What does Letting-Go Mean?

What does Letting-Go Mean?

The word “let-go” is a very commonly used word but which is very difficult to understand. This is because it can only be understood when the thinking mind is uninvolved. Very often, when a negative event happens and we become emotionally charged, our mind will become hyperactive as well, making it difficult or even impossible to ‘let go’ unless we have sufficiently trained our mind in meditation.

If we get into a fight with someone, we will become very angry and the anger will stay in us even after the event. Some of us may cling on to the anger by replaying the event over and over in our mind and picture various scenarios the event could have played out. We may think about what we will say to the person the next time we meet him; thus playing out imaginary fights in our mind over and over again. Because our mind and emotions are connected, our thoughts will fuel more anger and the anger in turn generates more energy for our mind to come out with anger-inducing thoughts. Research has shown that 90% of our thoughts today are the same as what we thought about yesterday. So, we will carry the anger to the next day and so on. The real victim is not our enemy but our own health.

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Some of us may turn to positive thinking. We may tell ourselves that we should be more patient and not angry; we should be more forgiving; or some good may come out of the argument and so on. Most of the time, these thoughts create guilt within us and makes things worse. We are not just angry; we now have to deal with our feelings of guilt and inadequacies as well! Our mind will continuously switch between our angry thoughts and all the forced ‘positive thoughts’ about how we should be; and at the end, we may end up being worse off than when we first started with our positive thinking strategy.

Letting go happens when we watch the thinking mind from a third party perspective. The funny thing is, our thoughts are very shy. When we give them our full conscious attention, they just stop or slow down. It is as if our thoughts are trying to keep a secret from us; afraid that if we are allowed to watch them too much, we may discover their secret (Actually, there is a secret which they are trying to keep from us but this is a topic for future articles). So, if we become half aware of our breath and half aware of our thoughts, they just slow down. Similarly, when we become aware of our emotions, they also start to subside. Our emotions do not fall away as fast as our thoughts but they do subside when we shine the light of our awareness on them.

Our awareness is actually very powerful if we invest time to develop it. I was impressed by a story told by a forest monk about his experience with toothache. He was living in the middle of the forest with no access to the dentist. It was late in the night and he could not sleep because of the toothache. So he tried to distract himself by chanting some spiritual texts. However, after a while, he realised that he was almost screaming due to the pain. Worried that he would wake up his fellow practitioners, he switched to walking meditation. That was not helpful as well. Eventually he gave up and just focused his awareness on his pain since that was the only thing he could concentrate on. After a while, the pain just disappeared! Our awareness has healing powers. Whenever we feel any pain or discomfort, instead of trying to distract ourselves, we could just become aware of the pain or discomfort. We may just receive a pleasant surprise of feeling the pain/discomfort fading away on their own.

So letting go involves watching our thoughts and emotions without judgement about ourselves or the external stimuli. It does not matter who is right or wrong. Nothing or no one can be completely right or wrong; or good or bad. When we watch our mind, we may feel it relax just like how our jaws will relax when we notice the tension there. This sense of relaxation will sustain our awareness. Even if we can remain aware just for a few moments; we should really enjoy those precious moments. The key to success is to be able to enjoy the relaxation that comes with letting go. We may become caught up with the train of angry thoughts again for a while but once we become aware again, we refocus our attention on our breath and mind.

We may also focus our attention on our emotions. How do we do that? We try to observe the size of the emotion and where is it located in our body? We observe how the emotion feels like in our physical body. We observe if it is as painful as we think? We may realise that the emotion may not be as bad as what we tell ourselves. When we say that someone hurt us very badly with his or her words; we can observe if the pain is really as bad as compared to, say, someone pinching us. We don’t actually try to describe the emotions. We are merely observing our emotions from these perspective. These are merely some examples. There are many other ways of observing the nature of our emotions. We just need to pick one that comes naturally to us.

With the practice letting-go, the solutions may just appear unconsciously. They just pop up unconsciously as opposed to those ‘positive thoughts’ that we consciously try to force on ourselves. The answer may just simply be an insight that we are making a mountain out of a mould hill. Sometimes we may see something good or some opportunity that came about because of that event. Or we may realise that the person who hurt us was just being human and we would have acted the same way had the position been reversed.

The practice of letting go is not easy but it is a skill that can be developed. Like any other skill, we will become more proficient over time if we continue to practice the skill. If we persevere, we will eventually gain mastery over the skill of letting go.

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