Could it be that many of the challenges we face in life stem from our unwillingness or incapacity to relinquish control? Our minds are constantly fixated on obtaining what we desire and avoiding what we do not, whether or not we are conscious of this fact. We spend an excessive amount of time dwelling on the past, ruminating on past events, both positive and negative, and projecting into the future. Despite the fact that this pattern of behavior is draining, we fail to realize that it doesn’t have to be this way. True freedom is within our grasp, available in the present moment. Through the practice of meditation, we can ground ourselves in the present, cultivate awareness of our habitual attachments, and develop the capacity to let go.
As per the teachings of Buddha, holding onto things and being attached to them results in pain, whereas relinquishing them leads to liberation. Buddha spoke extensively about suffering, including its nature, causes, and remedies. While all beings aim to avoid pain, fighting or rejecting it often exacerbates it. While some distress and unease can be reduced, not all of it can be eliminated. By utilizing our discernment, we can identify what we can evade and what we cannot. Recognizing this spares us significant suffering because when we embrace situations we cannot change, we cease to struggle. When we proactively acknowledge the pain and discomfort—be it emotional, physical, or spiritual—that we cannot avoid, our mind can be at peace. This is the art of letting go.
When individuals require assistance in managing the vicissitudes of life, they often consult psychologists and experts with knowledge of how the mind operates. While this can be useful, it may also result in a proclivity to search for someone to hold accountable. Blaming others is often more comfortable. From a psychological perspective, it is simple to assign fault to one’s parents for all of one’s misfortunes. In ancient times, spirits and ghosts were the culprits, whereas presently, parents take the blame. In some respects, the process is comparable, just varying methods of ascribing fault instead of taking responsibility for one’s own behavior and mental state.
The Buddha’s teachings explain that suffering is the result of specific causes and conditions coming together. This concept, the law of cause and effect, applies to both negative and positive outcomes. However, while everyone wants to let go of suffering, letting go of its root cause, attachment, is challenging. Our desire for pleasant things is often based on past experiences or projections of future pleasure, making it difficult to recognize and distance ourselves from habitual reactions of clinging and rejecting. This tendency keeps us trapped in the past, daydreaming or anticipating the future, rather than being present in the moment.
Is it possible for meditation to aid in letting go? Absolutely, and it already does. Each time we opt not to pursue a thought or emotion when we practice, each time we choose to remain present in the current moment, we are learning to let go. Meditation instructs us that letting go is feasible, and not only is it feasible, but it is also a significant relief.
Letting go while meditating on the cushion is a potent technique. However, how can we let go when faced with situations that may be damaging or hurtful in real life? We do our best to avoid physical harm, but if the aggression is verbal or emotional, our willingness to be hurt plays a significant role, and we may inadvertently be aiding our aggressors to make things worse for us. If we choose not to allow others to hurt us, if we refuse to give them that space, it strips away much of their power. This too is letting go: letting go of responses and emotions that reinforce our discomfort.
We have the option to change our expectations to help us let go. By accepting that grieving, loss, and disappointment are inevitable parts of life and letting go of our expectation of a perfect life, we can more easily face life’s challenges and difficulties. This practice can significantly reduce suffering since life is full of ups and downs. Accepting this reality is a powerful way to be less affected by suffering. This shift in expectations requires active effort, as it’s not a passive or weak approach. Changing our expectations is a crucial aspect of learning to let go.
In practical terms, how can we apply this approach? One way is to acknowledge the disparity between our desires and the reality of our circumstances. To do so, we must be willing to confront our concealed expectations and wants. During meditation, regardless of the method employed, we allow ourselves to become aware of the mental processes without clinging or criticizing them, and we return to the practice by concentrating on the breath. This is how Buddhists cultivate the skill of letting go, which prepares us for the practical work of daily life.