"If you let go a little you will have a little peace; if you let go a lot you will have a lot of peace; if you let go completely you will have complete peace."
- Ajahn Chah
Buddhist practitioners often talk about letting go, but what does that phrase really mean? I've often thought it was a little misleading, as though all we have to do is get out of the way and "let" mental phenomena go, and they will simply disappear of their own accord. Of course, this does seem to be how things go much of the time, even if we're not being mindful: the moving finger of the mind writes, and, having writ, moves on. However, this doesn't seem to be the way it works when it comes to things we actually want to let go of. Much like Dick Cheney, these mental states seem to hang on with tenacity, with no help from us. Letting them stay, and being with them with lovingkindness seems to be the best we can do.
The other night was one of those fortuitous occasions when the process seemed to work rather differently for me, so I thought it would be worth exploring the experience in more depth. The main thing I noticed is that my mind was repeatedly caught in the idea of letting go. Also, even though I wasn't consciously trying to force any thoughts out of my mind, there was still a subtle pressure toward emptiness. With that recognition, my mind was able to take a backward step that allowed all ideas and stories, including the pressure itself, to drop away. Without the mind's attachment to them, thoughts seemed to dissipate of their own accord before they were even fully formed. Although the experience did not provide any insights about how to be present with difficult mental states, it was a welcome reminder of just how much letting go is possible.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Although I'm always skeptical of journalists who present themselves as intellectuals--and, frankly, of media elites in general--I've enjoyed Robert Wright's work since his days writing "The Earthling" column at Slate well over a decade ago. Accordingly, I was interested to learn that he has been dabbling in Buddhism for over ten years, has been blogging about it at the Atlantic's website, and is now writing a book about it.