Letting go. Just two words that are said in less than a second but whose practice can take us a lifetime. Letting go is one of the most difficult exercises that – sooner or later – we will have to face. And if we do not learn to let go of our own, we will have to learn it anyway – life will take care of it – which implies that we will be exposed to greater suffering.
Concerned about holding on, we forget to let go of
The desire to hold on to things collides frontally with a characteristic inherent to reality: impermanence. Nothing remains stable. Everything changes. Time is taking away possessions, relationships, people, status, health… That is why the claim to retain is absurd and generates only pain.
However, we are not prepared for letting go. We have been taught to treasure and hold on. We accumulate objects, relationships, power, money, properties, titles… Thus we seek an illusory security that can crumble at any time like a house of cards, but that we feel like an impregnable fortress.
That state of mind, in which we conceive nothing but clinging to, is primarily responsible for the deep pain we feel when we part with something or someone. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj masterfully summed it up: “The river of life flows between the banks of pain and pleasure. Only when the mind refuses to flow with life and stagnates on the banks does it become a problem. Flowing means acceptance; let come what is coming, let go of what goes away”.
Of course, letting go it is not always easy. When there are deep emotional bonds, letting go hurts. But it will hurt even more if we cling to the unseizable, if we intend to grasp what flows by its own nature.
We can check it with a simple experiment. Hold an apple for a second with your hand slightly raised. It doesn’t weigh, right? Let five minutes pass. You will begin to feel a slight discomfort. After half an hour, you’ll probably can’t take it anymore and that apple seems like the heaviest thing you’ve ever sustained.
The weight of the apple has not changed. What happened is that you held on to it for too long. If you had left it on the table before, you wouldn’t have a sore arm. The same happens to us in life. We cling to something that is no longer, a memory that belongs to the past, an unrecoverable relationship, a person who is no longer the same or who is not even by our side, ta situation that has lost its reason for being, a goal that has vanished before our eyes…
As Hermann Hesse said: “Some people think that clinging to things makes them stronger, but sometimes it takes more force to let go of than to hold back.”
Losing the fear of losing
Learning to let go of does not mean that we should not fight for things or people that we believe are worthwhile. Fighting for what we want is good, but we must also be smart enough to know when the time has come for letting go, so that our life does not become a useless battle against windmills.
At a certain point, we must ask ourselves why we are clinging insistently to something that is meaningless. The most common cause is the fear of losing. If we think that in life we should only win and accumulate, we will associate letting go with failure.
The fear of losing the known is also a great obstacle to letting go. Many times we prefer the certainty of misery than the misery of uncertainty. We cling to something or someone with the secret hope that nothing will change, but in this way we will only be postponing the inevitable, harming ourselves and harming others, trying to act like a small dike before the runaway torrent that is life.
When we cling “tooth and claw” to the familiar, we walk – slowly but inexorably – towards suffering. Because life goes on, but we get stuck, reproducing patterns of behaviors and maladaptive thoughts that perpetuate the pain.
Losing the fear of losing is extremely liberating. We must take off layer by layer, let go of ballast, stripping ourselves of constraints and limiting beliefs, to embrace the freedom that comes with learning to flow.
Only when we part with the old can we really open up to the new. Only when we let go of everything we think we are, can we become what we want to be.