Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
June 2014 - Volume 14, No. 6
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Engage - Release - Move on. The Rhythm of Life

A number of years ago I was working with a Jungian analyst who, as a part of my therapy, taught me to meditate. While I found the meditation itself very helpful, I also discerned a pattern that made sense in larger contexts as well.[1]

Most of us have heard or been taught that the secret of meditation has to do with somehow clearing the mind. Well my mind, once I try to ‘clear’ it, immediately fills up with just more and more stuff - akin to the Buddhist “monkey mind,” described as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly. My previous experiences practicing meditation had generally been disasters.

What he taught me was generally this: While my body position and my breathing pattern were fixed, my mind was free to wander. I’d choose any one particular experience (heard, felt, thought) - then pay specific attention to that one. This is called “Engage.”  

After a short while, I was to disengage, or “Release” that experience (perhaps even with the ‘courtesy’ of a thank you). Then I would “Move on” to another experience (heard, felt, thought) with which to “Engage.” Thus my meditation would progress, as would its therapeutic benefits to my mind, my body and my psyche (soul).

I realized this pattern was important in many areas of life, not just meditation. Without the balancing of the three elements of this rhythm, there’s frequently a lot of extra drama involved.

Here are three quite different examples:

1) Much of my clinical work involves difficulty in one or more of these areas. In the midst of writing these words, a new and abused client text messages me, “After everything he’s done to me, why do I love him…. Is there something wrong with me?” Does she continue to engage, or does she now release and move on?  I texted her back these words: “This is the great mystery and confusion of it. The heart and the mind can move in opposite directions. And each involves suffering, isolation, and loss.” These are often heart-rending decisions, and the available maps can be quite fuzzy. (One very useful map is in studies of the addicted brain.[2])

2) The pattern of my own early life as a ‘preacher’s kid’ involved moving to a different town every couple years. Perhaps that’s where I was initially schooled in this pattern, as well as learning to trust it. My fortune was to have lived in a stable and professional family, which had us accepted in every new town we moved into - traversing the states of Colorado, North Dakota and Iowa in the process. The “Army brat” is my analog cousin. 

3) It’s late Spring - “graduation” time. High School seniors are ‘disengaging’ from the educational patterns and structures dictated and supported by the local community - to now “move on” into a larger world where each is more personally responsible for their life. From time to time a Senior will apparently “panic” and do whatever he or she can to avoid or forestall graduation (often played out with a lot of drama) - which the school system here calls ‘senioritis.’ “Do whatever you can, counselor, to help them graduate and move out of our hands.”  

For so many, graduating from high school or college these days, the world into which they must now “move on” is not a friendly world. 


Years ago, during a particular relationship-vulnerable part of my own life, I came upon a saying that went something like this: Some relationships are for a time, some are for a purpose, and some are forever. What do we do when what we want is one of those, and what seems to be real is a different one? I’m sure we’ve all been here at one time or another. What we want, what we believe, what works, and what seems to be available just won’t match up. 

Much of the suffering and drama that comes into my office is primarily from within this struggle of life. (The following aren’t exactly the same, but similar in pattern.)  

    With sex, there’s a pattern of 1) foreplay and play, 2) orgasm/release, 3) moving forward in relationship. When one of these is missing or injured, the larger pattern of life-enhancement may be thwarted.  

    With money, when the balance of 1) balancing, 2) spending, 3) accounting is not attended, life and relationships can be seriously handicapped.  

    When a health crisis emerges, there’s a necessary to 1) face up to it, 2) determine what (new) discipline is necessary, and 3) perhaps move on into a new life reality.     

A Struggle for Life

What is in common with each iteration of this rhythm is a reorientation of Life.  

Without struggle and adaptation, there is no life. For some that may not be true or necessary, but everywhere I look, and for everyone I work with, it seems to be a fixed necessity.  

Allow me to take it one step farther. Every struggle for life seems also to involve a struggle with the ending of things, especially then with death. When we are born, we begin our engagement with life. We take our first breath - and deep within know the journey towards our last breath has also begun. Even that great and wonderful blessing of life called marriage, has built in ‘till death do us part.’

In this life there are many ‘graduations.’ There are many ‘releases’ - from which we then must ‘move on.’

Let me return to the meditation pattern my analyst taught me. The gift of meditation, involves the rhythms of engage, release and move on. The calming and healing of the body, the mind and the psyche comes from trusting each to have its place and purpose.  

To be fully alive involves learning to trust this rhythm. Life is always moving (engaging, releasing, and moving on). In the second half of life, our death begins to appear on the horizon more certainly. Then even more we trust this three-fold rhythm - to both keep us more fully alive as well as prepare us for death - the final Release and Move on.

There’s an old African saying I more fully appreciate as I age: When Death comes knocking at your door, make sure it finds you Alive!

Pay attention


[1] The Meditation Technique I’ve mentioned can itself be found as a downloadable PDF file elsewhere on my website.  Go here.

[2] Relationship addiction has a parallel in studies of pornography addiction. The following is a good read, though perhaps boringly technical: “Why Does Porn Seem Hotter than My Partner?”:     (Jan, 2012).  With both, the struggle of “release” can involve much suffering.

Comments (1)

  • I like the song lyric thst goes ‘Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end’. The song is called ‘Closing Time’

    — Askalice, 7/13/2014

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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