Lessons From Leonard Cohen: Good Things Happen When You “Stop Thinking About Yourself”

A Manual For Living With Defeat

Lessons From Leonard Cohen – A Manual For Living With Defeat is a collection of Leonard Cohen’s observations that offer insight into living in this imperfect world. (For information about how this series differs from other collections of so-called lessons from Leonard Cohen, see Lessons From Leonard Cohen – Introduction.)

Lesson #5: Good Things Happen When You Stop Thinking About Yourself

My teacher’s school places much emphasis on work and ordinary life, and is very structured, severe and strict. What happens is that you stop thinking about yourself. It worked for me. [emphasis mine]1

[Roshi] became someone who really cared about-or deeply didn’t care about who I was. Therefore, who I was began to wither. And the less I was of who I was, the better I felt. [emphasis mine]2

We all want to dissolve. We all need that experience of forgetting who we are. I think that’s what love is — you forget who you are. Forgetting who you are is such a delicious experience and so frightening that we’re in this conflicted predicament. You want it but you really can’t support it. So I think that really what our training, what our culture, our religious institutions, our educational and cultural institutions should be about is preparing the heart for that journey outside of the cage of the ribs. [emphasis mine]3

[Interviewer: You’ve said having sexual intercourse is the greatest peace. Is that zero?] The sexual embrace is beyond self. You don’t exist as you. Your partner doesn’t exist as your partner. That is the place we all come from. Then we come back to life. That zero or emptiness or absolute is when we don’t have any questions. The self we have is just the result of a question. The question is who am I? So we invent a self, a personality. We sustain it, we create rules for it. When you stop asking those questions in those moments of grace, as soon as the question is not asked and the dilemma is dissolved or abandoned, then the true self or absolute self rushes in. That’s our real nourishment. A real religious education makes that experience available to people. The kinds of religious education available today are mostly concerned with a very specific definition of what God is. Just to define God specifically is a great mistake. It’s better to have a kind of education that doesn’t even mention God, that allows people to experience that absolute or the dissolution of the particular self. [emphasis mine]4

More Lessons From Leonard Cohen

All posts in this series can be found at

Cohencentric Lessons From Leonard Cohen
A Manual For Living With Defeat

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  1. An Intimate Conversation With…Leonard Cohen by Elena Pita. Translated by Marie Mazur (using translation software) and aided by Guadalupe Baquero. Originally posted in Spanish at Magazine, Sunday Supplement to El Mundo: September 26, 2001. []
  2. Being True Love- Sasaki Roshi, a founding father of American Zen, turns one hundred by Sean Murphy (Tricycle, Fall 2007). _ []
  3. Leonard Cohen Interviewed by Anjelica Huston. Interview magazine: November, 1995. Accessed at Remembering Leonard Cohen by Anjelica Huston (Interview: Nov 11, 2016). []
  4. Interview / Leonard Cohen by Alan Twigg. Essay Date: 1979, 1984, 1985. ABC Bookworld. []