be dragged.” Such a simple, self evident statement—of course I would let go of whatever pulls me away from my own best self, of course I would let go of whatever causes me pain, right? Letting go is not so easy though, when we don’t recognize that we’re being dragged at all. In his essay about this saying, Lama Surya Das tells us, “Letting go means letting be, not throwing things away. Letting go implies letting things come and go, and opening to the wisdom of simply allowing, which is called nonattachment. Sometimes we may not know what to do. That is a good time to do nothing. Too often compulsive overdoing creates further unnecessary complications.[i]” Here’s a story from Ghana that illustrates both the being dragged and the compulsive overdoing:

There was once a proud hunter. One day the hunter was walking through a forest when he saw, perched high in a tree, a bird with a beautiful golden beak, green wings and a red tail. “What a beautiful bird,” he thought. “I’ll leave it alone.” As he carried on walking the bird sang out to him. The song sounded to the hunter like it was mocking him. “Na-na, na-na-na.” (Clap-clap-clap). The hunter didn’t like it. The song reminded him of the playground teasing he had experienced as a boy. He looked up at the bird. “I don’t like that song. Don’t sing it again or you will be sorry.” But the bird didn’t seem to mind. It pushed back its wings, stuck out its beak and sang, “Na-na, na-na-na.” The hunter put an arrow into his bow and shot at the bird. The arrow went straight through the bird’s heart and he fell, lifeless to the ground. “That will show him,” said the hunter. He put the dead bird in his sack and continued on his way. But from his bag came first a vibration and then a muffled sound, the very same song the bird had sang, “Na-na, na-na-na.” The hunter took the sack home, got out the bird and plucked out all its feathers. But then, in a shivering voice he heard that song again, “Na-na, na-na-na.” Furious with the bird, the hunter took a sharp knife and chopped the bird up into a hundred pieces and threw them in a pot of boiling water. “That will show him,” he said out loud. But then, in a bubbling gurgling voice he heard the song again, “Na-na, na-nana.” The hunter was wild with rage. He took the pot, the bones, the feathers – everything to do with this bird – out into the garden. He dug a deep hole and buried the lot. But the soil had barely been patted down when he heard the song, mocking him again. “Na-na, na-na-na.” He dug the bird up, threw all the pieces into a box. He took the box down to the river, tied a great big stone around it and pushed it into the river. At last, the bird was silenced and the hunter went home to bed. But during the night, at the bottom of the river, the box started to sway in the currents and finally it broke free.[ii]

There’s more to the story, but for the moment, let’s just reflect a little about the hunter. Clearly, the hunter hadn’t read Lama Surya Das’ essay on line–he really has a problem with letting go! It’s not the bird though, it’s his sense of hurt and resentment from childhood that he clings to, and the more tightly he holds on to that feeling, the more he is dragged by it, defined by it, all his actions are in relation to it. What a stubborn, unenlightened guy!

The thing is, each one of us has a little bit of the hunter in us, being dragged into ruts of narrow-minded self protection, rather than open to the wisdom of simply allowing, letting go of compulsive overdoing, allowing ourselves to do nothing when we don’t know what to do. If we can’t let go, we will be dragged by our attachments to our self image, to our resentments, to success, to our comforts, to our judgments. If we can’t let go of those ways of perceiving ourselves and the world, if we can’t loosen our grip on them to be able to see them clearly, we suffer and those around us suffer. Christian theologian Frederick Buechner describes it this way:

“Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor the last toothsome morsel of both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in so many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.[iii]

The hunter’s anger-fuelled pleasure when he killed the bird was slowly replaced by his own increasing pain—did he notice it? I think that this same idea applies not only to anger, but to any idea or emotion that we identify with so closely, to which we are so deeply attached that we don’t notice how we suffer and cause others to suffer. It’s not easy to let go, it takes effort, intention, and vigilance not to give in to the comfort of familiar, or as Buechner points out, the self-indulgent fun of anger, or to let go and face the fear of the unknown.

If you’re like me, you can think of more than one attachment that you struggle to let go of; an ideal of success or beauty or even spirituality that is dragging you.

And boy, do we have plenty of examples of the damaging effects of clinging to cultural or national identities. We are being dragged, as a society, by the comforts provided by our attachment to oil. We are being dragged, as a society, by the satisfaction derived from our national attitude of exceptionalism. We are being dragged, as a society, by our attachment to our national image of a racial and ethnic melting pot.

And yes, even Unitarian Universalist subculture has its attachments. In his essay “A Unitarian Universalist ‘Black Lives Matter’ Theology,” Kenny Wiley points out some of our attachments that are dragging us away from living our first principle, that every person has inherent worth and dignity. He writes to his fellow UUs:

“Most of us in the faith are here because we felt welcome—at last–here. Some of us were too agnostic somewhere else. Some of us weren’t vindictive enough somewhere else. We were too working-class somewhere else. We were too lesbian somewhere else. We were too nerdy somewhere else, too introverted somewhere else, too gay-married somewhere else.

