Letting Go to Receive

Originally printed in the November - December 2003 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Bland, Betty. "Letting Go to Receive." Quest  91.6 (NOVEMBER - DECEMBER 2003):202.

By Betty Bland

betty blandIt may be a simple thing for those who do not have the same fixed Taurus nature that I have, but for me moving is the most odious task of a lifetime—and I ought to know since I have made many major moves. While I am writing this there are boxes and chaos all around me. The upheaval calls to mind the importance of being able to let go.

First there is the issue of selling the house. It is difficult to guess how this ordeal will proceed. The right buyer has to be found. Price and timing have to work. But there is also an inner side to the process. When we moved from Kentucky where our children had grown up, I was most reluctant to leave. I said I was ready to go, and I made all the right efforts, but my heart of hearts was just not in it. Part of me was still clinging to our home and garden spot, which we had built and created for ourselves. It took us a full year to sell that house. Reflecting back on it, I realize that my unwillingness to let go actually created an inhibiting energy. I was unconsciously blocking the process.

There is a tradition that if one cannot sell a house, a statue of St. Joseph should be buried upside down in the back yard. In fact rumor has it that in some areas where this tradition is strong, one can tell how many times a house has been sold just by digging up the back yard and seeing how many St. Joseph statues there are. A realtor friend of mine told me that she had to replace the Joseph in her nativity set several times before she bought some cheap St. Joseph statues and began retrieving them from the back yard of a house after it had been sold.

We do not know a whole lot about Joseph, the carpenter and earthly father of Jesus, except that he was obedient to God and a dutiful husband. Perhaps as the model householder, he is the guardian of a stable home. By burying him upside down, one might break that pattern of stability and be free to move on.

I thought about that recently when we were trying to sell the house in Pennsylvania. I had delayed jumping into the real estate market all spring, until I realized I was holding a resistant attitude. After a good talking to myself, my release was sufficient enough to effect a quick sale. Thereafter, however, I was confronted further with the tearing down and packing up process—another letting go. Life is the great teacher and will continually provide these little lessons until we get it. In every area of life we need to be able to let go of old circumstances in order to make way for the new. This not-so-easy discipline is a cornerstone for the spiritual life. The second Fundamental Proposition of the Secret Doctrine says that there is a constant movement, a cyclicity of all forces in nature. If our lives, as part of that flux, are in a continuous state of change, then one of the most painful things we can do for ourselves is to try to hold on to things as unchangeable, in avoidance of the inevitable. We have to be able to let go of possessions, habits, and patterns, as we encounter change from moment to moment.

An aspiring student had the privilege of being invited by a Zen master to a tea ceremony. The anxious would-be student put on fine clothing and best manners for the auspicious occasion. After properly performing the ritual, the master asked the student to hold out the cup. The master carefully poured the cup full, and then kept pouring and pouring until the cup ran over into the saucer and spilled over onto the floor. In response to the student's puzzled inquiry, the master said, "It is clear that a full cup cannot be a vessel for more tea, just as a mind that is full of its own self-importance cannot receive new teachings. When you have digested what you know, and are an empty vessel, come back and I will pour out for you new understanding."

Many areas of our lives can benefit from an attitude of greater openness. On the physical level we might be more ready to move, or relinquish cherished possessions. On the emotional level we might cling less tightly to the compulsion to have things our way, to be the center of attention and adulation, or to be so possessive of loved ones. On the mental level, we might be able to recognize our most precious ideas as tentative hypotheses open to expanded horizons of understanding. And on the deepest levels of spirit we can be open to the wonder and magic of consciousness, especially as it reveals to us our unity with all of life. This kind of openness is a gift that enfolds us and those we encounter within a universal atmosphere of loving-kindness.

So I suggest that we all perform the imaginary ritual of burying St. Joseph in our mental backyards as a way of committing to being more open to the many gifts of life. We can let go of our prized possessions and attachments in order to receive the greatest gift of all—love.


Theosophical Society PoliciesTerms & Conditions • © 2020 The Theosophical Society in America