Tonight’s theme is letting go of what’s not necessary. We’re continuing with excerpts from James Baraz’s Awakening Joy course.
It takes practice to let go of the tendency to act in ways that can harm ourselves or others.
The Buddha often talked about renunciation (or nekkhama in Pali).
This word may evoke associations of sacrifice or deprivation rather than happiness.
But renouncing the burden of unnecessary things and worries in our lives can lead to relief and contentment.
We’re all attached to what we think might give us pleasure.
How can we learn to distinguish between what we truly need and what we desire?
We must turn inward to investigate which impulses stem from states of contraction and craving. Those we can renounce.
If our thoughts arise from states of wise connection and compassionate expansion, we sense that they are wholesome and worth manifesting.
I think of two of my own experiences that show the difference between desires that induce contraction and those that lead to expansion:
Mark and I are about to lead a meditation retreat in Puebla, Mexico.
Our upcoming trip reminds me of when I had to have new photos taken for our Mexican immigration documents. I had already made triplicate copies of my passport and visa, and I had visited a Notary Public to validate piles of paperwork about my credentials and work status.
I wanted to finish the final requirement as rapidly as possible, so I went to a photo studio and requested three face shots.
The photographer asked me to sit in front of a white wall, while he took the pictures. My jaw felt tense, and I could sense my body contracting with impatience as I waited for the photos to be developed.
When I reached home, I read the list of official requirements more carefully and realized that I needed to have pictures with a blue or red background.
Because of my desire to complete the bureaucratic tasks so quickly, I had to return to the same store and ask for three replacement photos.
The second time, I practiced sitting without tension and impatience.
I lost time and money, but I learned a lesson about letting go of pushing and rushing.
That same week, I wanted to visit a friend Gloria who lived in a little town on the outskirts of Jalapa, where she was dying of cancer.
On the bus ride from Puebla to Jalapa, my heart felt expansive, and my body was relaxed because I was following a healthy desire to support someone who was suffering.
When I arrived at the rustic home of Meredes, Gloria’s sister, she told me that Gloria had just died that morning.
In tears, I let go of my expectations of saying goodbye to my friend.
In spite of my sadness, I did my best to adapt to the circumstances.
Inside the house, Araceli, Gloria’s mother, hugged me with gratitude for my presence. She was exhausted and relieved that her daughter’s pain and suffering were over.
In the middle of the living room, Gloria lay in a white, open coffin. She was dressed in a beautiful embroidered dress, and her body was covered with fresh flower blossoms. On her chest was a photo of her spiritual master, the founder of the Baha’i religion. Gloria’s face had a sweet, tranquil smile.
I realized that it was better to arrive when she was resting in peace than when she was heavily medicated during her final hours of life.
Some of Gloria’s friends and family members had gathered around the coffin and were taking turns reading aloud Baha’i prayers and Biblical psalms. Araceli encouraged me to read some extracts from the Tibetan Book of the Dead that I had intended to read to Gloria:
“Remember the clear light, the pure clear white light from which everything in the universe comes, to which everything in the universe returns; the original nature of your own mind, the natural state of the universe unmanifest.
Let go into the clear light, trust it, merge with it.
It is your own true nature, it is home.
No matter where or how far you travel, the light is only a fraction of a second, a half breath away.
It’s never too late to recognize the clear light.”
Before I bid Gloria’s family farewell, her mother showed me a small family cemetery on a grassy hillside overlooking the house. Araceli said, “For years I’ve planned to be buried here when I die, but I didn’t know that my daughter would arrive here before I do. It was an honor to take care of Gloria, and I’ll soon be reunited with her.” The loving atmosphere and the beautiful natural setting helped me to accept the death of my friend.
On my way home, I reflected upon Gloria’s ability to let go of life gracefully, her family’s capacity to release her with acceptance, and my own lesson about letting go of expectations so that I could receive the blessings of being in a circle of such caring people.
According to the Buddha’s teachings, letting go of our attachments—whether they be thoughts, material things, or people we love—moves us from the Second to the Third Noble Truth. We free ourselves from suffering that stems from clinging to what is inevitably changing.
Meditation master Ajahn Chah said,
“Let go a little, and you will have a little freedom.
Let go a lot, and you will have great freedom.
Let go completely, and you will have complete freedom.
Thus your problems with the world will end.”
Basically we’re practicing to let go of the illusion of having control in a world that is full of constant change.
So often our efforts block events from unfolding naturally.
Many times we don’t know that we’re attached because we’re following unconscious habits. We need to understand these habitual patterns in order to let them go.
Contentment grows when we live simply, without complicating the mind with desires for more things and activities.
Like weeding a garden to create space for beautiful flowers, we can let go of negative thoughts to allow room in the mind for creativity to blossom.
We let go of attachments when we feel that what we have is sufficient.
In a culture whose message is “The more that you acquire, the better you’ll live,” it takes practice to learn to be in peace with what we have.
Fear of lacking something is an illness in our society.
If we can let go of the idea that we’re not okay as we are, we can cultivate contentment.
We let go of the erroneous idea that if we had different circumstances, we would be happy.
In our wisest moments, we know that happiness doesn’t come from having perfect circumstances, but depends upon how we relate to our actual situation.
We are whole just as we are, and each person receives the right lessons to awaken awareness.
The capacity to love and accept ourselves just as we are is essential for feeling content.
When we let go of what’s not necessary, we feel liberated and relieved as if we’re giving ourselves a gift.
Notice how many times you say the word “only.”
“I’ll do only one more thing before I leave.”
“I’ll phone only one more person before eating lunch.”
The word “only” fools us into thinking unrealistically.
We forget that each activity takes time and energy, and by adding too many little tasks, we feel constantly rushed.
We’ll never complete the list of all we want to accomplish, so it’s helpful to set priorities and focus on what most requires our attention.
Joseph Goldstein says that it’s important to let go of unskillful thoughts and actions, which are like energy leaks.
We can practice letting to of negative stories that we tell ourselves and that create fear and contraction.
Consider that these inner stories aren’t true. Try to identify the old voices that repeat such disheartening messages as, “Your efforts won’t ever have positive results” or “He’ll never love you enough.”
With a broader perspective, we can use our sense of humor: “Thank you for your opinion.”
When we let go of the past, we can open ourselves to the present moment. Without rejecting the past, we can accept the reality of our lives.
There’s no reason to feel guilt for negative thoughts nor pride for healthy ones.
When we create spaciousness in the mind, we can chose which thoughts we want to follow and which to let go.
We learn, little by little, that behind our thoughts and emotions lies a vast field of awareness.
When we let go of who we think we are, what we really are is revealed.