Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of January 18, 2010

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Letting Go

(Aspect 6 of 12 of the Path to Presence)

The great insight of the Buddha some 2500 years ago revealed that the root of all our dissatisfaction and all our destructive tendencies lies in attachment, in identification, in clinging. From our personal study of how we relate to our thoughts and emotions, several truths begin to emerge. First, each emotion and each thought that takes center stage in our mind-heart purports to speak, or rather think or feel, for the whole of us. Second, we believe it. In that moment, we are that one thought or emotion. This process of collapsing our entire sense of ourselves into a single thought, or an emotion, or into a sensory perception such as a pain or a sight, or into one of our personality patterns is called identification. We become that thing. We identify ourselves as being that thought, emotion, sensation, or situation.

Third, this identification is false! For we are not any thought, emotion, sensation, or situation. Neither are we any collection of those nor any personality pattern. We are neither the weather nor the news we just received. All of this changes all the time. If we are anything real, then we cannot be one thought at one moment and some fear the next.

Fourth, because we believe ourselves to be each item of this endless stream of thoughts and the rest, our identity is fragmented and scattered. In this constantly changing inner multitude, we do not know who we are. The repeating patterns of our personality seem to promise unity and stability. But the promise falls short, because our personality contains so many conflicting patterns and is far from unified. We want to eat the cake and we want to lose weight and we cannot be certain which of these patterns we will be at the critical moment.

Our minds have constructed a virtual edifice we call I and me. And this edifice does not hold up under scrutiny. Where is this me? Am I my body? But I can control my body to some extent. The I that can control is different from what it controls. So I am not my body. The only obvious and usual fall-back is to assume I am this virtual personality in my mind-heart. But were always patching up the holes in that picture of ourselves. It does not really work. The virtual edifice of our personality turns out to be a haphazard collection of separate urges, desires, and mental and emotional habits. It lacks wholeness and unity. This is not who we are.

The further insight of the Buddha was that freedom from this conundrum comes through non-identification, through letting go of attachments, through not clinging to our desires and habits. This does not mean letting go of responsibilities or of caring. But it does mean seeing in the moment that our thoughts are not who we are, that our emotional reactions and desires are not who we are, that our situation is not who we are, and that our personality and its habitual patterns are not who we are. These are all just thoughts and emotions and sensory impressions. It is a mistake to promote them beyond what they are, or to promote our fragmented virtual I to being the real me. This personality of ours goes on without any intentional participation on our part.

To not identify, we look to see what does go on in us and we just let it be. We let it all pass without going with it. This is the beginning of liberation: to be in inner silence and peace, to see our inner processes without getting caught up in them, and to act outwardly as necessary.

The freedom is real. All the dissatisfied thoughts and emotions need not make us dissatisfied with our life, or even with our current experience. We can be and we can act, and we can use our personality and its many skills. Yet we are not bound by any of it. We are not bound by our past, by our conditioning, by our desires, or by our notions and assumptions about ourselves. This unboundedness is liberation.

The actual, in-the-moment work of liberation entails seeing ourselves becoming identified, entangled with some thought, emotion, or perception, and then just residing as the one who is seeing this, while letting the entangling thought, emotion, or perception pass by and fade on its own, without acting on it or reacting to it or assuming that it is us. This is the practice of liberation, of non-identification, of letting go, of non-clinging. It takes time and devotion, gradual refinement of our inner seeing, and much repetition. But it does lead us, little by little, toward inner freedom. And that inner freedom brings lasting joy and enables us to love and to be much more effective in our life and in our service to life.

For this week, please practice the in-the-moment work of liberation, non-identification, letting go, non-clinging, by seeing the entanglement and letting it pass.


     

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