Some students of personal growth interpret these statements to mean that we shouldn’t be materialistic. That is, if we get rid of our stuff, we’ll be happier. While there is some truth to that, especially if someone has developed the habit of accumulating and hoarding, letting go of stuff doesn’t necessarily bring about freedom.
A more nuanced example of letting go occurred when I was around nine-years-old. My best friend–with whom I had sworn a blood-brothers oath–was moving to Colorado because his father had gotten a new job there. John and I had planned on having a lifetime friendship together. The reality of losing each other was proven true when his family drove away from their house for the very last time.
Due to the fact that this happened so long ago, I don’t remember the exact process of letting go of John, presumably, I managed to do so, but not without experiencing a great deal of suffering in the process. Life unfolded and new experiences and new friends eventually showed up. Sometimes I wonder if I have ever fully let go of John and the concept that he was my BFF. Is using his departure as an example in this little story a way of saying I still haven’t fully let go of him?
There is another niggling ingredient about John’s departure that has recurred two more times–Colorado. There are the coincidences of people I deeply love, moving to Colorado. In the late 1990s my then BFF moved to Denver. Then, in 2001, my boyfriend packed his bags and moved to a small town in Colorado. Not only did these departures present new scenarios about letting go, but they caused me to dislike the State of Colorado.
So, not only have I needed to let go of three of my best friends and a lover, I still need to fully let go of my aversion to Colorado. Sometimes I laugh at myself for disliking Colorado, my belief about that place is little more than a superstition. Yet other times the vision of Colorado being a black hole that swallows up friends comes to mind. That is, the vision of a big rectangular, geographically significant, black hole appears in my minds eye. To complicate the Colorado aversion, my friends Jorge and José have lived in Denver most of their adult lives.
The mostly unconscious aversion to Colorado seems trivial and somewhat laughable, but it’s still a prejudice that I have and it clutters up the mind. It’s a belief I want to let go of because it causes a little bit of suffering. Perhaps I’m overthinking my opinion about Colorado. Of course, overthinking is a manifestation of attachment to view.
So, this means that not only do I have attachments to stuff and people, I have attachments to views and opinions. While humans can more easily let go of attachments to physical items and stuff out by accepting the reality of physical loss, it’s the ideas and beliefs that mull around inside of our heads that cause enduring suffering. The beliefs about what should be and what shouldn’t be are the most innocuous attachments we have.
The suffering these attachments cause ultimately manifests socially in the forms of civil unrest, coercion, and tyranny. The attachment to view is so strong that the believer wants to convince others to believe it, too. This compounds attachment along with an increase in suffering. These social ills are the stuff of history.
Because attachment can cause suffering, how does one go about letting go? How does a person let go without becoming attached to any particular technique or belief? I’m still working to find out.
One way is to simply observe my thoughts and actions and notice what arises and unfolds from within my mind. Sometimes this happens on the meditation cushion, but most often, it does not. Sometimes I just notice the ego intruding into the furthest reaches hidden in the mind.
Another way I’ve tried to be real is to remember that everything is impermanent. That is the fact that no thing nor idea lasts forever. All things must pass. In starkest terms, I meditate on death, but not in a morbid manner. I’ve visualized dying in different scenarios. They range from lingering illness to a sudden accident.
The by-product of this practice is gratitude for the gift of life. There is a larger sense of joy in every moment. It also reveals, in a back-handed way, that the gratitude and joy are also impermanent. I’m cautioned to not become attached to that, too. At least there is peace in remembering impermanence and this helps in adapting to change and enhancing peace of mind.
Perhaps it is impossible to fully let go. I still think about John and the many other people I’ve lost by their moving away. I still feel a niggling superstition about Colorado. Will those attachments ever completely disappear from my mind? Probably not. Maybe letting go is the never-ending process of not clinging to any particular concept or belief.