One of the phrases you may come across on a spiritual path of practice is, ‘letting go’. ‘You just need to let go. It’s all about letting go.’ Which is great and in a way makes sense but is also really frustrating because we really don’t know where we’re not letting go, so we don’t know how to ‘let go’.
So we sit in our satsang and we nod and smile. But when we have time to reflect on it, we start to ask ourselves, ‘What does letting go actually mean?’
There’s an expectation that a ‘spiritual person’ doesn’t have any of the normal attachments that can cause us so much trouble. To be really ‘spiritual’ we shouldn’t ever get upset or react badly. We should be happy all of the time revelling in the bliss of each moment, and if you’re not, then you’re not doing it right. Maybe we need another book or a retreat with a new teacher. Let’s face it there are plenty of ‘products’ on the market and plenty of people pushing them if finding happiness is your bag. After all when was the last time you saw a picture of a ‘spiritual teacher’ looking a bit glum?
Expectations may be the number one barrier to anyone seeing clearly, and seeing clearly is the only real path to awakening. We have expectations about being spiritual, expectations about awakening, expectations about life after awakening.
And all of these share two things in common: they’re all just thoughts and they’re all wrong. They’re wrong because we haven’t seen yet and until we see, we can’t know. Thoughts aren’t reality, can never be reality, never will be reality. Which in itself can be a barrier in a society and culture where thought is so highly venerated. A story about the truth is not the truth.
So how do we ‘let go’? Where do we start with this?
Well, this is really all about seeing, so the first things to notice are these expectations we have. We don’t have to throw them out or get rid of them, just noticing them is enough. Once they’re seen they can no longer fool us. Once they’re brought fully into consciousness then we’re aware of them – seeing them rather than being trapped in them.
And this is very much how it goes. This ‘path’ is all about seeing how it is right now in the moment. It’s so simple it’s overlooked. It sounds like it couldn’t be easier doesn’t it, but how much time do we actually spend doing it?
How often are we content to simply sit and just be; no distractions, no TV, no music, no social media, just be with the moment, seeing it arise, noticing thoughts and feelings as they come and go?
This is really mindfulness. There’s a lot of interest in mindfulness, but unless our mindfulness is directed it doesn’t benefit us much. It’s okay to be mindful of the outside world, of that which arises in the senses. But really we need to be mindful of the movements and arisings within; the movements of the heart.
When we’re triggered, when someone cuts us up in the shopping queue or in the car, look and see what arises. Watch this. Be aware of this. This is mindfulness. When some desire arises, notice this too. What’s underneath it? Where does it start? This is about investigating fully, not in verbal thinking but in looking. And the more we look, the more we see.
The layers gradually peel back and we begin to see clearly where these inner movements begin, how they arise, the forms they take. When we’re aware like this we’re not being fooled by them into believing them, we simply see them.
And once they’re seen, once these aspects of our nature are fully investigated and realised then there is a natural letting go that happens. It happens like an unravelling. It’s not about trying to get rid of, this is just desire in another form. It’s about seeing right to the heart of things; peeling back every label, looking under every assumption, investigating every belief.
It might take time, but what’s the rush? If we want a quick fix, fine, buy another book, listen to a talk on YouTube. But that’s not really practising is it? That might give us a few nuggets, a few gems, but we have to look at these things for ourselves.
Looking and letting go, that’s all it is. In this moment, seeing how it is, seeing it fully and then it unravels and drops away. When this happens there’s a little more space that opens up and a little more peace. Until the next time, then we do the same again. It may not be easy, it may require patience and persistence but these are not bad qualities to have are they?
Where does it lead? When will I get there? These are just thoughts leading to expectations. Se we see this, we notice this in the moment and when we notice it, it’s let go. This is the way it is.