Letting go can be one of those phrases that we hear a lot. You tell someone something you worry about or something that matters to you but seems insignificant to the other person and they reply with, "Oh, just let it go. It's no big deal." This kind of blase' response is not particularly helpful and is not exactly what this foundation of mindfulness is pointing to.
The kind of letting go we are discussing in mindfulness may be understood more as loosening our grip on something on which we have gotten caught up. This idea of loosening our grip is to not be so attached to something that by its very nature is not permanent or has changed from what we expected it to be.
In the practice of mindfulness we may start to notice that it is not just the external world that changes in each moment, but our inner experience is also like this. The feelings, thoughts and reactions that we tend to hold on to more tightly than others, have the tendency to hang around because we do not want to loosen our grip on them. It is interesting that when we judge these thoughts and feelings to be pleasurable, we want to hold on to them for longer. Even the thoughts of aversion to something unpleasant tend to hang around longer because they carry some difficulty or are linked to memories of fear and pain that we wish would go away.
One of the most challenging aspects of mindfulness practice is to begin to see the fullness of each moment as it is. In mindfulness we become aware of how often we avoid certain aspects of the present moment in favor of other aspects. When our minds do this, it is not necessary to give ourselves a hard time about it because that is just what minds do. However, in order to open up to the entirety of the moment we have to come to a place of letting the moment be just what it is without judging our experience.
Why in the world would we want to be aware of the complete landscape of our experiences? After all, why would I want to have the unpleasant parts be here when there are more pleasant things to experience? Well, if we are to find a way to deep healing and enter in to the intimacy of direct experience, we will need to learn how to let go of the tendency to grasp and to push away. Grasping and pushing away both create stress. We grasp after what we want or push away what we do not want; and when life does not deliver, we suffer. Again, like in the other foundations, this is not to say that we resolve to passive resignation or give up striving for the things that will make our lives and the lives of those around us more healthy and complete. Rather when we let things be as they are we open space for growth and learning to occur.
For example, if you hold something in the palm of your hand and then close your first around it, that hand cannot really do much more than that until it lets go and is used for something else.
So, in our practice we do our best to see our tendency to hold on to things that may not be serving us well. When we let go, we let be and just rest in the awareness of this moment. Then maybe a more accurate appraisal appears of how we should best handle a situation. We cannot do this while holding tightly on to something that does not help and not seeing clearly that it is perhaps causing more harm than good.
It is not always easy to loosen the grip and hold on less intently. One of the ways to do this in practice is to feel what it is like to hold on and not let go. Notice where it shows up in the body and how this is adding to the stress of the situation.
One of my teachers used to say that we practice so that we can truly learn to let go and learn to have a good death. She was saying that we are all going to die one day and death is the thing we usually fear the most. When we get in the habit of letting go, we can be prepared for the inevitable time when we have to finally let go of everything. Of course that is a tall order and we may believe that we have plenty of time for that. But, even in the small things in our lives this kind of letting go can bring about tremendous freedom right now.
So, let us do our best to live a life that frees us rather than binds us. In this way we can truly meet each experience as a new and fulfilling experience rather than one that needs to be fought against in an endless, stressful struggle.
This foundation of Letting Go ends the traditional 7 Foundations in Mindfulness. However, there are other foundations of mindfulness that I will continue to discuss in further posts. While here reading about this foundation, you may want to check out the very first blog I posted on this topic. back in 2016.