PDF text downloadable here Advanced Mindfulness Session 3
Last week we started exploring the need for us to learn to let go of core beliefs that limit us in our life.
Today we are going to continue this exploration on letting go, we will start by re-visiting the distinction between pain and suffering, then we will examine how the process of letting go unfolds, and what it looks like in our everyday life
We spoke about this distinction a few weeks ago when we explored the practice of mindfulness in the context of physical pain. Some of you might remember the equation : suffering = pain x resistance
Here we expand the concept of pain to include any type of pain, including mental and emotional pain.
The Hindu guru Nisargadatta wrote : ”Suffering is due entirely to clinging or resisting. It is a sign of our unwillingness to move, to flow with life. Although all life has pain, a wise life is free of suffering. A wise person is friendly with the inevitable and does not suffer. Pain they know but it does not break them. If they can, they do what is possible to restore balance. If not, they let things take their course.”
Pain is a part of life, and it simply comes and goes. Suffering comes from our reaction to the original pain. It is like “rope burn”, the more we cling to the rope, the more it hurts, and we need to let go to end the suffering.
I spoke about my experience with trying unsuccessfully to set up a naturopathy practice. The more I was holding on to the image of myself as an established naturopath, the more I suffered and I felt stuck. Once I was able to let go, and it took many rounds, I felt free.
Sharon Salzberg in Real Love: “Letting go is the opposite of clinging to our hopes and ideas about how things should be and allowing them to be just as they are.”
Our ongoing practice of mindfulness and compassion facilitates this process of letting go.
The process of letting go
In meditation circles we like to tell this story about how hunters are catching monkeys in India: they cut a hole in a coconut that is just big enough for a monkey to put its hand through. Then they will secure the coconut to the base of a tree. They slip a banana inside the coconut through the hole and hide. The monkey comes, puts his hand in, and takes hold of the banana. The hole is too small for the fist holding the banana to get out. All the monkey has to do to be free is to let go of the banana. Even as the monkey hears the humans coming and starts to panic, it holds on tightly to its prize. It seems most monkeys won’t let go.
We are like the monkeys, we find it hard to let go when we are grasping to something, and as we have started to see last week, letting go is a process, sometimes all we can do is “let be”: not trying to get rid of the experience, but softening into a state of allowing. It is what we practice with the second wing of mindfulness, allowing our experience to be whatever it is, without trying to hold on to it, push it away or change it.
This allowing is made possible when the heart is open, we bring a loving presence to our experiences, without any added judgment. When we can allow and accept what is present to us in our life, it brings a felt sense of release in the body and the mind. We make space for our experience to be here, and we actually can feel more spacious, less contracted.
It is like opening a fist, letting go of the tension of grasping.
This process takes time and many rounds, and we need to cultivate patience within ourselves. As James Baraz writes in Awakening Joy : ”Like any other skill, the ability to let go develops over time. When you first begin, you may find that instead of feeling freer, you are battling previous habits that don’t want to give up”. For example, it can feel almost impossible to let go of fear, resentment, negativity or compulsive behaviour, especially if we have had these habits for a long time.
So you’ve already learnt how to practice letting go of thoughts that come up during formal meditation practice. When we seem to be holding on to negative mind states in our life, we can follow the same process as during meditation: First step is to recognise these negative mind states simply as thoughts, instead of believing they are real. Often these negative thoughts have to do with who we believe ourselves to be. For example, if we are feeling resentment, it is because we believe that we have been wronged, and maybe we have. But when we hold on to resentment and store it in our body and our mind it’s creating more suffering for ourselves, and all we need to do to be free is release our grip, just as we gently let go of our thoughts during meditation.
Like the woman who chose to let go of her resentment towards her husband for creating a mess in the fridge, we can choose to let go of our unwholesome habits of reactivity and move towards creating more happiness in our life. This shift can happen when we learn to pause, notice what is happening in our body and our heart, and decide on the wisest response to the situation in front of us.
James Baraz writes: “There are many dimensions of letting go that lead to a joyful heart. Letting go is a shift toward simplicity, uncomplicating our mental and physical environment – releasing what we don’t truly need, like material stuff, crowded schedules, expectations, stories that don’t serve us. Experiencing this letting go, this cleaning out, brings a great sense of well-being. We see how good it feels not only to put down the extra burden but to share what we have. Letting go is like weeding. When you get rid of the weeds, it makes room for more of the beauty to be seen and enjoyed. In the same way, when we let go of our extra stuff – whether material or mental clutter – it gives space for our creativity and full potential to flower.”
Poem “Letting go” by Danna Faulds:
Let go of the ways you thought life
would unfold: the holding of plans
or dreams or expectations – Let it
all go. Save your strength to swim
with the tide. The choice to fight
what is here before you now will
only result in struggle, fear, and
desperate attempts to flee from
the very energy you long for. Let go.
Let it all go and flow with the grace
that washes through your days whether
you receive it gently or with all your
quills raised to defend against invaders.
Take this on faith: the mind may never
find the explanations that it seeks, but
you will move forward nonetheless.
Let go, and the wave’s crest will carry
you to unknown shores, beyond your
wildest dreams or destinations. Let it
all go and find the place of rest and
peace, and certain transformation.
Letting go practice (20 min)
For your home practice this week, I invite you to listen to the recording of this meditation once a day, or to alternate with the recording from last week on letting go of beliefs if you prefer.
We all have habitual habits, with emotions, behaviours, that we know are not helpful. We know that if we could let go of those we would be freer, we would have more space for presence, we would be more loving. And we can notice how hard it is for us to control those habits, and we blame ourselves for this (the second arrow). Take a moment to close your eyes and come into presence. Feeling the body sitting and breathing….and start to investigate for yourself:
What are your habits that you wish you could let go of, is it being judgmental? Is it excessive worry? Working too much?
What makes the letting go so hard? What happens when you encounter the strength of the fears and wants underneath it.
What is your attitude and way of relating to this? Are you judging yourself for it?
What makes letting go so difficult?