The Mindfulness Practice of Letting Go

When faced with the challenges of everyday life, we may find ourselves struggling to change the situation to fit with our idea of what we want our lives to be or what we expect our lives to be. However, as we all have learned over the course of a life, this letting go stuff can be quite challenging. If you share your current difficulties with another person, you may hear that tired old phrase, "Ah, just let it go." But, that never seems to be very helpful advice.

In mindfulness the process of letting go is more an approach of letting things be as they are. If we "just let it go" rather than letting be, it can often times lead to the repression or suppression of feelings. In the practice of mindfulness, the process of letting things be is a practice of trying not to fit our circumstances into our limited concept of how we think things ought to be. It means giving up resisting what is going on and moving along with it. We do this in a way that embraces an acceptance of what is happening while at the same time not getting caught up in an attraction for things to be more pleasant or an aversion to the unpleasantness of the current difficult situation. In this way, the situation and the accompanying thoughts and feelings can be experienced more directly whether they be pleasant, unpleasant or even neutral. Paying attention in this way allows us to clearly experience each moment as it is without garnishing it or covering it up.

Zen Master Kosho Uchiyama Roshi has a book called "Opening the Hand of Thought" in which he describes meditation practice as loosening our grip on our opinions, beliefs, and expectations and therefore opening to life as it is in each moment. It is here that we touch life intimately without the usual story line attached. Seeing in this manner permits a sense of clarity that may offer up a solution to a problem that we may have overlooked before because we were too entrenched in our habitual patterns of thinking.  In Jon Kabat-Zinn's book "Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life," he states:

“To let go means to give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes out of allowing things to be as they are without getting caught up in your attraction to or rejection of them, in the intrinsic stickiness of wanting, of liking and disliking.”

If mindfulness is the awareness that emerges from paying attention on purpose to each moment non judgmentally, then we may just be able to watch each moment just as it is without trying to change it. In that moment, we can truly touch our lives in a way that allows us to experience the fullness of our being, right here, in this moment rather than be so immersed in thoughts of attraction or aversion that we miss our lives. If we miss these precious moments that make up our lives, we miss the opportunity to truly be ourselves in an open, enthusiastic, vital way that we can then nurture ourselves and others.

So, letting things be as they are is an opportunity to be completely here in each moment of this precious life without running away or finding the thousands of ways to hide, numb and avoid the unavoidable.

STOP! Each time we are faced with difficulties we can simply S-stop, T-take a moment, O-observe what is happening, and then P-proceed with a more accurate appraisal of what is happening. Practicing STOP is a way in which we can responsibly engage with each moment just as it is.