“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, to live the life that is waiting for us.” This Joseph Campbell quote has always resonated with me, having experienced life to be like this, repeatedly.
Clearly, none of us always get our way in this life. If we do not learn to ride the waves of change, to accept what is, we can be frozen in our attachment to things being the way we want. We end up rolling around in the muck and mire of aversion that so often arises when we don’t get what we want, were hoping for and counting on.
Letting go is about skillfully working with not getting what we want and much more-
As the Venerable Ajahn Cha said, “Do everything with a mind that lets go.”
What are some of the things we could practice letting go of to create more ease and peace for one another and ourselves? How about letting go of judgment and criticism, resentment, blame, perfectionism, fear or striving? Letting go of: loved ones who pass; relationships that don’t work; of our youth; of possessions. It could be letting go of unskillful patterns of the thinking mind or feelings like shame, guilt, hatred or greed that hinder the expression of our best self or simply letting go of the noisy thoughts of a cluttered mind. Even the process of noticing thinking in meditation and shifting awareness back to the breath serves as a practice of letting go.
A large part of holding on takes place in thoughts: obsessive thoughts, concerns for the future and regrets of the past, thoughts that form your attitudes, outlook and beliefs about who we are and our journey on the planet. How do we let go of the grip of obsessive thoughts, ruminating about the past or projecting out into the “what if’s “ of the future? Well, we get curious…through witnessing our experience of thinking we become less attached to the content. We derive more clarity as we become less enmeshed with the thoughts.
“Thoughts themselves have no power at all; the only power they have is what we give them when we don’t know them as thoughts. When we recognize them, we have a choice. Do I want to continue this pattern? Is it skillful, is it wholesome, is it for my well-being, for the well-being of others? Is it not skillful? Is it unwholesome? And, most of all: Can I let it go?” – Joseph Goldstein, Co-founder, IMS, Barre, Mass.
Letting go involves all of life. Knowing change and impermanence as an inescapable fact of life, it only makes sense to practice acceptance and letting go. When we do not let go, we hold on through grasping and clinging or by resisting and pushing back, either way the result is we remain stuck. Fight, resist and deny as one might, we can go down struggling in desperation – or learn to accept and let go! The mind clings to the pleasant and resists the unpleasant…yet it is partially in the tightness and contraction of resisting that the thoughts/feelings come back over and over and over. Practicing letting go, to sit and be present, accepting things as they are with some modicum of equanimity – as tough as it can be at times, is a crucial aspect of developing mindfulness.
Letting go and acceptance are a few of fundamental attitudes associated with cultivating mindfulness. They are interdependent and interconnected with eight others, together forming 10 foundations of contemporary, secular mindfulness. They are like sparks that, practiced together, stoke the flames of mindfulness, embers of practice that live and grow in the mind and heart.
Ten Foundations of Mindfulness