The Life-Changing Power of Letting Go
[Today, in Day 5 of the 10-Day Meditation Challenge, we explore the practice and principle of letting go with a reading, a short talk, and a guided meditation.]
I spent 14 years, from the age of 25 to 39, living in a spiritual ashram. That’s the Hindu equivalent of a monastery. Day and night, we practiced meditation like it was our job, because for us it was.
And one of the core lessons I learned during my time on the cushion was that letting go was the key to unlocking the power of meditation.
In that context, I came to see and understand how thoroughly hypnotized most of us are by the movement of our own minds. We spend a staggering amount of our days lost in discursive thought and mind-wandering mode.
As some teachers call it, “lost in the daydream.” But here we’re not talking about the innocent child gazing out the school room window.
Nope, we’re talking about highly educated high-functioning adults who are unwittingly moving through life in a dreamworld of their own making. Without being aware of it.
And I’m not saying anyone is at fault here. It’s kind of just the software we came with.
But through meditation training, I came to see our predicament with clarity. And that was empowering.
You see, when we begin to learn how to let go, we start to extricate ourselves from thought. In the beginning, it’s like we do this one thought at a time, by continually directing our distracted mind back to our meditation object.
We do this again and again and again for the duration of our practice. And as we build that muscle of steering the mind back to our meditation object, we begin to realize something strange and remarkable.
We’re not really lost in individual thoughts. We’re lost in a never-ending kaleidoscope of thought. Ever shifting and always new, it’s like a highly tailored movie from which we can’t look away.
But now that we’re practicing meditation, we start to see to see this kaleidoscope as the thought stream itself. An unceasing rive of thought. And the more we let go of that thought stream by steering out mind back to our meditation object, the clearer it is.
You recognize that you’re not actually lost in individual thoughts. Instead you’re lost in the thought stream itself. And at that moment, you gain a new capacity.
You learn that you can put down the entire mind each time we let go. And that experience is liberating. As if a great boulder had been sitting on our chest and we didn’t know it. But suddenly you see it and roll it off of you.
With this dawning awareness, we experience release and relief. And this capacity to let go of the mind becomes a cornerstone of our practice. It enables new capacities of consciousness to come online.
For one thing, this insight increases our ability to rest our attention on our meditation object continuously and, eventually, completely.
As we do this, our mind settles down. That is called calm staying, or Shamatha. As we build our capacity for calm staying, we eventually learn how to become absorbed in our meditation object and open the door to states of flow consciousness.
And that is really just the beginning of this contemplative path of healing and growth. But it all starts here. Through developing our capacity for letting go.
Today, we explore this principle of letting go with a reading, a short talk, and a guided meditation.