Buddhism: 4 Ways of Letting Go

By Cathy H - 9:10 AM

Last night, I listened to a lecture by monk Ajahn Brahm on the topic of letting go in relation to buddhism and thought it would be nice to discuss my understanding of them more in depth through my own words. I drew this "mindfulness" picture a few weeks ago and thought it was pretty relevant to this topic. 

1. Learning to throw things out, taking one at a time: Ajahn gave an example of a young monk being given the opportunity to walk beside  his master on a nature hike. He was told not to talk throughout the whole session, but when seeing a sunset he couldn't help but say "It's a beautiful sunset!" The master told the monk, he was not welcome on anymore walks. The point of this story is to show that anytime we speak and label things, we are not really observing the experience and living in the moment. Instead, we are living through our interpretation and words. Thus, it is important to slow down and not cloud everything with our film of judgement. Even something like breathing- we think we know what that is, but have we stopped to really observe our breathe and how it makes us feel to concentrate on something so vital, yet often goes so unnoticed? 

2. Prison is any place you don't want to be: Ajahn gave an example of a conversation of him with a prison inmate, comparing the differences between prison life and monastery life. When learning about the hardships on monastery life such as meditating 3 times a day and sleeping on the floor- the prisoner said "it's so much more comfortable in prison, why not just come here!" Ajahn than went on to distinguish the importance fact: those choosing monastery life want to be there, while prisoners do not want to be there. Thus, they are free. The prisoner are not free. 

- and this point really touched me and held the most personal meaning for me: any place you don't want to be is in fact a prison. Not in a physical sense, but a mental prison. Anytime you are in the present for here, you're free and content. This reminded me all the times I was stuck waiting, worrying, getting impatient doing a task. I realized that it is really people themselves that make up so many walls for themselves, and lock themselves in it to suffer. From being stuck in traffic jams, being forced to sit through years of schooling, sitting in dead-end jobs, many people not even realizing what is the real reason for their mental suffering. How many times we have complained, blamed a situation for our unhappiness, when we are the ones choosing to trap ourselves in these mental prisons? How many minutes, hours, years have I wasted thinking "I wish I was there instead of here"? Thus, peace comes from being in the present- which is the only way to be contented. 

3. Giving and Expecting Nothing Back: This is a very important point for meditation, as I often approach it with expectation for the time and effort I put in: sitting in one spot for 30 minutes while my mind shouts at me to get up and do something more "important." I expect to feel some sort of sign it is working, or try to tell my mind to calm down. I think people are raised to expect something from everything. Every effort, gift, money, love we give we want something back. This brings no peace in life and often disappointment. Therefore, letting go means giving something and literally just letting it go, letting it be, not expecting results. No means to an end. Giving is an end to itself. 

4. Don't try to collect things: today's social media has everyone in a mad rush and anxious race to outshine one another. Through a collection of photographs, videos, status updates, location check-in, we move through life "collecting" one moment after the next. Also, the materialistic accumulation and feeling like nothing is enough. Holding onto happy moments, and being upset when they pass. Letting go means to realize that moments don't stick to you, and with that you're free. To just lightly walk through life and lighten up, not getting weighed down by seriousness and attachment to people, places, and experiences. This point is the main teaching buddha- attachment leads to suffering and letting go of attachment leads to peace. 

A point Ajahn makes in another lecture I listened to tonight was on the difference between the "spikiness" of people: Some people have sharp spikes, and if associating with them too long- others get hurt by them. Some have short spikes, some have no spikes at all. Those who have no spikes at all- you can get as close to them as you want, and you can never be hurt. Those kind of people are rare and an aspiration. This point just reminded me of dealing with difficult people in general, and maybe they don't even realize their spikes are sharp. Maybe it takes some tolerance and patient to deal with them rather than giving up and seeing them in a bad light. It also made me understand why I feel so comfortable around some people more than others. There are some people with no spikes I've met in my life, no matter how much wrong I do to them and how much of their efforts I don't reciprocate- they cannot hurt me. 

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