"In the process of dying, a gradual awakening occurs. Almost imperceptibly, we begin a long, slow process of letting go, relinquishing what we know we can no longer hold on to or control.

"Letting go is an entry into unknown territory. Grief is the toll that we pay. Tears are the fluids that ease the release.

"In dying, we cannot hold on to our treasured possessions. One hospice resident, Brian, taught me this when he wept and then gracefully gave aawy his Gibson Les Paul guitar. 'We are not what we have,' he said. 'And anyway, there are no storage units in heaven.'

"As we lose our ability to engage in our favorite activities, we must let go of traveling or cooking or making love, and then even simpler pleasures like swallowing without difficulty. We relinquish the roles we played in our families, workplaces, and communities and release the dreams we have carried with us for a lifetime but never achieved. In our dying, we must even let go of the future and everything and everyone that we loved.

"Letting go is how we prepare for dying. Suzuki Roshi said that renunciation is not giving up the things of the world, but accepting that they go away. An acceptance of impermanence helps us learn how to die. It also reveals the flip side of loss, which is that letting go is an act of generosity. We let go of old grudges, and give ourselves peace. We let go of fixed views, and give ourselves to not knowing. We let go of self-sufficiency and give ourselves to the care of others. We let go of clinging and give ourselves to gratitude. We let go of control and give ourselves to surrender.

"Surrender is not the same thing as letting go. Normally, we think of letting go as a release often accompanied by a sense of freedom from previous restraints. Surrender is more about expansion. There is a freedom in surrender, but it is not really about setting something down or distancing ourselves from an object, person, or experience, as it is with letting go. With surrender, we are free because we have expanded into a spaciousness, a boundless quality of being that can include but not be constrained by the previously limiting beliefs that once defined us, keeping us separate and apart. We release the fruitless habit of clinging to changing objects as a source of happiness. In surrender, we are reconstituted. We are no longer enslaved by our pasts. No longer imprisoned by our former identities. We become intimate with the inner truth of our essential nature. In surrender, we feel ourselves not gaining distance, but rather coming closer."