Don’t sweat it. Just let it go. It’s not that important.
Has anyone ever said that to you? Sure, and probably you’ve also said it to others. Usually when someone tells you “just let go” it’s the last thing you want to do. But what does it mean anyway? Why is it so hard? And how do you actually do it?
Letting go is hard. It doesn’t come naturally to us. In fact, if you think about a newborn baby, the instinct to hang on is hardwired in. A baby will grasp the closest finger, cloth, beard or hair and hang on for dear life. A baby has to learn how to let go and so do adults. In a later blog I’ll explore why letting go is helpful. Here let’s just explore what it is.
What does “letting go” mean?
Right now, reading this blog you are probably holding something: a phone, a tablet, a mouse or maybe a cup of coffee or simply clasping your hands. Whatever you are holding, just set it down for a moment. Release your fingers so you are not touching it anymore.
That is what “letting go” means.
It’s that simple. It doesn’t mean to throw it in the garbage or across the room. It doesn’t mean destroy it. It just means, stop hanging on. It’s still there. You can pick it up when you need it. But in the moment that you let go the muscles in your hand or fingers release and your hand is empty. An empty hand is available. Available to pick up something new or to pick up the original object or to just stay empty.
It is no different when it comes to letting go with the mind. In fact, in the moment just before you let go with your hand, you mind is already letting go. Letting go of thoughts, ideas, concepts, and beliefs is harder, only because we don’t realize we are clinging to them. Once we realize, it becomes easier to let go. Opening the hands can actually help with the mental letting go if necessary.
Letting go as a practice
When you let go of a concept, just as when you let go of an object, your mind becomes available to either stay open or to see in a different way. You can pick up an idea when it is useful and put it aside when it gets in the way. This takes practice. Practicing letting go of simple thoughts drifting by (rather than making a story of them) is like exercising a muscle. The more you exercise it the easier it becomes. Until one day you find yourself letting go of some idea you no longer need without even trying.
The practice of letting go is not just exercising the ability, it also helps you become more familiar with the feeling of letting go so that you can recognize when it happens or when you have been clinging without having realized it. All of this is hard to do and takes practice, but all of this is from a practice point of view.
Another view of letting go
From the fundamental point of view there is no separation between self and not self. Hardest of all is letting go of the belief that there is something which is not self, letting go of the belief that it is possible to cling and so possible to let go. How can there be clinging and letting go when there is no self, no other? When you realize this, you see that it is as if you have let go your clasped hands and no longer wonder that they are still attached to the ends of your arms. Amazing! But also completely ordinary.