Friday, April 10, 2015

Letting Go

Lots of people don't easily grasp the concept of letting go, but it's really quite simple and it's really quite necessary if we want to clear our minds of unwanted (what we'd call unwholesome in Buddhism) thoughts. All you have to do is change the subject. And yes, it is quite that simple, although it's not an immediate solution and requires vigilance on your  part. In that respect, you do have to do some work to make it happen.

We all have obsessive thoughts that plague us from time to time and the instinct is to grab onto those thoughts and dissect them. Try to understand them. Analyze them. Look at them from all angles. The same can be said for deep emotional damages, whether they are recent or long-standing. We want to get rid of them, but we don't know how. Again, we analyze and dissect as we search for a way to stop the pain. Some of this can be helpful -- at least you'll understand what the problem is and where it came from -- but it won't solve the problem.

Grabbing onto these thoughts, keeping them roiling around in our minds, is the worst thing we can do. There's an old truism that says what you think about increases. The more you think about this painful stuff, the stronger it becomes. Conversely, not thinking about all that painful stuff weakens its hold on you, so what we need to do is change the subject when these thoughts arise. It's like a radio station playing constantly in your mind with music you don't like. If you don't like the station, you need to change the station to a station you enjoy.

So, when an unwholesome or painful subject arises in your thoughts, immediately put your mind on something different. It doesn't matter so much what the new station is -- it could be pleasant memories of a beautiful place, or a person you love, a favorite pet, or even work. If the pain comes from a person in your life, past or present, dead or alive, you can offer that person sincere metta, or lovingkindness, which works as an antidote to the negative feelings. All that matters is that the original, painful subject has been replaced in your mind. You'll no doubt need to do this countless times, as the mind has a tendency to go back to that strong subject over and over until you let it go and it loses its power over you. But, keep doing it. Over and over -- hundreds of times, thousands of times, whatever is needed. All that's required is vigilance, combined with diligence. How long it takes until the painful subject loses its power over you varies from person to person, but it will happen.

The mind will react. It'll keep trying to push the pain to the surface, but if you gently and kindly change the subject, the mind will eventually get the message. Using metta can often speed things along, as metta is very powerful. The painful thoughts will arise less and less often, and when they do arise, you'll find it much easier to just ignore them and let them go. In fact, it's good to start using the phrase let go when you change the subject, each and every time until it becomes second nature. And it will become second nature. I tend to be lighthearted about things that arise that aren't wholesome. When I notice my mind beginning to obsess on something, I will often talk to it in a jesting way, such as Oh, no you don't! I see you and I'm not falling for it. Not going to think about you, or something like that. Then I change the subject. Those old painful thoughts will lessen, and the mind will recognize that those thoughts no longer have a hold over you. They might arise, but there's no more pain accompanying them. Because you've let it go.

You haven't analyzed it, solved it, beaten it into submission by stuffing it down (we all know how well that works -- if you stuff it down it always manages to rise to the surface again, often stronger than ever). You have let it go, and letting go is permanent.

I speak these words from personal experience, having tried all the wrong ways to rid myself of childhood issues, adult issues, and recognizing that none of it really worked. Learning to let go worked, it has worked for thousands (millions!) of people over many centuries and it will work for you. Give it a try -- what do you have to lose other than all that suffering?

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