Many of us are here because this faith and the people in it affirmed: you may not be perfect, but your life matters just the same.

That’s what’s on the line now. Through racism and posthumous victim-blaming, through silence and bullets and indifference and vilification, black people are being told that our lives do not matter—or that they matter only conditionally. Black lives matter if. If we are educated. If we are respectful. If.
And sometimes, not even then do our lives matter.

Right now we as Unitarian Universalists are being called to act. We are being called by our ancestors–those who insisted, who demanded that we help end slavery, that we fight for suffrage, that we join the struggle to end Jim Crow, that we listen to and honor Black Power. Lydia Maria Child and William Lloyd Garrison are calling us. Lucy Stone is calling us. Fannie B. Williams and Frances Ellen Harper are calling us. James Reeb is calling us. Viola Liuzzo is calling us.

Guided by that principle—that enduring, unfulfilled promise of the belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person–ours is a faith that has said, or worked to say to those who have been marginalized:
You are a woman, and your life matters just the same.
You are gay or lesbian, and your life matters just the same.
You are transgender, and your life matters just the same.
You are bisexual, and your life matters just the same.
You have a disability, and your life matters just the same.
You were not loved as a child, and your life matters just the same.
You struggle with depression, and your life matters just the same.

Right now we are being called—by our ancestors, by our principles, by young black activists across the country—to promote and affirm:
You are young and black, and your life matters just the same.
You stole something, and your life matters just the same.
I have been taught to fear you, and your life matters just the same.
The police are releasing your criminal record, and your life matters just the same.
They are calling you a thug, and your life matters just the same.[iv]

In order for us to heed the call that Kenny reminds us is at the heart of our faith, in order to move in the direction of racial justice as allies in the Black Lives Matter movement, we have to let go of the judgments, and self righteousness, and if we are white, our white privilege.

I’ve spoken and written in the first months of our church year about mindfulness of process, of paying attention how we are with each other, of focusing as much on preparation as product. It’s not easy, it takes patience with ourselves, those with whom we are in relation, and the world outside. Letting go of anything we are so close to, or embedded in our unconscious that we don’t even notice ourselves being dragged, letting go is a process. Letting go of ways that we ourselves are contributing to systems of oppression is a process—two processes, really. Iconic activist Grace Lee Boggs, who was deeply involved in struggles for civil rights, labor, feminism, the environment and other causes said: “In the old days people used to think that the only transformation had to take place in the system. The transformation also has to take place in us. It’s a two sided transformation that we have to undergo.[v]

The first meeting of CUF folks interested in racial justice is coming up on November 4; the group is concerned with both the individual and societal processes of letting go of racial inequality. Everyone is welcome! And there are other opportunities for letting go and speaking up inside and outside our Fellowship—in community based discussion and action here in Carbondale, and online: so many inspiring ideas from fellow UU congregation Facebook and websites, around the country, as well as the resource treasure trove at Unitarian Universalist Standing on the Side of Love sites.

But let us return to the story of the hunter, who wasn’t able to let go of his anger and killed the beautiful bird.

“He took the box down to the river, tied a great big stone around it and pushed it into the river. At last, the bird was silenced and the hunter went home to bed. But during the night, at the bottom of the river, the box started to sway in the currents and finally it broke free. It floated to the surface, the lid burst open and one hundred birds, each with a golden beak, green wings and a red tail, flew silently out into the night. The next day, the hunter got up, had his breakfast, then set off hunting. But as he slipped quietly through the forest he saw a golden light. He followed it into a clearing and looked up. There in the trees were a hundred birds with golden beaks. Each one of the birds pushed back their wings, stuck out their beaks and sang, “Nana, na-na-na.” The hunter sighed. “You are the Freedom Bird and that is your song.” And from that day on, in that place, the hunter and the Freedom Bird have lived happily side by side.[vi]

May we, as Unitarian Universalists dedicate ourselves to recognizing what is dragging us, committing to the processes of letting go—to free our minds, our souls, the spirit of our faith and the conscience of our country.


[i] http://soulfulliving.com/let_go_surya_das.htm accessed 10/22/15

[ii]http://www.storymuseum.org.uk/1001stories/upload_files/text_pdf_90.pdf accessed 10/22/15

[iii] Buechner, Frederick Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 2.

[iv] http://kennywiley.com/2015/03/26/a-unitarian-universalist-black-lives-matter-theology/ accessed 10/22/15

[v] https://storycorpsorg-staging.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/GRS000229.pdf accessed 10/22/15

[vi] op cit, storymuseum