Over many years of study, listening to many dharma talks, receiving profound insight from daily practice, and studying with many learned teachers, this fact seems to pop up with relative consistency. It may be expressed in different ways, but it all comes down to the same fundamental idea that if I’m going to change, I’ve got to let go of something I’m holding onto.
Even this translation of the Four Noble Truths into the language of a four-year-old says it.
While this might be a tall order for a four-year-old, it’s excellent advice for mature adults. Yet, there are two problems with this for most of us. First, we have to be able to identify what we need to let go of. Then we need to do the letting go. Both can be difficult.
There are ways of helping the process. For the identification part, we must be willing to look at what gets in our way. What is preventing flow in our life? What actions create more struggle and less ease? What provokes reaction rather than harmony in the people around us? At the end of the day, what regrets or misgivings appear more often than others?
There are many ways to engage this inquiry. A time of quiet contemplation followed by journalling can be effective for many. For others, taking a deliberate time out works better. I have a cabin in the Northwoods of Maine and find sitting in a kayak on a big lake is a great way to ask big questions of myself. After a few days, I’m usually pretty clear on what I’m hanging on to and need to release. In many cultures, rituals have been used to facilitate letting go. The traditional fire ceremony has survived and is still practiced today.
Depending on what is identified, different courses of action can support letting go. We may be called upon to practice greater mindfulness around satisfying physical needs at the expense of others. Or we may find we need to slow down and be present in the not-so-pleasant feelings we experience when taking the time to notice our inner state of being.
Or course, our practice on the mat or the meditation pillow will play a big part in the process of “letting go.” When we drop into the present, and our mind slows down, we may experience ourselves in a relatively hindrance-free zone for a time. The impact is often profound. We may catch a glimpse of nirvana, a sense of peace and freedom accompanied by deep connection. The insight into what gets in our way becomes apparent and can be held with compassion. We “get” and accept our humanness within a more prominent loving presence. This is an excellent catalyst for forward movement on the transformational path. It makes letting go so much easier and worthwhile. There is really no substitute for consistent daily practice as a catalyst in the letting go process. Suppose you are serious about making a difference in your life and overcoming the hindrances that block your transformational path. In that case, a daily practice that includes a time of deep inner connection is most important.
If we take the insights from practice into our daily life with intention and compassionate awareness, our life will begin to change. This, in turn, will reinforce the desire to continue the letting go process and ongoing transformation.
At some point, contentment arises. This is often accompanied by the awareness of how wonderful it is to be alive and an appreciation of the beauty of life in all its manifestations. At this point, the price of letting go is a small one to pay in comparison to the benefits attained.
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