My friend's comment of "so many things to let go of" was apt because I was thinking about all the things I needed to do. I think she could hear the grasping in my voice, my attempt to make things turn out a certain way. She could hear the underlying message that I was somehow trying to control the situation. And so the advice was right. Do what needs to be done and let go of the rest. Yes we need to take action, yes there are things to be done. But you contemplate those in a balanced and un-clinging way and then let go. It's pretty simple if you can see it, but mostly when we need to let go we are caught up in confusion or clinging and aren't traveling in the "let go" lane. Sometimes we just need to step back and sit down, have a cup of tea, or put things on hold until we can gain a little more perspective .... because inevitably action that arises out of confusion is bound, well, to be confused. And you know where that goes, usually down the runaway lane of regret.
Today the idea of letting go popped it's clever little head up again (and before groundhog day) when a friend started talking about how we create ourselves through the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves. Really we're like these little walking stories with hats and mittens (it's winter). The stories are often so subtle we don't notice them or we're so attached to them we can't imagine how to live without them. What do you tell yourself about yourself? Are you terrible at math? Are you lazy? shy? You can't change because that's just how you are? And what stories do we help other people reinforce about themselves? ...By a look, by a simple comment. If we could let go of the stories that we've told ourselves about how we are, and what we're good at, and why we do this or that, we'd be free to respond to the present moment in fresh and exciting ways. We would be free from the smallness we impose on ourselves with our stories. We'd open the little cages we've build for ourselves and have a little fly around this big old world (never coming back to change the paper).
The tricky thing about letting go is that it is easily confused with "getting rid of" something. Getting rid of something is pushing it away, which surprised me when I learned, that it's really just a part of clinging or desire. Wanting or not wanting are both "attachment" by the Buddhist definition. They both imply that we want things our way. Pulling the ice cream dish toward you is really the same as pushing away the plate of liver and onions, if you get what I mean. Another way of saying letting go is letting be. Your okay with or without the ice cream. It's nice but you don't NEED it. And the liver and onions, well that's your koan!
So there are lots of things out there to practice letting go of: thoughts, stories, expectations, desires, our attachment to stuff. There is never a shortage of things to work with. And ultimately cultivating the ability to let go brings us freedom and clarity. The more we let go, the less we have to carry around with us. We are freer and more able to respond to the moment. The Thai Forest Master Ajahn Chah said something like, "let go a little, get a little freedom, let go a lot, get a lot of freedom, let go completely, have complete freedom." I read about a woman who was trying to let go of attachment. When she went to a restaurant she would just point and pick anything, so as not to be so attached to her wanting. So what's on the menu tonight? A little freedom, with maybe a chopped liver sandwich?