Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of May 28, 2012

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The Habit of Letting Go

(Spiritual Habits: Part 4 of 7)

Letting go is one of the fundamental practices of every spiritual path and is unique in its personal intimacy. It engages us at our core. We do not let go with our feet or hands, with our thoughts or emotions, with our personality patterns, nor with our energies. Only we ourselves, our own I, our will, can let go.

But what does letting go mean? Weíve already addressed the question of who letís go: it is our I. So what do we let go of? In a word: attachments. We say upfront that this does not refer to our attachments to our family and loved ones. And it does not necessarily mean putting something out of our life. It does mean freeing ourselves of our inner slavery.

Say you have a strong craving for a particular food. For example, maybe you love ice cream to the extent that you eat too much of it, more than is healthy, and perhaps you eat the ice cream with such gluttony that you hardly taste it or enjoy it. This is attachment in action. The ice cream is eating us. The craving is controlling us. With the possible exception of an initial period of complete abstinence, say forty days, to let go of that attachment doesnít necessarily mean not eating ice cream, but could mean doing so with moderation, letting go of the craving to eat more than a modest amount, while savoring what we do eat.

Each act of letting go is a movement from less freedom toward more freedom, from less love toward more love, from small self toward big self, from taking to giving. Letting go distinguishes in us the higher from the lower, our I from our personality, our conscience from our ego, freedom from identification. When we give in to some craving, it feels like freedom, the freedom to eat ice cream. But itís the craving that is free, the craving that has chosen, while we have relinquished our will.

How do we let go? It is a two-fold act of will. First is perception: recognizing an impulse or pattern that we need to let go of. This is crucial. If we donít see it, we cannot let go of it. If we donít see the craving as craving, the anger as anger, the criticism as criticism, the complaining as complaining, we will not be in a position to choose to let it go. This is a matter of self-awareness, which we practice by intentionally noticing how things are in us, what leads to what. The practice of presence brings self-awareness, as does meditation.

The question of what constitutes an attachment, what we need to let go of, is personal. It depends on our seeing, our vision, and our wisdom. It depends on listening to our conscience. Generally though, any inner pattern that occurs without our initiating it, or despite our wishing otherwise, anything we are identified with, is a potential candidate for letting go. When we believe we are the anger, the craving, the criticism ó that is identification. We do not want to be under the thumb of our likes and dislikes, our destructive emotions like anger, jealousy, and envy, our physical cravings, our destructive patterns of thought like criticisms, complaints, and arrogance, a slave to our fixed opinions. We want to be free in front of all that. It does not necessarily mean stopping those impulses altogether, which is nearly impossible to do directly. It just means not be driven by them. If we like ice cream, we may continue eating ice cream, with moderation, when we choose to do so, not whenever our craving demands it. We are not seeking an ascetic life, just a free one.

After seeing what to let go of, the second part of letting go is actually to choose to let it go. If we are not willing to make that choice, then we have no chance; we become at best a spectator, as our various impulses live our life for us. But if we truly choose to let go, rather than just wishing we would make that choice, then there are techniques that help. Relaxation is the first key. And the understanding that everything that arises passes away is the second key. Impulses and cravings, anger and criticisms, may seem urgent. But we just relax, physically, emotionally, and mentally, in that moment, and stay relaxed, just being there, doing nothing, neither pushing the impulse away nor taking the action it desires. Soon enough, the impulse, the desire, the craving and the rest will dissipate of their own accord, leaving us free to live, not by our shallow drives, but by our deeper feelings, our true wishes, our principles, our creativity, our uniqueness and our conscience.

Our relationships with people, whether strangers, acquaintances, friends or family, provide a fertile field for letting go. In particular, the practice is to allow oneself to be imposed upon without grumbling or resentment, inner or outer. Each time we do that it deepens that relationship and chips away at our egoism. Trivial everyday examples include the courtesy of holding a door for the next person and yielding to rushed or aggressive drivers. We do the right thing and then perhaps we notice our resentment. Noticing that, we let it go and move on.

To form the habit of letting go, like any other habit, we need to cultivate a trigger, a reminder. The reminder to let go is the uncomfortable feeling of being identified, of being caught, of being under the control of some attachment, of not being free. The practice of letting go, helps us acquire the taste of identification, attachment. Then when we notice that bitter taste, it is our signal to let go. And when we follow through with actually letting go in that instance, we form and strengthen this spiritual habit of freedom.

Rather than attempt to let go of all our attachments, we start with one and build up. Maybe you love to complain and see that you are identified when you do complain and choose to work on letting of complaining. Then whenever you notice that you are about to complain, you check yourself. You turn that energy toward relaxing, physically, mentally, and emotionally in that moment. You let the impulse to complain be there and fade away of its own accord and in its own time. You do this without complaining, outwardly at first, and when you can, you even let go of the thoughts of complaint. You see them and let them be, but you do not buy into them. Those are just thoughts, they are not you.

Mindfulness meditation is an excellent training for letting go. We sit and allow all things to be as they are, without imposing our will to change our inner state. We let the thoughts come and go, as well as the sounds, the sensations, the images, impulses, and emotions. Whatever arises, we let it be and we let it pass on its own. We just sit and be. All these inner events vying for our attention, gradually settle down when we refuse to engage with them. And it leaves us in the freedom of pure awareness; a freedom that carries over into the natural joy of living.

For this week, cultivate the spiritual habit of letting go.


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