A key principle of Mindfulness is ‘letting go’. Learning how to let go, and sit with the present moment is at the core of mindful living. ‘Holding on’, and ‘letting go’ occurs in both the physical, muscular sense and also in an emotional sense. Unfortunately not everyone is taught how to let go emotionally in their family of origin. It is common for us to cling to what is pleasant and to push away what is unpleasant. Clinging, and pushing away are both reactive states and keep us away from mindful living.
John Bradshaw in his book, “Homecoming”, describes the stage of muscle development outlined by Erickson, of ‘holding on’ and ‘letting go’. In a muscular sense, this involves holding on and pulling yourself up to a standing position then letting go and attempting to walk. It may involve holding a spoon to eat with or a bottle to drink from and eventually it will involve learning how to ‘hold on’ and ‘let go’ while potty training.
So what is letting go in an emotional sense?
The mindfulness teacher, Jon Kabit-Zinn considers ‘letting go’ to be synonymous with ‘letting be’. This refers to an open, relaxed, non-judgmental acceptance of what is and requires no action, rather a mindful, ‘being with’ things, as they are. Thich Nhat Hanh says that perceptions are the ground of all afflictions. His term for letting go sounds rather more active; “Throwing away notions and ideas that are the base of our suffering.”
We get fixated on ideas, agendas and we tend to hold on as if it would be a great threat to let go. As if our life depended on clinging to the life-raft of our beliefs, agendas and our world view. When we want something, we reach out and grasp onto it, pushing and striving to achieve or attain what we want. The “fixed point” that we are striving to achieve becomes a trap and keeps us away from the experiential moment.
Jon Kabit-Zinn relates a tale of a practice in India, where there is a method of catching monkeys that involves cutting a small hole in the top of a coconut, then attaching the coconut by a wire, to the base of a tree. A banana is the put inside the coconut. When a monkey slides its hand in to get the banana and holds onto it, its closed fist is too big to slide back out. The monkey becomes trapped as it does not want to let go.
He goes on to say, “We humans become trapped in a similar way when we refuse to let go. We cannot move on to what may be a better situation or a new way of thinking because we stubbornly hold onto the old. We get caught by our own desire, by our own attachment to things being a certain way.
There is relief from distress to be found in letting go and letting be. Freedom from striving, freedom from the prison of being attached to a closed belief system. A new openness, to the unfolding potential and the rich information that each unfolding ‘now moment’, may offer.
The breath can remind us of this because every time we take a breath in, we have to let it go; otherwise there is not room for the next breath. Receive and the release…over and over.” It is the natural rhythm of life.
‘Letting be’ is holding ourselves in the still place of acceptance, from which we can view our hopes, desires, attachments, thoughts and emotions. It is non-striving. It is engaging with the flow of life in the unfolding now moment, without grasping and thereby staying free. It is the mindful life.
Letting go and letting be therefore becomes a way of being in the world, not merely an action that we must do from time to time. It is a way of holding things loosely and calmly and quietening our own ego that strives to make ourselves the centre of the universe when in fact we are connected to all things, all people, all of life. In one sense, learning to ‘let go and let be’ moves us on from the developmental stage of egocentric living that so many of us have remained stuck in.
In letting go and letting be we are either in mindful action or mindful rest. Both states call for our participation, our commitment to quality of presence and the practice of loving/kindness, in thoughts and actions, to ourselves, others and the world around us.
This is the mindful way, the way of peace.