Letting go

[Photo Copyright by Lisa DeLange via Flickr under Creative Commons Licence]

Sometimes we would really like to get rid of things in our life. Things we are attached to in an unhealthy way. A simple example for this can be an actual physical item that consumes our life (e.g. the Playstation). The more complicated version are the habits we collect over the years, the views we take on and finally call >our personality<. Like in: I’m always messy/aggressive/afraid like that, it’s who I am. At some point we finally want to do something about this. We may want to start loosing things.

Buddhism has a technical term for that. It is called: >Letting go<. It’s a very popular term in spiritual circles and I don’t really like it. It misses a crucial truth of the human nature. The part where we can’t actively let go of anything. It doesn’t work. The thought alone that you should better let go of something already implies that you will keep holding on. It’s like not thinking about pink elephants. If you could do that you would not even bring it up, since you already lost the memory. Without noticing. Without thinking about it.

So how can we than loose stuff we really want to get rid of? Something small maybe? Something that is stupid, but we like to make it vital for our survival. Like e.g. coffee? Can you come to a point where you don’t cling to coffee anymore, so you can forget about it and just loose it? How would you do that? How would you go inside yourself and find that little stupid switch that is labeled ‘coffee’ and turn it from ‘need desperately’ to >can have it or not< and then to >forgot about it<.

First of all – You cannot >work< on letting go. It doesn’t work like that. Our brain in not wired to process the >not doing< of something. If you tell a child to >not< fall into the pool, it will fall in because the brain jumps over the >not<. We cannot >not< think.

However, what you can work on is cultivating a different pattern that will replace the thing you are trying to loose. In case of the coffee you could just drink tea. No that’s not pleasant, who said cultivating new habits is pleasant? You are not substituting, you are re-conditioning. However, if you keep doing that for a long time, you will start craving tea. Humans are simple conditioning machines. If you like you can call it practicing, but it’s a real simple mechanism. Also, nobody really does that. It is a long process and hard work. People don’t like that. They rather obsess about replacing the coffee with different coffee, something like coffee, but not really, and so on. Basically they will do anything, rather than seeing the clinging and suffering go.

This is the much more serious underlying issue here. People don’t understand the immense benefit of losing things. We have a tendency to immediately crave what is not there any more. It’s a problem of perception. In >conventional reality< we are missing our cup of coffee. In >ultimate reality< we would not loose the cup of coffee; we would actually gain the immense power of not having to worry about our desire to need a coffee. It is said that for every desire that is let go, a happiness is won.

Btw, for personality traits it works the same way. You just can cultivate different ones.
The tool that is used for that in Buddhism, is called >Meditation<.

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