“Whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking and pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness.” ―Gautama Buddha
This skill is about cultivating right attitudes which requires being mindful of what is driving our actions. If our intentions are coming from unskillful motivations, then we will bring more suffering into the world. We tend to fall into unhealthy patterns which lead to unhappiness. One method of escaping these patterns is to redirect thoughts in positive directions such as letting go, loving-kindness and compassion. Skillful thoughts work as antidotes to obsession and worry.
The Buddha’s teaching is simple and pragmatic. First, there is suffering. Second, suffering results from attachment, desire and ignorance. Third, suffering can be eliminated. Fourth, the Noble Eightfold Path: a technique of thinking, acting and being, that will release us from suffering. It is a path that guides us to act the right way.
This week I am focusing on letting go, the opposite of desire and attachment. This does not mean giving everything away and joining a monastery, but how can we practice it? We need not reject things, family and friends but the mistaken sense that these are our possessions. How can we let go of the habit of clinging to things, ideas, beliefs and opinions? Ajan Brahm teaches, holding on to past hurts enables them to continue to hurt us and we carry them around, continuing to be harmed again and again. Every time we revisit them, we are reinjured. If we are able to let go, it only hurts once and the past does not control our happiness. Future worries too can be let go. What can go wrong with our health, finances and political system, the fragile eco-system? – the list is endless. But if we are able to be present in each moment, the only actionable time, course correction of the future is possible.
Ajan Chah taught in very illustrative and simple ways, he would pick up a stick and ask his monks, “Is this heavy?” He would drop it and say that it is heavy only when you hold it. When you let go it is no longer heavy. When we carry around our past and future worries, we become exhausted and bereft of joy.
“Past is a prison with an open door” -Ajan Brahm
When we look in this moment, what concerns from the past or the future can we let go? We can leave the prison at anytime. But we have been imprisoned so long we are habituated and it is hard to leave, often we don’t have the courage to. Perhaps, we must first believe that it is possible. Once we leave, we feel the freedom like a prisoner just released from prison.
At meditation retreats, there is a ritual of sitting around a fire and writing everything we want to let go and then throwing the paper in the fire. Watching it burn is one way of letting go and experiencing freedom.
“Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.”
― Shunryu Suzuki
As to future worries: there is one thing certain about it: the future is uncertain! We cannot know what is going to happen. So can we let the concerns about what we don’t know go?
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety or possessions – we cannot be free.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh